The safety of “green” jobs

At the Australian Labor Party conference currently happening in Sydney, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, announced a program to create “green” jobs or jobs from the renewable energy and environmental sectors.

The program sounds a lot like the previous (Conservative) government’s Jobs for the Dole scheme – same unemployment sector different focus.  Rudd’s program is more “Jobs for the Globe”.   The environment needs all the hope that it can get but will the participants of the green job scheme gain marketable skills or is it a case of keeping idle hands active?

Regardless, there is an OHS context to environmental initiatives.

The United States seems to be well ahead of Australia in this policy area.  The NIOSH Science Blog reports on the US programs which are supported by OHS initiatives at the planning stage.  The blog lists the types of green jobs in the US:

  • installation and maintenance of solar panels and generators;
  • construction and maintenance of wind energy turbines;
  • jobs related to recycling;
  • jobs related to the manufacture of green products; and
  • jobs where green products are used in traditional fields such as agriculture, healthcare, and the service sector

In a media release not yet publicly available, Kevin Rudd has listed the Australian green jobs in his “National Green Jobs Corps”:

  • Bush regeneration and planting native trees
  • Wildlife and fish habitat protection
  • Walking and nature track construction/restoration; and
  • Training and hands on experience in the installation of energy efficiencies for buildings.

Huh??  One out of four for marketable skills.

There are several apprentice initiatives which may provide better skills but the Government will need to generate considerable growth in the renewable sector so that the skills gained can be applied.

• Revegetating bushland
• Constructing a boardwalk over vulnerable wetland
• Retrofitting energy efficient lighting and plumbing

Rudd said at the ALP Conference that

“The practical job-ready skills included in this training will include:

  • Training electricians in the installation of solar energy;
  • Training plumbers in the installation of water-recycling, plumbing systems; and
  • Training workers in the booming home insulation industry and the retro-fitting of buildings to reduce energy consumption”

It would have been visionary for the Prime Minister to mention the broader social benefit from also making sure that the young workers in this new sectors will be safe.  It could have been done as the NIOSH blog reports.

And the NIOSH initiatives show that OHS professionals and associations need to be active in reminding governments and business that OHS does not take a holiday.

Kevin Jones

    Integrating climate change impacts into OHS and business management

    Today the European Policy Centre in Brussels released the report Climate change: Global Risks, Challenges & Decisions. The findings of this report do not directly affect workplace safety but do indicate new ways in which businesses must manage the economic and social hazards that climate change produces.  These new ways of management must be anticipated and understood by OHS professionals.

    Synthesis Report Web coverThe report says that

    “Linking climate change with broader sustainable consumption and production concerns, human rights issues and democratic values is crucial for shifting societies towards more sustainable development pathways.”

    The need for integrated management of business has never been greater.  The common threat of climate change can only be met with a business strategy that embraces the reality of the threat and has this reality on the table of all business discussions – a desire that many professionals have also been pushing for OHS for years.  The boardroom and management tables are becoming full of issues that some see as competing but are in truth complementary.

    The report discusses two types of action that can be taken.  Businesses that produce large amounts of carbon should be well involved with mitigation measures and the political policy frameworks.  Other businesses can benefit substantially from adapation, that is

    “…whereby society increases its capacity to cope with the impacts of climate change, so far as possible.”

    The report gives developing countries a particular focus for adaptation but the concept is equally relevant, and perhaps more easily implemented, in Western countries.

    “Adaptation to climate change cannot be successfully implemented if treated as an “add on” and implemented separately from other initiatives aimed at fostering economic and social development and increasing the resilience of societies.”

    Climate change is altering the statistical possibilities of worst-case scenarios.  The one-in-a-million is becoming the one-in-a-thousand.  The once-in-a-hundred-years is becoming once-in-a-decade.  The rapidity of change and the greater extremes and fluctuations of these events are changing the way projects are handled, costed and managed.  These fluctuations will challenge the way that safety is managed and are broadening the scope of the profession.

