What can we learn about Change from hearing loss in a Korean factory?

Business Executives Resist ChangeI have purchased Kevin Burns’ book “PeopleWork” after receiving an email promotion but before I did I followed the link to his website and watched an embedded video where Kevin says:

“At no time in history have there been better processes and procedures in workplace safety and at no time in history have there been more certified safety professionals but at the same time the number of workplace incidents keep rising across the board.”

Any salesman is allowed some hyperbole but the last point does not stack up and is a bit confusing.  For instance workplace fatalities have been declining in Australia for some decades but new work-related hazards are being acknowledged and existing hazards that were once dismissed are now being addressed.  The number of certified occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals is irrelevant as the laws have existed for much longer and it is the laws with which employers must comply, not the advice of the OHS professional.

But Kevin Burns talks specifically about the number of workplace incidents and this is almost impossible to quantify.

Just after I purchased Kevin’s book I received a research paper entitled “

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Firefighters’ mental health

More details are appearing of the findings of an independent inquiry into mental health and suicides in the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB), a report whose release has been stalled by the United Firefighters’ Union (UFU).

cover-bullying-health-sectorAccording to the inquiry’s chair, in an article in the ABC news website, Dr Peter Cotton,

“…the MFB has a mono-culture with few women or members from diverse backgrounds, making it difficult to assess the level of bullying and harassment.”

“… the MFB does not screen for alcohol or drug use, and has a lack of policies and procedures to address drug and alcohol issues.”

“Management’s handling of complaints were found to be ad hoc and inconsistent with a “lack of will to follow up” and “give them a wide berth” thought pattern.”

“the mental health of firefighters was comparable with Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria,…”

The latter point is useful to remember as a similar report into the Victoria Police was released earlier this year. The most recent inquiry into Ambulance Victoria was undertaken by the Victorian Auditor-General in 2016. Continue reading “Firefighters’ mental health”

Smart drinks may be dumb safety

Puzzle head brain mental health symbol idea conceptFatigue and impairment are two of the most difficult workplace hazards to address.  These are further complicated when they are contextualised in workplace mental health.  So it is concerning when an entrepreneur produces a product that is meant to help address mental fatigue but that may also mask occupational health and safety (OHS) actions that are required to provide truly sustainable workplace improvement.

The Australian Financial Review (AFR, $), on 12 December 2016, reported on the establishment of a “smart drinks” company called Shine+.  AFR reporter Misa Han, wrote:

“Shine+ is one of many companies who are trying to take advantage of professionals and students who take drugs in order to enhance their performance and brain functions.”

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Another safety magazine bites the dust

safety-solution-01On November 15, 2016, the NSCA Foundation (NSCAF) and Westwick-Farrow Media (WFM) announced a new publishing deal for one of Australia’s few remaining occupational health and safety (OHS) publications, National Safety. The media release was very upbeat about the change but the reality is that Australian OHS professionals and business operators will lose a free, hard-copy source of safety information, Safety Solutions.

National Safety magazine is a good magazine that, although long promoted as the journal of the NSCA Foundation, has a good reputation for independent and informative OHS articles and seems to have had a loyal readership amongst OHS professionals. There had been no hint that the magazine was “in trouble” or that a change was warranted. Safety Solutions has more of an advertorial approach and seems to appeal more to the small business owner and OHS professional who is more focused on the manufacturing industry sector. The magazine has existed since 2002 and has been a consistent presence. Continue reading “Another safety magazine bites the dust”

Research into management perceptions of safety – Yeah But…..

In August this year Safe Work Australia released “Perceived Levels of Management Safety Empowerment and Justice among Australian Employers”.  The justification for the document is to better understand leadership culture in line with the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022. It is always useful to understand how business owners and employers see workplace safety as only when we understand their “way of seeing” safety, can we effectively engage in improving occupational health and safety (OHS) but this report could have been so much more.

20161116_091247The perception survey on which the Perceived Levels report was based is an application of the  Nordic Occupational Safety Climate Questionnaire (NOSACQ-50) which is “a tool for diagnosing occupational safety climate and evaluating safety climate interventions”.

The Perceived Levels report found

  • Small business operators felt they didn’t display management safety empowerment and management safety justice enough.
  • The level of activities in these area varied in different industry categories
  • Most employers felt they displayed these activities frequently.
  • Employers with apprentices and young workers felt they displayed these attitudes more.

“Management safety justice” may seem like an odd concept as it is relatively new to Australia and there is very little information available online to clarify.   What might help is the list of questions that was asked in the survey on this topic:

  1. The business collects accurate information in accident investigations.
  2. Fear of negative consequences discourages workers here from reporting near miss incidents.
  3. The business listens carefully to all who have been involved in an incident.
  4. The business looks for causes, not guilty persons, when an accident occurs.
  5. The business knows when to report incidents to the health and safety inspectorate.

