Professor Niki Ellis speaks about OHS, CSR and resilience

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Next week the National Comcare Conference is held in Melbourne Australia.  One of the keynote speakers at the conference is Professor Niki Ellis, a prominent Australian OHS researchers and consultant  who is also heading up the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR).

On a sunny September 5 2011 I was able to spend half and hour with Niki at a noisy cafe outside Victoria’s State Library talking about:

  • The profile of OHS is Australia as a profession
  • The importance of a practical application for OHS research (what Niki refers to as “interventionist research”)
  • The need for innovation in tertiary institutions
  • The legacy of Dame Carol Black’s UK report “Working for a Healthier Tomorrow
  • The challenge for OHS professionals to cope  with emerging psychosocial hazards
  • The role and importance of Corporate Social Responsibility to workplace health and safety
  • The deficiencies of applying resilience to workplace mental health issues

Kevin Jones

OHS will eventually need to address the big climate change impacts

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The latest edition of the Journal of Occupational Medicine (JOM) (Vol 61. No 5 Aug 2011) includes a short article on the occupational impact of climate change, an issue that must be addressed in the work context and one that places additional challenges for those involved with safe design.

The JOM article lists the following hazard categories that are likely to affect workplaces and activities:

  • “Increased ambient temperature (global warming) and resultant climate changes,
  • Increased air pollution (resulting from increased temperatures, ozone levels and airborne particles),
  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation,
  • Extremes of weather (resulting from global climate change),
  • Vector-borne diseases and expanded habitat,
  • Industrial transitions and emerging technologies,
  • Changes to built environment.”

It is unlikely that employers will try to tackle climate change through OHS considerations as there are far more important economic pressures.  OHS, in this context, can only be reactive but several of the issues mentioned above are likely to substantially change work methods and planning. Continue reading “OHS will eventually need to address the big climate change impacts”

Where is the evidence for the safety benefits of high visibility clothing?

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Recently a local council in Australia suggested that bicycle riders should be required to wear high visibility jackets.  Bicycle Victoria was not impressed:

Bicycle Victoria spokesman Garry Brennan slammed the idea.

“Unfortunately there is no evidence that so-called ‘high-visibility clothing’ is of any benefit to bike riders,” Mr Brennan said. “Whether the rider is dressed in bright fluoro or black, or is stark naked, matters little when drivers are not paying attention.  The good news is that as more bikes crowd the roads, most drivers are paying more attention.”

In another article Brennan said

“It’s redundant and potentially misleading,” Mr Brennan … said.  He said high-visibility clothing would give cyclists a false sense of security.  “All it does is make you feel more visible,” he said.”

High visibility clothing is an established element of personal protective clothing on construction sites and in the transport industry.  It was introduced as a way of increasing the visibility of workers where traffic on- and off-site interacts with pedestrians.  A UK article by BrightKidz summarises the logic on high visibility clothing but is there any evidence that bright clothing reduces serious contact between pedestrians and traffic? Continue reading “Where is the evidence for the safety benefits of high visibility clothing?”

Australian OHS experts call for a single OHS regulator and a unified insurance system

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Some of Australia’s top work health and safety experts have stressed, to Safe Work Australia, the need for a single national OHS regulator.  Many also called for a radical overhaul of workers’ compensation and insurance structures to achieve a combined insurance/compensation similar to that of New Zealand, the Accident Compensation Commission (ACC).

These calls were made in a  whole day workshop, conducted by Safe Work Australia on 30 August 2011, on the development of the next ten-year national OHS strategy.  This was the latest of around ten consultative sessions whose notes will be summarised and posted online.  The notes from an earlier seminar list the following discussion topics:

  • “The need to focus on work health and safety prevention.
  • Engagement with target groups and industries to ensure advice and support is relevant to enable them to effectively respond to hazards.
  • Engineering hazards out through good design.
  • Influencing the supply chain inside and outside Australia.
  • Prioritising key work health and safety hazards and focusing national attention.
  • Creating opportunities for innovation in work health and safety particularly within the regulatory framework.
  • Enhancing the culture of safety leadership (promoting highly reliable organisations).
  • The importance of safety culture.
  • Enhancing the capability of workers to return to work following accident or illness.
  • Influencing or assisting academia to undertake research – focusing on intervention effectiveness.
  • Developing a shared communication strategy to promote the new principles of the new Strategy.”

These echo many of the comments in today’s seminar and illustrate what was a major missed opportunity.  The theme of today’s workshop was to imagine what OHS (or work health and safety or work health safety & environment, as some suggested) will be like in 2022 but there were few futuristic suggestions.  This was the opportunity to extend some of the practices currently undertaken by ten years. Continue reading “Australian OHS experts call for a single OHS regulator and a unified insurance system”

Suicide challenges the OHS profession

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Safety and risk professionals often need to consider the “worst case scenario”.  But we hesitate to look at the worst case scenario of workplace mental health – suicide.  On 26 August 2011, Lifeline presented a seminar to Victorian public servants that was brilliant, confronting and worrying.

Lifeline campaigns on suicide prevention and it seems to do this through discussion and counselling.  It outlines not the “warning signs” but the “help signs” that one needs to look for in our work colleagues.  According to Lifeline, possible life changes can include:

  • “Recent loss (a loved one, a job, an income/livelihood, a relationship, a pet)
  • Major disappointment (failed exams, missed job promotions)
  • Change in circumstances (separation/divorce, retirement, redundancy, children leaving home)
  • Mental disorder or physical illness/injury
  • Suicide of a family member, friend or a public figure
  • Financial and/or legal problems.”

Many of these issues can be helped by talking about them but, in OHS-speak, that is an administrative control in the hierarchy of controls.  The OHS professionals’ job is to determine if the risks can be mitigated or eliminated and this is where many OHS professionals fail.

It may be unfair to call it a failure, as the professional may simply not have the skills necessary to look beyond the hazard and determine a control measure.  In this context, the OHS profession and its members must be engaged in social reform.  If any of the workplace hazards are generated by, or exacerbated by, n0n-work related factors, the OHS professional must consider methods to reduce those non-work hazards. Continue reading “Suicide challenges the OHS profession”