A research paper released last month in Germany caught my attention even though it does not relate directly to research undertaken in a work environment.
There seems to be an established train of thought that men and women choose to take risks based on some sort of gender criteria.
Alison L. Booth and Patrick J. Nolen have published “Gender Differences in Risk Behaviour: Does Nurture Matter?” They researched risk behaviour along gender lines in secondary education, a different sample choice to other researchers who mostly looked at their university students. Booth and Nolen found
“…gender differences in preferences for risk-taking are sensitive to the gender mix of the experimental group, with girls being more likely to choose risky outcomes when assigned to all-girl groups. This suggests that observed gender differences in behaviour under uncertainty found in previous studies might reflect social learning rather than inherent gender traits.”
Gender studies are fraught with ideological baggage and it is a brave person who chooses this line of study, as I learnt through studying sociology and Russian literature at university (but that’s another story).
The full report is heavy going for those with no sociology background but the research flags an issue that could be useful to pose to the growing band of workplace psychologists and culture gurus – what are the gender-based variations in unsafe behaviours in the workplace?
Could the available research mean different safety management approaches in workplaces with different gender mixes?
When people talk about workplace culture, could there be a male culture and a female culture? (We certainly refer to a macho culture in some industries) In other words, is there a Mars safety and a Venus safety?
Workplace safety tries hard to be generic but has variations based on industry types. Perhaps we should be looking more closely at the demographics of these types and varying our safety management approaches?
I have written elsewhere in SafetyAtWorkBlog concerning the silo mentality of managers in relation to human resources and OHS. This weekend a reader posted the following comment on this blog:
“You are right about the divide between HR & OHS. Fact is HR are the culprits of negligence, they exist to support Management. Any one with a serious complaint thinks long and hard before sticking their neck out and going to HR…”
What struck me about this comment was that human resources was seen to be aligned with management whereas workplace safety was not. A successful safety management system cannot exist in conflict with other management systems but how much compromise does OHS need to make to achieve an integrated management position?
I am sure that HR professionals would not perceive their position in the same way as above but I remember a colleague once saying that safety professionals were on the same level of influence to companies as hairdressers. Perhaps OHS professionals are envious of the level of influence that HR professionals seem to have with senior management and say such things from bitterness.
At some time or other we all feel less than relevant to employers but circumstances have a way of re-establishing relevance, sadly in OHS this is often and injury or a compensation claim.
I don’t believe that the disciplines of HR and OHS are incompatible but I have seen many instances in companies where the HR Manager sees OHS as divisive, particularly in the areas of stress and bullying. I believe that HR professionals by-and-large have a poor understanding of how safety should be managed in companies but that is not necessarily the fault of the HR professional. OHS professionals need to be far more analytical of their own actions and purpose within organisational structures and start being active.
It was predictable for the Opposition party to accuse Julia Gillard of arrogance for bypassing the Parliamentary process. Senator Eric Abetz wrote to the letters page of AFR on 21 January 2009, the text of the letter is below (although there were slight changes in the published version)
“It is highly arrogant and misleading for Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard to blame the so-called “intransigent” Senate and the Opposition for the delay in implementing harmonised OH&S laws (‘Gillard defies Senate on work safety”, 20th January 2009).
As the Shadow Minister who dealt with the issue in the Senate, I know that the facts of the matter are that what you might regard as an unlikely alliance of the Coalition, Family First, the Greens, Senator Xenophon, the ACCI and the ACTU (yes, even the ACTU) all agreed that the amendments proposed and passed by the Senate were necessary.
Unfortunately, our offer to meet with Ms Gillard to negotiate a way forward on this matter was rejected by a Minister who apparently thinks “it’s my way or the highway”. It is indicative of the disregard that the Rudd Government shows for the Parliament and the Senate is that it is now seeking to circumvent it on this important matter.”
The risk from the Gillard strategy is that once the process is completed the regulatory agency will forever be accused of being illegitimate, or a political ideological construct, having not undergone due process through Parliament. The Labor government needs to look beyond political expediency to construct a national OHS regulatory body of which noone can object.
Comment continues to be sought from the labour movement and opposition political parties.
WorkSafe Victoria has had considerable advertising success by focusing on the social impact of workplace injuries and death. In the newspapers and television over Christmas 2008, WorkSafe ads, like the billboard above, were on high rotation but, after the high number of workplace fatalities in January 2009, the strategy must be needing a review.
In terms of OHS promotion generally, branding and awareness strategies are valid however, when the messages of the strategies continue to be ignored, alternatives need to be developed. The fatality figures imply that family is “the most important reason for safety” but only for a short time or in limited circumstances. When you return to work the work environment or your approach to the work tasks are worse than before Christmas.
The reality of advertising is that it is often cheaper to raise awareness than change the behaviour of clients, in terms of OHS, this would be both the workers and the employers. Raising safety as a business priority requires considerably legwork by regulators on-site and through industry associations. Few OHS authorities around the world seem to be applying hands-on approaches to the extent required.
Part of the reason is that trade unions used to be the shopfloor safety police, as anticipated by Robens in the early 1970s, but trade union membership is at record low levels. The deficiency in the safety profile on the shopfloor or at the office watercooler is not being picked up by the employers.
Media campaigns are the public face of safety promotion but they should not be a veneer. Regulators need to provide more information on the alternative strategies they already employ, or plan to introduce, so that promotion is not seen as an end in itself.
Direct business and CEO visits have been used in the past but given up because these were short term initiatives. In Victoria, high level visits by regulators to CEOs, board members and directors had a considerable impact in the 1990s but there was no follow-up strategy to maintain that profile. Ten years on there are a new set of senior managers who could do with a bit of prodding.
As workplaces approach the winter break or Christmas, there will be in increase in communal singing. One Australian has started to establish workplace choirs.
Tania de Jong makes some good arguments about the benefits of greater worker contact and understanding through communal singing. It sounds logical and I am sure there is evidence to show positive benefits, just as there is to show the stress management benefits of laughing.
There are parallels everywhere with this not-wholly-original concept and one I am reminded of is the Fortune Battle of the Corporate Bands. (Maybe the economic downturn will cause an increase in trios and duets)
I foresee lots of niggly problems such as the singing of religious songs during Christmas, and singing ironic songs that obliquely criticise corporate strategies and performances. I can think of many and ask that SafetyAtWorkBlog readers suggest others through comments below.
Suggestions already include
Money, Money, Money – ABBA
I Wanna Be a Boss – Stan Ridgway
Nine to Five – Dolly Parton