Asbestos – out of sight but not out of mind in Asia

By Melody Kemp

Hmong uplander with child. Source: Melody Kemp

Asbestos resembles polio. Just when you think it’s beaten, it returns like some ghoul. If you think this is overly dramatic, last year Laos was struck by a polio outbreak. This year we learned that Laos now ranks amongst the globe’s major importers of asbestos. And it’s driven by cynical market forces targeting poorer nations, inadvertently promoted by international aid. Continue reading “Asbestos – out of sight but not out of mind in Asia”

What do we want from a workers’ memorial?

When anyone dies, it is important to remember them and their relatives as well as those we did not know personally but who also grieve.  Public recognition of deceased workers is a recent phenomenon, even though we have commemorated and noted industrial disasters for over a century.  Memorials have always provided a symbolic focus for our attention and grief with the hope that these memorials motivate people to reduce the chances of a workplace death occurring to others.

But worker memorials need to be carefully considered and designed to be inclusive as Death visits all workplaces regardless of the religion of the workers, their ethnicity, the location of the fatality or the workplace conditions.  On the eve of International Workers’ Memorial Day for 2017, it may be time to rethink the memorial to deceased workers in Melbourne, Victoria.

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Ferguson shows one way to harness social media for change

Credit: LittleBee80 (istockphoto)

Kirstin Ferguson has been an amazing advocate for occupational health and safety (OHS), good governance, Board responsibility, and gender diversity.  She is receiving a great deal of media attention lately for her Celebrating Women campaign on social media. Ferguson has inspired, and been inspired by, many people in the OHS profession in Australia and is an example of how OHS blends with issues of leadership and governance in a way that is very different from the Trojan Horse analogy recently discussed by John Green.

On March 8 2017 Australia’s

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Poor worker safety through gov’t disinterest and high unemployment

Dhaka, Bangladesh – April 29, 2013: A view of collapsed Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh. Over 1,130 workers of apparel factories were killed and 2500 others were injured when the eight-storey factory build collapsed on the outskirts of Bangladesh capital Dhaka in 2013. Bangladesh is one of the major countries supplying ready-made garments to leading apparel brands of USA and Europe. Bangladesh also earns over US$ 28 billion a year by exporting apparel items.

The current edition of SouthAsia magazine has a short report on occupational health and safety (OHS) in Bangladesh that illustrate the political and social challenges for workers and citizens in a country. The article, “Poor Workplace Safety” (not available online) states that government data for 2016 list more than 1,225 workers killed and over 500 injured.  After these figures, and the fact that Bangladesh has a history of  catastrophic workplace disasters, the author, Mohammad Waqar Bilal, states

“In fact, the issue of workers’ safety has never been considered by the government on a priority basis.”

Continue reading “Poor worker safety through gov’t disinterest and high unemployment”

The challenges for Trump’s (Plan B) Labor Secretary could be huge and disruptive

Following the resignation of Andrew Puzder, President Trump has nominated Alexander Acosta to be the new Labor Secretary.  The United States media, generally, has been supportive of the nomination particularly in comparison to Puzder. However, there was a particular line in the President’s media conference that may indicate his approach to safety legislation and regulations.

“We’ve directed the elimination of regulations that undermine manufacturing and call for expedited approval of the permits needed for America and American infrastructure and that means plant, equipment, roads, bridges, factories.” (emphasis added)

President Trump’s plans for cutting regulatory red tape was forecast during his election campaign when he stated that regulations:

“…  just stopping businesses from growing.”

President Trump or his Labor Secretary nominees have not mentioned occupational health and safety (OHS) specifically but the

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“Every death is manslaughter”

The South Australian Branch of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) held a protest rally in Adelaide on 15 February 2017 in response to the political negotiations in Australia’s Parliament about the reintroduction of, what the union sees as, anti-union legislation.  Throughout the rally’s presentations (available online through the CFMEU Facebook page), the issue of occupational health and safety (OHS) was raised and it is worth looking closely at what was said and the broader political and safety context.

The issues to be addressed in the protest rally included Senator Nick Xenophon’s “deal” with Prime Minister Turnbull that the CFMEU claims will:

  • ” Make our workplaces less safe
  • Put more overseas visa workers on our building sites
  •  Cut the number of apprentices in South Australia
  •  Threaten job security and increase casual jobs
  •  Fail to mandate Australian made products on construction sites”

After Joe McDonald opened the rally, the Secretary of the CFMEU SA, Aaron Cartledge (pictured above), spoke about how workers in South Australia had been dudded on safety because the health and safety representatives (HSRs) cannot call on external safety advisers to help them with an OHS matter.  This may be the case but Cartledge’s comments illustrate a common perspective of trade unionists – a reluctance to consider safety management strategies other than those dependent on HSRs.