    OHS needs to be seen as a discipline that is as multi-faceted as risk management, as human as human resources and as responsible as corporate social responsibility.  The OHS professional will remain focused on the safety of employees but what used to be on the periphery is now moving to the centre – climate change, business continuity, infectious disease pandemics, travel, risk management, shareholder expectations, quality, auditing, governance and accountability, to name a few.

    And none of these issues can be dealth with without an integrated and adaptive approach, an approach that can provide more wide-ranging social benefits than ever before.

    Kevin Jones

    Is the sun good for us or bad?

    Exposure to ultraviolet light is a risk for outdoor workers, particularly, that need to be managed well.  The best way to manage this is a point of debate in OHS management circles but I thought the medical argument on skin cancers and melanoma was over.  Apparently not.

    According to an article at BMJ Online, Associate Professor Scott Menzies says

    “Sun exposure is clearly a major cause of this disease [melanoma]”.

    Sam Shuster is not so sure.

    “We need to know much more before we can balance the biological books on ultraviolet radiation, even if we can now close the chapter on melanoma.”

    When you are discussing occupational safety with your occupational physician (assuming you have one) bring these articles to their attention so that any skin cancer management program you operate is as valid and robust as it can be.  In OHS, a contemporary state of knowledge is an important base.

    OHS and Climate Change

    Many of my OHS colleagues have responsibility for environmental safety, some to the extent of being rebadged HSE or OHSE. I have been an ardent advocate of managing business safety and risk issues in a coordinated and integrated manner. Historically, I would have applied the risk management standard as the umbrella framework, others do not.

    Many of my OHS colleagues have responsibility for environmental safety, some to the extent of being rebadged HSE or OHSE. I have been an ardent advocate of managing business safety and risk issues in a coordinated and integrated manner. Historically, I would have applied the risk management standard as the umbrella framework, others do not.

    The balancing act for health, safety & environment managers is to consider a vast array of matters without losing the focus of the core task, in my case workplace safety, for others this may be public liability, or triple-bottom-lines etc. Depending on the industry you work in, environment can have a greater or smaller role in your business.

    I remember working on safety management for a transport company where I reported to the quality manager. I can report to lots of different titles but in this case the quality manager allocated an uneven priority to safety compared to other business elements. He saw quality as by-far the most important element, perhaps it was because he was uncomfortable in other areas outside of his expertise, I don’t really know. But his attitude did not allow for integration only sublimation. I remember his attitude when I have to consider elements beyond my expertise and have them fit into the business strategy in which I have responsibility for safety or maybe risk.

    Time management and the prioritizing of tasks is never far away from occupational safety and business operations. It is important that environmental impacts of your business, and those on your business, are discussed in a serious manner at all levels of your company. If it is not on the agenda, it is not in people’s minds. Indeed some have said that the environment is the new OHS. I am not so sure as environmental issues have a global impact where OHS is limited to a smaller community.
    In the context of community, an important consideration is whether the implementation of environmental strategies will re-organise business structures to the extent that there are staff losses. In a relatively small nation like Australia, if the environmental management trend continues to grow at the same time, the social impact from unemployment could be significant. However similar concerns have been voiced in recent memory over the level of automation in workplaces and the impact of automatic teller machines on the banking sector. In a fairly short amount of time, the workforce is redistributed to areas of need but for the unemployed and their families this short period can be very painful.

    I was taught that risk management can be a major force for good by tying important business elements under the one, fairly broad, set of criteria. When I entered the real world of risk management I encountered as much narrow-mindedness in the risk management profession as I had seen elsewhere. I hope that as the environmental business issues gain prominence that the other disciplines listen, consider and, maybe, embrace the environmental so that all the important elements in our lives and our businesses are weighed, balanced and integrated. Work/life balance is far more than just hours of work and time with the kids.