The survey results are presented as positives and knowing perceptions is important but the percentages of management safety justice seem alarmingly low for OHS obligations that have existed for decades.  For instance

“Just over half (59%) of employers indicated that their business collects accurate information from incident investigations, although small businesses were much less likely to indicate that they collected this information (54%) compared to employers in medium and large businesses (95% and 94% respectively). ” (page x)

So 41% do not collect information from incident investigations!!  What’s not clear is whether investigations occur at all.

The potential for this type of survey seems good and it would be great to see it carried out more frequently or more broadly and over time so that perception changes the effectiveness of OHS initiatives can be measured.  That is unlikely to occur through Safe Work Australia (SWA), however.

SWA told SafetyAtWorkBlog that it has no plans to repeat the perceptions of work health and safety survey.

OHS people often talk about “work as perceived vs work as done”, acknowledging that planned works are often different from how the work is performed in reality. The SWA report addresses the former but there is no intention to try to verify those perceptions.  SWA advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that

“…to do so would be very challenging from a methodological point of view.”

A major element of OHS management is verifying the reality to the perception, the “work as done” to the work “as planned” through procedures, work instructions and safe work method statements, for instance. Many companies apply a rigorous system of audits, assessments and inspections to verify legal and operational compliance.  Some are beginning to undertake safety culture assessments over time. The benefit to the Australian business community of showing how compatible leadership culture on safety is to the application of safety could have been substantial.

The weight given to this perceptions report needs to be considered carefully as the limitations are identified very early in the document. For instance, the response rate to the 2012 survey was low and the data cannot be said to be representative of the Australian community. Safe Work Australia (SWA) told SafetyAtWorkBlog that

“we cannot be confident that the information is representative of the whole population”.

This Safe Work Australia report provides a glimpse into managerial perceptions but little more. Safe Work Australia does provide other more substantial reports from which there is often more to learn.  One such report, from May 2011 – “Motivation, Attitudes, Perceptions and Skills: Pathways to Safe Work” provided these findings, amongst others

“Commitment to work health and safety as a desirable characteristic of workplaces is strong among those who work in them.Commitment to work health and safety and individual efficacy does not translate into consistent adherence to safe work practice: Talk does not match action.

Talking about work health and safety is essential to impart understanding, but it needs to be accompanied by institutional structures that allow broad participation and that consistently mainstream safe practices.

A key element in talk and action is cooperation among managers, workers, work health and safety authorities, and unions. These actors are interdependent and each is needed to enable the effectiveness of the other. The inverse is also true. Each has capacity to undercut the effectiveness of the other.

Workplaces underperform on safety when management does not put safety first for its own sake (managers don’t walk the talk) and when participation and communication about safety are not consistent and institutionalised: In these circumstances individuals ‘close down’ as active learners and participants of safety.

Social demographic groups did not differ markedly in this report but two consistent trends were observed. Those who are most dismissive of authority while expressing concern about safety and reporting negatively on the safety of their workplaces comprise a disproportionately large proportion of younger respondents and respondents from smaller workplaces.”

Curiously, the Motivations & Attitudes report was not referenced in the employer perception report.

Research relies on replication to validate original research and it is very disappointing that Safe Work Australia cannot replicate this survey. But SWA does have the capacity to build on these survey results and provide a more detailed analysis of these perceptions, often from its existing resources, publications and reports, as seen from the Motivation report quoted above.

OHS benefits enormously from literature reviews that pull together similarly-theme research into an assessment of the current state of knowledge about workplace safety topics. The Perceived Levels report would have benefited greatly from placement within a literature review on managerial perceptions on workplace safety.  It would have also been useful for a more detailed discussion of the assessment themes of “management safety empowerment and management safety justice”.  These concepts are new to Australia and could have been discussed independently and to provide an Australian context.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has been critical of the importation of Scandinavian (and US) concepts to Australia in the past as the socioeconomic structures of Scandinavia are very different from the Australian.

Safe Work Australia should be congratulated for trying something new and it is hoped that someone in Australia continues this work.

Kevin Jones

Gender, violence, Batty, Hulls and business preparedness

Recently the Victorian Women Lawyers conducted a seminar into the outcomes of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence.  SafetyAtWorkBlog attended even though the topic seems, initially, to have a tenuous link to occupational health and safety (OHS).  Family violence is relevant to OHS through its influence on workplace mental ill-health, productivity and the need for cultural…

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Safety leadership through action rather than PowerPoint

The Spring 2016 edition of National Safety magazine includes a cover story on leadership written by me.  In it John Lacey insists that safety leadership begins at the top.  This position is supported by many business and occupational health and safety (OHS) advocates but this seems to me to be based on a misunderstanding of leadership.

nsca-mag-coverIn response to a question about leadership in small- to medium-sized businesses, Lacey said that leadership “applies to all”:

“[Leadership] is not different but how to apply it will be different. The start must be from the top down. The basic values, behaviours, knowledge and systems will be defined by the organisation no matter how large or small it is.”

