Safety and productivity links at risk from ill-informed ridicule and media beat-up

Yesterday Australia’s Fairfax Media reported on a “policy” supposedly being applied in the Western Australia resources sector by Chevron Australia that requires workers to stand, rather than sit, for the purposes of increasing productivity.  The initiative has been roundly ridiculed by various political and social commentators, including the Minister for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten. However few have mentioned that the actions by the “policy” may be in line with recent OHS guidance issued by an Australian government safety authority, Comcare, or that the Victorian Government has granted $A600,000 for research into the use of standing workstations.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has been informed that Chevron has had no role in the production of the “leaked memo” and that this memo is likely to be notes and verbal advice provided at a low-level on a worksite and even simply as part of a regular toolbox meeting.  Fairfax Media is unfairly linking two disparate issues, dragging in Chevron who is not involved with the information and potential damaging valid safety information through unjustified ridicule.

In another Fairfax Media article, the leaked memo, “Efficient production of work crews”, (not publicly available) states:

“Labour is not allowed to sit down during normal working hours, unless their duties require…” (important emphasis added)

There is no blanket ban on sitting at work.

In August 2012, Comcare launched a toolkit about sedentary work that included a business case arguing that prolonged sitting at work created health and business costs.  According to Comcare these are the facts:

“The research is clear—long periods of sitting have serious health consequences for workers:

  • on average, office workers sit for 76 per cent of the day
  • considerable evidence suggests that prolonged sitting increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and death
  • people who sit for more than 11 hours a day have a 40 per cent increased risk of death in the next three years compared with people who sit for less than four hours
  • workers who have been in sedentary roles for more than 10 years have double the risk of colon cancer
  • prolonged sitting is an independent risk factor, even if you engage in regular exercise
  • long periods of sitting are a suspected risk factor in the development of musculoskeletal disorders
  • even short, regular breaks from sitting can be beneficial for workers’ health.”

In the face of this evidence it is sensible to advocate for a reduction in prolonged sitting at work.

There seem to be good productivity reasons to instigate a, predominantly, standing workforce as the Australian Government’s own advice on sedentary work encourages standing for business and safety benefits.  Behind the current comments in the media about ridiculous policies and the abuse of common sense, is a legitimate workplace safety concern, one that is being addressed in a wide range of industries through the introduction of standing workstations.

Safety professionals and associations need to provide some balance into the current media flurry so that those ill-informed elf’n’safety advocates do not get a foothold in Australian media.

Below is a video from VicHealth on sedentary work.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

7 thoughts on “Safety and productivity links at risk from ill-informed ridicule and media beat-up”

  1. You have no idea, Kevin, how much deliberate and calculated abuse of power I\’ve seen in relation to this \’No sitting\’ edict.

    I have seen it actually used as an implicitly sanctioned instrument of bullying.

    Eleven long time workers at large stainless steel tables assembling components for white goods. These women were happy at their work. They chatted furiously, laughed at each other, and reached set goals with high quality. Mixed ages, mixed backgrounds, mixed ethnicity. And most mothers.

    One morning the \’genius\’ manager removed all their chairs and stools \’for reasons of productivity HO said in the US\’.

    Many of these women had all sorts of aches and pains as result of birthing; not unusual. All day on their feet would actually be tortuous.

    As a group they asked me to talk to their \’by the book\’ manager. They\’d even try to increase their targets every day, they begged.

    \”Don\’t tell me about pain from birthing\” he yelled at me. \”My wife….\”. Yep, he knew. But it\’s a HO office decision he angrily said, (ashamed). \”Something to do with research and productivity, and bean counters. And I want to keep my job\”.

    He and some of his supervisors came in early and lugged the stools and hid them upstairs.

    How did the whole thing end up? What would you have liked to happen?

  2. Kevin the question of standing or sitting for long priods has been recognised for a few years now as having negative health effects and has previously been recommended for a variation of both to control negative health effects .
    The U,Ks TUC published a major report in Hazards magazine on standing at work that gave extensive information on the health effects of standing for long periods .
    Also from Canada,s Centre for Occupational Health and Safety an OSH Answer , Working in a Standing Position .
    Certainly under section 21 of the ohs act the employer has a duty to provide safe systems of work and to ensure the workplace is safe and without risks to health.
    ,It goes without saying there should been consultation about all of the risks to health and safety .

  3. Kevin, this is not a particularly accurate commentry. There is a world of difference between workers working outside on an LNG project in the north west and those esconced in air conditioned offices which is where the research into standing rather than sitting is focussed. Further, the introduction of the no-sitting policy was not out of concern for the well being of the workers but out of concern for the bottom line of the projects profit and loss statements.

    While the article headline is incorrect, the body of the article clearly states that it was Leighton Contractors that issued the memo not Chevron.

    The quote from another Fairfax article not available on line is also contained in the article to which your post refers. How you can imply that simply because workers are allowed to sit \”if their duties require [it?]\” then that makes things OK or at least not as bad totally escapes me.

    And does it really matter whether the employees were issued a memo or told about the new policy at a toolbox meeting? The issue is still that workers face being penalised for sitting down in situations where the job they are doing does not require a seated posture. What\’s next? Will the workers there need to get permission to go to the toilet?

    1. Dave, thanks for the comment. When two of my regular readers question my article, I need to have a rethink.

      When the cool change comes through Melbourne, in an hour, I\’ll review and reflect.

  4. Kevin

    It is with sincere regret that I find this article to be on the same level as the ill-informed \”elf \’n safety\” advocates and the equally ill-informed media that seek a feeding frenzy rather than a balanced perspective.

    The \”leaked\” memo is believed to have originated from the Leighton\’s camp on Barrow Island, in response to the recent dummy spit by Chevron regarding the cost blowouts on the Gorgon Project.

    Your attempt to dilute the vitriol (rightfully) aimed at Chevron is misplaced, particularly given that the Comcare study deals with persons whose jobs require them to be seated constantly as opposed to the Leighton\’s construction workers on Barrow Island which the memo is aimed at.

    As I have always valued your balanced sense of reporting may I suggest that instead of defending the reprehensible and arrogant utterings of Chevron\’s management who are quick to place the blame for their own ineptitude and incompetence on the Australian contractors (Leighton\’s), that you rather highlight the issues and facts which caused the cost blowout on this project?

    This issue, ill-informed or otherwise, has nothing to do with health and safety whatsoever.

    1. Mervyn, always happy to have more information than I can obtain myself.

      I am sure the matter is more complex than I know but there is an OHS contact and that is what I am addressing.


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