A study of violence

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Australian writer, Jeff Sparrow, recently recently a book that looks at violence and killing , “Killing: A Misadvanture In Violence“.  As part of promoting the book he has been interviewed on several radio shows, the one most relevant to SafetyAtWorkBlog, is the 3CR program, Stick Together, about his book.

Killing_fullcover_NEW.inddSparrow says that he wanted to investigate the “normalisation of killing” and l0oks at occupation which have killing as part of the job.  He analysed the killing of animals through the first-hand experience of kangaroo-shooting and visiting an abattoir.

Sparrow says that the abattoir was very much a factory that deconstructs animals rather than manufacturing items, such as cars.  This will be no revelation to anyone who has read Eric Schlosser’s book, Fast Food Nation, in which he analyses abattoirs, particularly meatpacking, in the context of food production.  Schlosser’s section on the worker safety and compensation processes in the US meat industry is confronting.

They are also possibly more directly relevant to OHS (or heartless capitalism) than Sparrow’s take on abattoirs, although Sparrow does mention how the structure of the workplace “controls the workers”.  This harks back to the dehumanisation of workers for the purpose of productivity where repetition makes the reality of the action of killing or dismemberment, mundane.

In comparison, the roo-shooters have a more detailed understanding of their “craft” because they are working in the wild, where things can go wrong, instead of on the killing floor.

Sparrow also looks at killing that is undertaken in other occupations, such as the defence forces, and workplaces, such as deathrow.  In these contexts Sparrow talks about the industrialisation of the war processes.

Ultimately, from the workplace perspective, Sparrow’s book sounds like an interesting resource for those who study the depersonalisation of the worker, or industrialisation.  For those who work on, or have responsibility for, production lines, this psychological approach to the book may help.

Kevin Jones

A sample chapter of the book is available for download.

An OHS look at the Fair Work book

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On 9 July 2009 I wrote in SafetyAtWorkBlog

“The  Fair Work Act has no relevance to occupational health and safety, so why mention this on SafetyAtWorkBlog?”

The Fair Work Act changes the negotiating and consultative structure of Australian workplaces stemming from changes in industrial relations law.

Fair Work Book cover 002A book that came across my desk this morning suggests several other overlaps of OHS and IR in the new regime.  Federation Press sent a copy of  “Fair Work – The New Workplace Laws and the Work Choices Legacy“, a book edited by Anthony Forsyth and Andrew Stewart.

In Andrew Stewart’s chapter he talks of how the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission made several extreme rulings on the application of State OHS laws to federal employees.  He states that the government of Kevin Rudd has progressed OHS legislative reforms considerably by the government has “not indicated any interest in taking over the field itself”.  The reticence has seemed strange and I was one of those who tipped a greater role for Comcare as a  body for national OHS oversight.

Stewart has interpreted the government’s suspension of Comcare licences for national workers compensation coverage as  illustrating the government’s interest lies

“in streamlining workers compensation for multi-State employers, rather than imposing a national regime”.

Ron McCallum is an Australia labour academic who always demands attention. Stewart includes a particularly salient reference

“Ron McCallum, for example, has argued that labour laws that are centred around corporations are unlikely to retain a ‘wholesome’ balance between employers and employees.  Ultimately, he suggests, such laws are likely to become ‘little more that a sub-set of corporations law because inevitably they will fasten upon the economic needs of corporations and their employees will be viewed as but one aspect of the productive process in our globalized economy.”

The path to fairness is likely to continue to be rocky even during the terms of a government that originated from the labour movement.

NES

Jill Murray and Rosemary Owens write a chapter focusing on the Safety Net, a set of legislated minimum standards – National Employment Standards (NES).  These standards are not “lines in the sand” and have purposely been given inherently flexibility.  One of the issues discussed by Murray & Owens is maximum working hours.

This is particularly important to those of us who are trying to manage the issues of fatigue and impairment in workplaces.  The authors state that it remains between the employer and employee to determine what hours, additional to the 38-hour working week, are “reasonable”.  Some of the relevant safety factors in determining reasonableness are listed as

  • “Occupational health and safety risks”
  • “Personal circumstances, including family responsibilities”, as well as
  • “Needs of the workplace or enterprise” and
  • “any other relevant matter.”

Murray & Owens say that to determine reasonableness is almost impossible to negotiate between individuals because there is no priority allocated to each of the eleven criteria.    The authors say

“… this kind of conflict is exactly what the provision must confront: a business might have urgent demands on production, yet an individual worker has to get home to cook tea for the family.”

Murray & Owens go on

“By placing the potential to expand working hours in the hands of the parties at the workplace, the NES, like WorkChoices, really mean that whoever holds the greater power (and, perhaps, knowledge of their rights) is likley to prevail, notwithstanding any calculation of reasonableness.”

Here is the opportunity for the union movement to generate additional members and in an industrial relations climate that allows fro greater access to employees.  It is rare to find any individual who understands their own employment rights sufficiently to negotiate by and for themselves.  The union movement could again become the “Friend of the Workers” by actually being the friend of workers and doing some solid footwork.

The Fair Work book is far more than this short article indicates.  I only received the book this morning but am promising myself that I will read the rest.

As safety management broadens itself to cover psychosocial risks, it increasingly overlaps industrial relations, a workplace element that, with luck and a bit of work, could have been avoided by OHS professionals in the past.  That is no longer the case and OHS professionals must understand how industrial relations changes will affect their own workplace and how they do their jobs.  The Fair Work book is a great place to start.