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No one is hurt, so there is nothing to see

When talking about workplace health and safety there is almost always questions about why one type of workplace hazard is given more priority than others.  This is most common in discussing the neglect of mental health and psychosocial issues in comparison to incidents that result in physical Night photo of Houses Westminster Bridge and Big Ben, Londoninjury or death.  The reasons given are almost always social ones, external to the workplace. A commentary in The Guardian newspaper for 1 November 2016 by David Conn adds another reason.

Parts of the English community have been calling for an inquiry into the “battle of Orgreave” which occurred in 1984 during the miners’ strike.  This call was strengthened following the findings into the Hillsborough disaster and the cover-up by police. Orgreave campaigners were given hope by statements from the UK parliamentarian Therese May, upon becoming Prime Minister.

On 31 October 2016, the Home Secretary Amber Rudd told Parliament that no inquiry at all will be held into the event at Orgreave over which protesters were taken to Court in a prosecution that fell to bits after police evidence was found to be “unreliable”..

What is most pertinent to OHS is this comment from Conn:

“Rudd declared there was not a sufficient basis for an inquiry, partly because nobody died at Orgreave, as if this is the bar now being set for whether wrongdoing should be held to account.” (Emphasis added)

Rudd’s original statement said this:

“Despite the forceful accounts and arguments provided by the campaigners and former miners who were present that day, about the effect that these events have had on them, ultimately there were no deaths or wrongful convictions”

The Orgreave campaigners accepted that no one died on the day of the incident but that did not seem to be the point of the campaign.  The allegation is that the conduct of the police generated unnecessary harm.  Lives were ruined, families broken.  The campaign was for justice.

Rudd establishes a moral benchmark that only fatalities generate official inquiries.  Mental health and the impact of traumatic events get a lower billing.  This reflects a similar approach to workplace incidents and harm.  Broken legs get more attention than broken heads yet it is fair to say legs heal faster.

Fatalities, in some ways, are easier to manage because there is no disputing that death has occurred, only how and why.  Trauma, mental illness, psychosocial problems are more complex as the illness themselves are often disputed or, at least, the extent of harm is disputed.  Such psychosocial conditions also have a greater potential to reveal uncomfortable organisational truths such as poor management, poor leadership, exploitation, incivility, disrespect and abuse.

The U.K. Government venerates its political leaders but continues to show poor leadership in areas that could extend political careers (let’s acknowledge that motivation) as well as restoring faith in the political process, which is suffering badly around the world, and providing comfort to its citizens.

Governments are shy of inquiries, particularly independent ones, for many reasons, including cost, but they miss the fact that even though inquiries provide findings, it is often the exposure that provides greater benefit than the list of recommendations in the final report.  This is evident from many of the continuing inquiries into child sex abuse by church leaders and others.

Governments, safety regulators and businesses need to accept that psychosocial hazards and incidents have as much merit for investigation as do physical injuries.  Ignoring this perpetuates the harm and compounds the inequity and injustice which impedes resolution and the continuous improvement that society expects and OHS legislation requires.

Kevin Jones

The challenge of marketing workplace safety

Safe Work Australia (SWA) has formally launched National Safety Month.  National Safety Month has existed for many years and is ostensibly a marketing exercise about workplace safety. As such it is worth looking briefly at the marketing of occupational health and safety (OHS) messages.

Campaigns can work well when there is a trusted and high-profile figure to be a spokesperson for the cause and, ideally, provides a testimonial or relevant back story. OHS in Australia lacks such a person.  Safety messaging almost always comes from the heads of regulatory agencies or business leaders whose public profiles are minimal.  Some prefer low profiles and when coerced to speak in public, often when on video, have a stilted delivery that limits the appeal.

Prominent support

If National Safety Month really wants to cut through into the mainstream media or to the broadest audience, it should have a message from the current Employment Relations Minister or, even better, the Prime Minister, at least.  National politicians guarantee media attention even if the entirety of the message is not used or explained.  State safety authorities have often been successful in gaining the support of their local Minister.

(A conference organiser trick that is regularly played in Australia is that if you want the Minister to open an event, let them know that if they cannot attend, the Opposition Party’s Shadow Minister has expressed an interest. The Minister then reprioritises the event.)

