There is a difference between a conference and a scientific meeting. The latter, like the current meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine (ANZSOM), provides evidence. The former tries to provide evidence but is often “infiltrated” by salespeople or the evidence is of a lesser quality. Both are avenues for gaining information and sometimes the gaining of wisdom.
Day 1 of ANZSOM’s annual scientific meeting was heavy on overhead slides, graphs, Venn diagrams, flowcharts and at least two appearances of photos of Donald Rumsfeld! There was a curious thread in several presentations – the role of non-occupational factors on workplace hazards and interventions. This bordered on a discussion of political science and its relevance to occupational health and safety (OHS). It was a discussion that is rarely heard outside of the basement of the Trades Halls and the challenging questions from die-hard communists and unionists, but it was an important one. Some time soon we deserve a one-day seminar on the politics of workplace health and safety so that we can better understand what we mean by the lack of political will when we whinge about the slow pace of change. (There will be more on this theme in the exclusive interview with Professors Maureen Dollard and Sally Ferguson soon)
Unrelated to the article earlier today about working in extreme heat, last week Australia’s Cancer Council released an occupational health and safety (OHS) guide for working outdoors and to prevent and avoid skin cancer. It is a timely release for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere as it allows us several months to review our sun protection policies and practices.
In the prevention chapter the guide follows the established Hierarchy of Controls but perhaps too closely on one issue. There is an assumption that outdoor work occurs primarily in daylight hours, the time of highest risk of ultraviolet (UV) risk. Under administrative controls the guide advise to Reschedule outdoor work programs” perhaps planning
“work routines so outdoor tasks are carried out earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon, when UV levels are lower”page 17
Parts of Europe are sweltering in extreme Summer temperatures similar to what Australian workers have experienced. A comparison of just temperatures is unreasonable as the European challenge is greater than Australia’s because the society, buildings and operational structures are largely designed and configured for low temperatures and snow. In many ways climate change will be more disruptive for European businesses as Australia has always been hot and dry.
The occupational health and safety (OHS) advice on how to address, or cope with, extreme heat has always been focused on the individual’s capacity to work in heat rather than reconfiguring work to avoid these unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Here is some advice from an American law firm from early this month:
“Summer temperatures can create hazards for workers, and employers can be liable for not addressing conditions that could lead to injuries and illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Liability can arise whether work is being done outside in construction, landscaping, and agriculture, or inside in non-air conditioned manufacturing plants and warehouses.”
The occupational risks of exposure to excessive heat have usually been assessed in remote locations in Australia, and almost exclusively for outdoor workers. The changing environmental conditions, regardless of the global cause, are changing the risk assessment of heat for outdoor workers and, increasingly, indoor workers such as those in food production or kitchens.
Recently Safe Work Australia released a seminar online which discussed the issue of heat in the occupational health and safety (OHS) context.
The panel discussion operates from the perspective of what can be done rather than what could be done and remains within the occupational context. Professor Dino Pisaniello mentioned his recent research into the issue, which looks like it was meant to be the focus of this seminar and which found:
Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews announced a State-supported program to install solar panels on an estimation of 65,00 homes if his Labor Party is re-elected this November. This election campaign announcement immediately reminds voters of the last government-sponsored “green” program, the Home Insulation Scheme which, amongst other results, lead to the deaths five workers.