Passport to Safety in Australia

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Around the turn of the century a father told me this

“My son was 19 years old and he was killed in an accident in a small warehouse in a suburb of Toronto. In this little shop, it was a small business with only 4 or 5 people there. He got the job through a friend whose Father ran the business. It was the second or third day on the job and he was asked to go back and decant some fluid from a large drum to some small vessels. The action violated every OHS regulation in the book. There were multiple ignition sources, there was no grounding. A spark went off and lit up the fumes that went back in the drum and it exploded over my son. He died 24 hours later.”

That father was Canadian, Paul Kells, and this traumatic event set him on a journey to improve safety for young workers.  Paul established the Safe Communities Foundation.

Paul has travelled to Australia several times and he has been granted audiences with many OHS regulators but it seems that government of South Australia is the most ardent supporter of Paul’s Passport to Safety program.

Over 5000 students in South Australia have completed the program since 2005 and the government is trying to reach the target of 20,000 teenage students.  A sponsorship form is available for download.

SafetyAtWorkBlog supports Paul’s work and the sponsorship initiative of the South Australian government.

This is what the workplace safety ads in Australia are missing, a passionate advocate who speaks about the reality of workplace death and personal loss – someone who has turned grief into a social entrepreneurship.  If only this type of inspiration could happen without the cost of a life.

My 2000 interview with Paul is available by clicking on this link kell-interview.  It was originally published in SafetyAtWork magazine in February 2001.

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When too many graphic ads is never enough

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Coming to the end of Australia’s school year, the government is going overboard with confronting advertisements for young people, be they related to work safety or binge drinking.

At least the OHS regulators watched other regulators information campaign and reduced their costs by resisting promoting the same message in the same way to the same demographic.  WorkSafe Victoria‘s Homecoming campaign has been phenomenally popular and influential.

Sadly, the health promotion sector doesn’t coordinate their effort (or have exhaustive budgets).  The Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon, has launched the latest set of confronting ads for teenagers, this time on binge drinking.  With such a lack of coordination, the target audience is going to be quickly turned off the ads, instead of turning off the bad behaviour.

Each time this graphic approach is used, the message, regardless of the topic, is severely weakened.

Sadly, we’ve seen it all before (and only a month ago).

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Unions question the targeting and success of graphic WorkSafe ads

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One of the most popular recent postings at SafetyAtWorkBlog has concerned the graphic ads aimed at young workers by WorkSafe Victoria. Last week a safety group meeting was told that WorkSafe focus groups of teenagers had said that to get the attention of young people on workplace safety, advertisements needed to be graphic and confrontational.

However, other young workers tell a different story.  According to the Victorian Trades Hall,

“Feedback from young workers taken recently indicates the message they are taking from the ads is that if you get injured at work it is your fault. They paint a very negative stereotype of young workers.”

Trades Hall also reveals that WorkSafe’s own research does not necessarily fit with some of the current WorkSafe language:

“Research conducted for WorkSafe by Sweeneys in April this year does not demonstrate that young workers are ‘apathetic’. Rather it advises that young workers:

  • lack knowledge of their rights at work, what to do if they got injured, and of IR and OH&S issues;
  • mimic the behaviour and attitudes they observe around them from older workers and supervisors;
  • had a general reluctance to speak up or ask question because they are intimidated and worried about losing their job or think their boss will think they’re stupid;
  • are perceived as apathetic or arrogant by employers, which the research noted was due to young workers being too intimidated and worried about looking stupid to speak up.”
UPDATE: ads are now available through Youtube – nailgun, bakery,    kitchen  
It seems that the WorkSafe Victoria ads are not available on Youtube but the Canadian WSIB ads are.  It is worth reading some of the comments posted under the videos to see what a small section of Youtube viewers, presumably the “Youtube generation” the ads are aimed at, think of the ads.
Given that next week is Safe Work Australia Week and WorkSafe Victoria is likely to promote the young worker ads as a cornerstone of its safety promotions campaign, it is worth trying to listen behind, or between, the good news to determine if the campaign will, in reality, achieve the aims of reducing young worker deaths and injuries.
Recent satirical television shows, such as The Hollowmen, have shown a possible manipulation of focus groups in a similar way that the production of departmental reviews were shown to be politically influenced in Yes Prime Minister.  Focus groups and market research may be the best techniques we have but that doesn’t mean that the findings should be uncritically accepted.

The Importance of Independent Safety Groups

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I am a Life Member of an industrial safety group and have been for many years.  Safety groups have existed in Victoria for over 40 years and provide practical and independent safety advice to local communities and businesses in their area.

There has rarely been any coordination between them because sometimes it is hard to accept offers of resources without relinquishing autonomy.  Some groups have administrative support from organisations, others rely on OHS regulators for speakers, some are incorporated, some are trade-based, several are within capital cities but just as many fill information gaps in rural and regional areas.

The major advantage I see in safety groups is that there is no set agenda.  By and large, these groups do not have grandiose ambitions but are content to achieve a functional and sustainable level of membership in order to support the aims of improving safety in their particular areas or industry sectors.

They all struggle with maintaining their effectiveness, promoting their existence and ensuring continuity.

There have been several vague approaches over the years to unify or provide more formal support to, what I see as, an essential mechanism for educating and informing the community and business without hype or political agendas.

It is with this sort of goodwill and effective groups that true altruistic support can provide great benefits.  Sometimes to be more than what you should be generates strife, politics, baggage and interference that can distract an organisation from its valuable and simple aim of improving safety of the community.