It is difficult to get Ministers’ time and even harder to have them on television or online video.  People understand this inconvenience and struggle, and the effort to get the Ministers seems to add strength and authority to the issues Ministers talk about. If National Safety Month, or the various State-based events, does not have the relevant Minister speaking at an event or in support of the event, or if the month goes by without, at least, a ministerial media statement, the community can justifiably say that the Minister does not care about workplace safety, even when they have responsibility for the portfolio.

Online

Most Australian OHS regulators have an online strategy in support of National Safety Month.  Over a decade ago when these strategies were introduced, the move online was almost always because it was seen as cheaper.  The minuscule size of the audience was rationalised with “if you build it they will come”.  The supposed success of many of these online strategies has not come from the subject matter, OHS is still seen as boring or a nuisance by most.  Online OHS marketing is, like so many others, riding the wave of technological change rather than affecting change itself.

Growth and success has come from the penetration of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other social media that pushes information to the audience bypassing the traditional media controllers who almost always ignored workplace safety unless there was a catastrophic disaster of multiple fatalities.

worksafe-awards-2016Media Disinterest

A minor but recent example of how the longterm media ignorance of OHS has changed media strategies is that WorkSafe Victoria offered no passes to the media for its awards night on October 7*, as it had done for most of the previous awards events.  WorkSafe seems to have become disheartened with the lack of mainstream media attention its awards received so it stopped inviting the media as a whole. The blanket exclusion is an odd decision given that WorkSafe Victoria has a strong online presence which would have been further strengthened by, at least, using the network of social media influencers.

The fact that WorkSafe Victoria has reconfigured its awards event back to an evening event and dinner is a further indication that the current WorkSafe is different from the previous incarnation under a conservative State Government.  However its difference is not new as it is more a return to what occurred in the past and what was seen as successful, just perhaps not in a media sense.  This “return to form” may reflect the expectations of the regulator, its stakeholders, the OHS profession and lobbyists but it has still failed to penetrate the editors’ interests in the next day’s newspapers.  The Herald-Sun newspaper does include a full-page ad (pictured above)about the winners but this would have been paid for.  Even so, it is a greater effort that in previous years where the ad was lucky to be a half-page.

Safety is too hard

The challenge of advertising about workplace safety is that the audience cannot buy safety; they must earn it, they must apply it, they must think about it and they must talk about it.  But largely they don’t.  It is seen as too complex and costly.  This perception has largely come through the politicisation of OHS from both extremes of politics and so OHS marketing has needed to consider the political juggling of its stakeholders, particularly when those stakeholders are embedded in the development of the safety message and the communication of the safety message through the tripartite consultative artefact, as they are in Australia.

So there are few options left available to safety regulators.  Safe Work Australia has chosen to add to the OHS body of knowledge and evidence through continuous release of reference documents and the Virtual Safety Seminars and podcasts which is the SWA’s main National Safety Month activity.  As SWA is not a safety regulatory, it has always had limited marketing opportunities so it is building a contemporary library of thought.

Most State OHS regulators continue to provide, at least, a week of free seminars and suburban and regional events using the internet largely as an administrative tool for event booking rather than a communication medium, but perhaps, SWA simply established its patch early.  And perhaps this is the most sustainable way to market workplace safety – talking face-to-face, showing new products and ideas, telling stories of what went wrong and what went right – reminding everyone that workplace safety is always about people.  After all, Australia’s most successful workplace safety ad, Homecomings, was all about the importance of people.

Kevin Jones

*SafetyAtWorkBlog enquired  with WorkSafe Victoria about media access some time ago but was advised that passes weren’t being issued and then it was too late to buy a ticket.

Independent analysis of WorkSafe Victoria

Cover of State of OHS in Victoria 2015Barry Naismith‘s third report into the operations and performance of WorkSafe Victoria was released on July 22, 2014. Naismith produces these reports through a combination of publicly available information in the press, a dive into the resources of the WorkSafe Library (visit before it moves to Geelong) and requests to WorkSafe.  This level of analysis and interpretation is rarely available outside of formal academic research and Naismith provides the all-important social and political context from which much academic occupational health and safety (OHS) research shies.

His latest paper focuses on 2015. Continue reading “Independent analysis of WorkSafe Victoria”

OHS policies of two of Australia’s political parties

Australia’s Federal election campaign has reached the halfway point but the political parties have yet to officially launch their campaigns so the policies that may relate to occupational health and safety (OHS) are unclear.  Even the Australian Greens have yet to launch their campaign but some of their long-held policy positions are clear. The Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) has received the workplace safety campaign policies of the Australian Labor Party.  More discussion on policies will occur when more are released. Continue reading “OHS policies of two of Australia’s political parties”