Real men and work-related suicide

Recently Huffington Post Australia posted a video about male suicides called “Men are killing themselves to be real men”.  Many of the speakers talked about their experiences at work or with work.  The video is highly recommended.

SafetyAtWorkBlog had the opportunity to talk with the Associate Video Editor, Emily Verdouw. Below is an edited transcript.

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safetyculture clarifies its approach to SWMS

On May 1 2017 safetyculture released an e-book called “Confused about Workplace Safety?” intended to address questions commonly asked of them.  The topic of most interest is their advocacy of Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS), an activity discussed earlier by SafetyAtWorkBlog.

safetyculture states up front that SWMS are for “high risk construction work” as defined by occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation and lists the activities that make up high risk construction work. But then poses a confusing question:

“So why did my principal contractor request that I supply a SWMS for the plastering or turf laying job I just did?”

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Hi-viz and safety – it’s all about the context

High visibility clothing has spread from the work site to the public arena and, as such, has complicated the reasons for hi-viz clothing.  However the fundamental underpinning of high-viz is to contrast against the surrounding environment. This contrast does not only relate to clothing but also signage.

Several years ago, a couple of women from Tasmania visited the offices of SafetyAtWorkBlog to discuss the practicality of hi-viz vests for toddlers and small children.  The hi-viz logic of the work site is easily applied to the public park or farms.  A contrasting colour to the trees or bushland would make it easier to identify someone, like a wayward child.  On a work site, the hi-viz is more about identifying a hazard, whether that be a person, an overhead wire or a work boundary.

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Practicable or practical – let’s call the whole thing off

Jargon can help create a subculture.  This can be positive for those on the inside but relies on excluding others.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) is no different and one of the best illustrations of OHS jargon is “practicable”.  This was emphasised recently in a document released by WorkSafe WA where “practicable” had lost out to “practical”.

The guidance also omitted the duties of builders for the health and safety of those affected by their work.

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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.”

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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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Union may have overstepped and weakened its case

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is one of the most militant trade unions in Australia.  That it angers many Australians by its strong support for its members is unarguable.  Yet recently it has seemed to overstep the mark on its protest against the Australian Government’s introduction of legislation that the CFMEU sees…

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How much attention should we give to gender in OHS?

I once had to stop a potential fight on a construction site between a works supervisor and a safety professional.  The verbal abuse and niggling occurred for several minutes before the men’s chest were inflated like roosters and it was at this point I stepped in to diffuse the situation by asking some questions as…

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Trump, Puzder and workplace safety

Occupational health and safety (OHS) law in the United States has little impact on that of any countries outside of North America. But the response to those OHS laws by US and multinational companies indicates corporate approaches to workplace safety and this can spread round the world.  The anticipated strategy to worker safety under the Presidency of Donald Trump is expected to be harsh, if he attends to it at all.

Brad Hammock, Attorney at US workplace law firm, Jackson Lewis P.C. (pictured right), told SafetyAtWorkBlog that

“There is a dominant view that there will be a weaker OSHA under the Trump presidency. This is driven largely by historical analyses of past Republican administrations and President Trump’s anti-regulatory rhetoric. I anticipate that OSHA will continue to be active, but will emphasis cooperative and voluntary programs over enforcement. In addition, I anticipate fewer large safety and health standards being issued under a Trump presidency. “

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Health, safety and climate change

Sydney, Australia - October 19, 2016: Construction workers set up scaffolding in a construction site.
Sydney, Australia – October 19, 2016: Construction workers set up scaffolding in a construction site.

In a small article on the ABC news site, Professor Peng Bi of the University of Adelaide said occupational health and safety laws needed a review to accommodate the changing climate and

“I reckon some regulations should be set up to get employers to pay [fresh] attention to the occupational health and safety of their employees…”

Contrary to Professor Peng Bi’s request, Australian worksites have done much to accommodate the changing climate conditions and to maintain productivity, primarily, in relation to excessive heat exposure by working within the existing occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation.  This is not to say more should not be done.

The risks associated with working in heat are well established and recognised by Safe Work Australia and State safety regulators but the advice often focusses on personal changes such as ensuring there is adequate hydration or that jobs should be rotated or that long-sleeved shorts are worn.  The amplification of these conditions due to climate change is foreseeable so what should employers, companies and OHS regulators do?

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