Kevin Jones

The new generation of foolhardy reporters

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In 1975 five Australian reporters were killed while covering the armed dispute between the Indonesian military and, what used to be called “freedom fighters”, the Fretilin in East Timor.  An indication of how circumstances can change is that José Ramos Horta, the current President of East Timor was a founder and former member of Fretilin, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor.

Since that time, in particular, in Australia, the issue of safety of media employees has gained considerable attention, primarily through the work of the journalist’s union, the MEAA, and the international Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma

But there are a new generation of freelancers and writers who come to reporting from outside the tertiary journalism courses (this writer included) who do not have the benefit of accessing the wisdom and advice of experienced reporters.  These writers (I do not apply the term journalist  even to myself) see the excitement of reporting from exotic locations and areas of conflict.  New technology of recording and distribution only encourages them because it makes the reporting process easier or, at least, makes it easier to provide content, the quality of the content is often questionable.

A new book is being released in Australia concerning the Balibo Five and the author spoke to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.  Tony Maniaty, who was in Indonesia at the time and spoke with the Australian reporters, touches on the risks to which the new generation of reporters are willingly exposing themselves.   His comments are timely and reinforce the importance of what used to be called listening to the wisdom of elders but now seems to be mentoring.  His comments apply to all occupations and professions.

A feature film is being made about this period and the events surrounding the Balibo Five.  Maniaty attending the shooting of the film and spoke about this in a Youtube video, ostensibly for the promotion of his book. 

Kevin Jones

 

 

Fearing the invisible – selling nanotechnology hazards

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The community is not getting as concerned about nanotechnology as expected (or perhaps as needed).  There is the occasional scare and the Australian unions have relaunched their campaign on the hazards of nanotechnology manufacturing.  There have been several articles about the potential ecosystem damage of nanotechnology in our waterways.  Frequently, it can be heard that nanotechnology is the new asbestos.

Nanotechnology is a new technology and all new things should be used with caution.  It is odd that none of the nanotechnology protests seem to be gaining much traction.

Part of the problem is that nanotechnology is invisible and how do people become concerned about the invisible?  This is a point of difference from the asbestos comparison.  Asbestos was turned into asbestos products – from dust to roofing.  But nanotechnology goes from invisible to items such as socks.  The public see new improved versions of common items, nanotechnology is used in familiar items, but the public does not see the nanotechnology and therefore does not comprehend nanotechnology as a potential hazard.

It may be useful to jump back before asbestos to look for new communication techniques for warning consumers about the invisible.

In 1998 Nancy Tome published “The Gospel of Germs“.  Tome looks at the slow realisation in the first half of last century by the public that germs and microbes exist and can cause harm.  She is not interested in the germs themselves but how society accepted their existence and how they reacted.  This reaction – improved hygiene, infection control, disinfectant, etc – can provide us with some clues as to how society embraces the invisible, particularly if the invisible can make us sick.

Nancy Tomes wrote the book in the time when AIDS was new.  But since then SARS is new, Swine Flu is new and other pandemics will become new to a generation who have only known good health and good hygiene.  Now we are creating invisible things that we know can have positive benefits but we don’t know the cost of the benefit.

It is perhaps time for the OHS lobbyists to take a page or two from the public health promotion manual (and Tome’s book) and begin to explain rather than warn.  Nanotechnology is not asbestos and the comparison is unhelpful.  The application of nanotechnology will be in far more products than was asbestos and the nanotechnology is smaller.

If the lobbyists can make the invisible visible then progress will be much quicker.

Kevin Jones

OHS as an agent of change

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Tom Bramble is a Queensland socialist academic who recently published a history of Australian trade unionism.  I attended his book launch in Melbourne and found it partly inspiring and partly disconcerting.

Tom (pictured here) was an excellent speaker and seemed to be a knownbramble-book-launch-0011 entity to the strongly socialist audience.  It was the audience that I found disconcerting.  I had not been in so overtly socialist circles for over a decade and although disconcerted, the atmosphere was refreshing due to the level of passion in the speakers.

I regularly write about the industrial relations context of workplace safety  so I was disappointed that Tom did not mention OHS as an agent of change.  I went back to his book and looked for mentions of workplace safety knowing that there have been disputes over OHS in the trade union movement and often workplace fatalities have generated politic pressure and outrage.  

There were some mentions of of safety or health conditions but these were often as an add-on to the more industrial issues such as wages.  Perhaps this is where OHS should be but I can’t help thinking that safety and health can be important elements of emphasising the importance of a dispute by appealing to basic worker and human rights.  One example in Tom’s book is the Mount Isa Mine dispute in 1964 where the state of amenities block was a source of tension.  Given the devastating effect of asbestos, lead and other industrial illnesses, I expected health and safety to have a much higher profile.

Perhaps, my expectations were too high as I had been reading a history of the Queensland Fire Service where the safety and safety equipment were important elements and even motivators for disputation.  Indeed, the issue of PPE in the emergency services remains a hot issue even in 2008.

Arguing for improved safety equipment is a useful example of OHS as an agent of change because of the direct relationship of PPE as a hazard control mechanism.

I don’t accept the position that firefighting is riskier than working in construction. Construction faces a constant presence of hazards whereas firefighting is highly intermittent even though the risks may be more intense.

Australian workplaces have a sad history of fatalities, falls, poisoning, suicides, amputations, crushings, runovers and drownings.  Each of these issues have generated change in specific workplaces.  Some have generated political, organisational and cultural change.  It seems to me that a history of workplace safety in Australia may be needed to show people how the little brother of industrial relations affects change from an, arguably stronger moral position.

Kevin Jones