This is remarkably like safety culture and my response is that leadership can be displayed by anyone at any level of a company or society and can manifest at any organisational level.  The fact is that it is easier to sell a commodified leadership to executives as they are expected to show leadership in times of crisis or stockmarket uncertainty and most of us translate that into leadership of safety.

Leadership, as with most elements of OHS, takes time and effort – sometimes over generations.  This is particularly so with anything concerning corporations that are wary of change unless that change supports profit and shareholder returns. (I would argue safety increases profits and company value but this is an argument than struggles for traction)

The most abused aphorism used to justify this focus on executive leadership is that “a fish rots from the head down”. Nonsense.  As this website states, it is the guts of a fish that rots first.

fish boneThe attention given to senior executive leadership is an organisational echo of the economic trickle-down theory which has been roundly dismissed as flawed and, in some instances, has contributed to increasing socio-economic inequality.

Lacey acknowledges that anybody within an organisation can lead although leadership starts from the top.  He supports my contention that leadership occurs at all levels of a business and that actions show leadership and safety, probably, more effectively and cheaper than any training session.  Lacey says

“…even the gesture of picking-up litter or wearing the correct [personal protective equipment] in front of others in the work team can be seen as a form of leadership. Leading by example is an old but such a true saying. 

These actions are the best way of improving workplace safety and showing leadership, and for the least cost.  Safety should be improved by actions rather than PowerPoint.

Kevin Jones

[Note: please support National Safety magazine if you can.  It is not available online and only through subscription but it is one of the few hard copy OHS magazines left in Australia and one of the few, if not the last, that actually pays its writers (not as much as we’d like but that’s the continuous battle of the freelance writer).  This stance is keeping advertorials at bay and gives National Safety an integrity that is often missing in other safety publications]

Labour Hire Inquiry recommends a licencing scheme

Following, ostensibly, the Four Corners exposé of labour hire exploitation in Australia last year, the Victorian Government established an inquiry.  That Inquiry’s final report has been released with lots of recommendations, several pertaining to occupational health and safety (OHS).  The Government’s media release response is HERE. The main recommendations related to OHS are: I recommend…

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Early speculation and reporting on theme park deaths is unhelpful

Late yesterday four adults were killed on the Thunder River Rapids ride at the Dreamworld theme park in Queensland Australia. Investigations are ongoing and it was only recently that the names of some of the victims were released.  The first few days after any fatality are confusing as new information is uncovered, old concerns are voiced and our sympathies for the dead expressed.  However there are usually some comments that are unhelpful, and this morning was no exception.

ABC Radio’s AM program led with a report called “Union expresses concerns to Queensland safety regulator about Dreamworld rides”. In the report Ben Swan, Queensland Secretary of the Australian Workers Union says that the union raised safety and maintenance concerns with the company running DreamWorld, Ardent Leisure Group, earlier this year. Swan said that the concerns involved maintenance regimes and equipment but did not specify that Thunder River Rapids was part of those concerns.

Swan was at pains to not distract people from the incident investigation yet his readiness to be interviewed did just that. The union could have made its point about past safety concerns by pledging to cooperate with official investigations by the Coroner and Work Health and Safety Queensland.

Lawyer, Sugath Wijedoru was interviewed by AM over an incident at the theme park in April 2016 that involved his client. The incident involved a different ride and different circumstances.

Swan’s and Wijedoru’s comments and the structure of the AM report, imply that there was a systemic OHS problem with the theme park’s administration but how does this help the investigation less than a day after the deaths? Does this add to the grief and trauma of the relatives who have only just been informed of the deaths, or provide comfort?  DreamWorld may have systemic safety management problems but identifying this is the role of the investigators.

The information that Swan, Wijedoru and others have about the Thunder River Rapids ride and Dream World’s OHS practices generally is sure to be of interest to the investigators, regulators and Courts but did they need to comment within 24 hours of the tragedies? Who did this help?

The report also end with the reporter Katherine Gregory reminding the listener that

“there is no national regulator for theme parks in Australia. Instead it is managed by each jurisdiction.”

The implication is that there should be one. Why? The only National OHS regulator Australia has is Comcare and that only covers a selection of workplaces and industries. The fact is that Australia has no national regulator of workplace safety in the manner of other countries.  OHS is almost always dealt with by the States which makes the concluding comments curious and unnecessary.

Mainstream media feels the need to report news and the deaths of four people on an amusement ride is certainly news but does it need to encourage speculation about incident causes at the time that the company is trying to work out what happened and address the concerns of its workers, various investigators are only just getting the level of access to the scene they need, and relatives are finding out why some of their family are not coming home?

Kevin Jones