OHS and Tim White

The latest in our series of profiles on researchers who are involved with occupational health and safety research is Dr Tim White.  He holds the degrees of Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). His most recent appointment was as Lecturer and Researcher in Mechanical Design at UNSW.

After 10 years of working casually as a consultant while also holding salaried positions, Dr White founded Forensic Mechanical Engineers in 2013 and now works full time as a forensic engineer and expert witness. He is based in Bathurst, NSW but travels extensively for work, often flying himself to regional locations.

What attracted you to looking at workplace health and safety? Did you fall into it or always have an interest?

I feel like I just fell into it, although now that I look back, I suppose that my career progression was reasonably intuitive. A farming background prior to my first engineering degree (and subsequent time in industry) meant that I was never going  to be content doing the same thing as most of my peers. Although it was not a main consideration at the time, the PhD and progression into academia was what ultimately equipped me with the ability to now work flexibly in a role where I feel as though I am – clichés aside – doing something interesting as well as making a difference.

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“Shooting the shit out of them”

On May 18 2017, Australia’s Senate Education and Employment Committee held a public hearing for its inquiry into Corporate Avoidance of the Fair Work Act in Melbourne Australia.  Executives of Carlton United Breweries (CUB) were the first to appear, ostensibly, to reiterate and answer questions about its submission.  The Chair of the Committee, Senator Gavin Marshall, had different expectations and stated he would be asking about a passionate, long and contentious dispute at CUB’s Abbotsford brewery in 2016.  Quotes from a CUB diary of events, mentioned by Senator Marshall, seemed to catch the CUB executives unaware.

Senator Marshall quoted from a CUB Manager’s diary asking what was meant by “Shooting the shit out of them”. The atmosphere in the hotel function room changed. Continue reading ““Shooting the shit out of them””

Workplace mindfulness? The jury is still out

At a well-attended La Trobe University alumni seminar in May 2017, researchers discussed the reality and the hype surrounding mindfulness. They explained the varieties of mindfulness, the clinic research history over the last four decades and the personal advantages of living mindfully. However in the workplace and organisational context, they said that there was insufficient evidence to show benefits from workplace mindfulness in this “emerging area of research”.

The seminar was hosted by Latrobe University with three speakers

Many mindfulness advocates have developed programs that they claim can offer substantial benefits to workplaces by increasing productivity and reducing injury and illness, primarily, by change the behaviours and attitudes of employees.  This individual approach is often collated into a workplace and promoted as an organisational opportunity.  But the La Trobe researchers mentioned that this is a very recent perspective.

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Research into “gross under-reporting” of illness and injuries

There has been a lot of discussion recently about occupational health and safety (OHS) data.  This article is another because the issue is critical for understanding OHS, for planning for the future and managing productivity.

On May 1 2017, the University of South Australia issued a media release about research by Amy Zadow.  It opened with the following

“Accidents leading to work injuries cost an estimated $57 billion in Australia and new research from the University of South Australia shows workplaces are unlikely to be adequately addressing injury prevention because management decisions are informed by inaccurate data.”

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Trade unions offer alternative, more accurate(?) workplace death statistics

The Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) indirectly acknowledged the ILO theme for World Day for Safety and Health at Work in its media release for International Workers Memorial Day 2017.  The ILO was calling for more, and better, data on workplace injuries and illnesses.  VTHC questioned the official workplace fatality numbers issued by the government.  It stated:

“A VTHC analysis shows that in 2016-17 over 200 Victorians died as a direct result of Workplace injury or illness, although the government’s official tally for the year is just 26.”

This disparity needs to be discussed across jurisdictions because occupational health and safety (OHS) data has always been incomplete, a fact acknowledged by many government inquiries in Australia for many years.  

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Asbestos – out of sight but not out of mind in Asia

By Melody Kemp

Hmong uplander with child. Source: Melody Kemp

Asbestos resembles polio. Just when you think it’s beaten, it returns like some ghoul. If you think this is overly dramatic, last year Laos was struck by a polio outbreak. This year we learned that Laos now ranks amongst the globe’s major importers of asbestos. And it’s driven by cynical market forces targeting poorer nations, inadvertently promoted by international aid. Continue reading “Asbestos – out of sight but not out of mind in Asia”

New program launched that forecasts safety and risk levels

Almost every occupational health and safety (OHS) inquiry by the Australian Government has acknowledged the inadequacies of data on workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths.  The 1995 Inquiry into Occupational Health and Safety (Volume 2) (pages 377-378) by the (then) Industry Commission  acknowledged the lack of empirical evidence and made up its own.  The situation has barely improved.

However a new project by West Australian academic,

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Big business seminar adds to OHS knowledge library

The latest broadcast in Safe Work Australia’s Virtual Safety Seminar (VSS) series is aimed at the executive level of management and entitled “Why big business needs to lead work health and safety“. One of the attractions of the VSS is that Safe Work Australia is able to draw upon senior and prominent business leaders who do not often talk occupational health and safety.

This seminar included contributions from Diane Smith-Gander, Dean PritchardMarcus Hooke and was hosted by Jennifer Hewett.

Several important perspectives were discussed that would be helpful to the intended audience but there were also some comments that deserve contemplation.

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Quad bike safety gets messy – disagreements, Supreme Court writs and stars

Over the last couple of weeks in Australia, the arguments over the safety of quad bikes (sometimes called All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs)) has become messy. The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is in favour of Operator Protection Devices (OPDs) but the Victorian Farmers’ Federation (VFF) is not. Doctors and farmers are calling for a five-start safety rating for quad bikes. One researcher says such a scheme is ready to go. The manufacturers’ industry representative, Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) says no it’s not but here’s a new helmet to wear.

Around all of this is remarkable silence about legal action launched against the Victorian occupational health and safety (OHS) regulator, WorkSafe, by Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki and BRP over WorkSafe’s interpretation of a legal safety duty.

All the while farmers in some States are continuing to access generous safety rebate schemes. Continue reading “Quad bike safety gets messy – disagreements, Supreme Court writs and stars”

Autonomy, safety, diversity, equality and productivity

Photo taken by Angelo Kehagias

Discussion about gender in the workplace peaks each year around International Women’s Day on March 8.  Occasionally there is renewed localised interest when an issue pops up but the issue of gender permeates our thoughts, our planning and our conduct all the time.

Recently, SafetyAtWorkBlog had the chance to ask some questions about gender and diversity and the relevance to the workplace and the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession to Alena Titterton (pictured above), a fascinating workplace relations lawyer with the Australian offices of Clyde & Co.

Gender diversity seems to be more prominent than diversity generally.  Should gender diversity be given priority over, or be separated from, other categories such as ethnicity or sexuality?

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