Meditation is a proven stress reduction method for workplaces

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Meditation is not on the regular agenda at SafetyAtWorkBlog.  If there was time to meditate, the time would probably be spent losing weight in the gym but there is fascinating research that provides some evidence of meditation’s benefit  in reducing work-related stress.

At the Safety Conference in Sydney at the end of  October 2009, Dr Ramesh Manocha of Sydney’s Royal Hospital for Women will release research that

“found that after eight weeks of mental silence meditation training called sahaja yoga, occupational stress scores improved [decreased?] 26 per cent.  A non-mental silence relaxation program reaped a 13 per cent gain, while a waiting list control group lifted just 1 per cent.”

The language sounds slightly “new-age” but what makes the difference in this circumstance is that the initial research was undertaken with three groups mentioned above and, importantly, with a control group.

Below is a TV interview with Dr Manocha on the first stage of research.

When looking at workplace stress, people reduce stressors but Dr Manocha says this often requires impossible organisation restructuring due to internal political pressures.  These techniques can be applied on a personal level that employees can take with them through their various life-stages.

Dr Manocha then applied the meditation training in real corporate situations.  According to a media release provided in the lead-up to the conference:

“In a later field trial of mental silence meditation by 520 doctors and lawyers, more than half of the participants whose psychological state (K10) scores indicated they were “at risk” were reclassified as “low risk” after two weeks of meditation.”

It’s the application of this meditation in the workplace context that gained the attention of  SafetyAtWorkBlog and what will be presented at the conference.  The gentle skepticism evident in the TV interview above is understandable but in a time when safety professionals demand evidence, we must look seriously at evidence when it is presented.

More information on The Safety Conference is available HERE.

Kevin Jones

Learning Lessons from the Santika Nightclub Fire

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For many years SafetyAtWorkBlog and its forerunner Safety At Work magazine reported on various tragic fires in crowded nightclubs around the world.  Several in recent memory include the 2003 Rhode Island fire that killed 100 patrons and for which, according to an Associated Press report from the time,

Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan Jr sentenced 29-year-old Daniel
Biechele to 15 years, but suspended 11 years of that sentence, and
also ordered three years of probation.

“Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan Jr sentenced 29-year-old Daniel Biechele to 15 years, but suspended 11 years of that sentence, and also ordered three years of probation.”

A brief report on the Rhode Island fire is in the OSHA media archives.

In March 2006, Safety At Work included an AFP report saying

“The municipal council has impeached Buenos Aires Mayor Anibal Ibarra after finding him guilty of dereliction of duty following a December 30, 2004 nightclub fire that killed 194 people.”

An earlier report on the mayor’s response is include at the CrowdSafe website.

Engineering and design company ARUP have provided SafetyAtWorkBlog with an article that analyses recurring elements of nightclub fires using the Santika fire in Bangkok from 1 January 2009 as a most recent incident.  Below is the introduction to the article which can be found in full in the pages listed above.

Our thanks to ARUP for the terrific article.

Kevin Jones

LEARNING LESSONS FROM THE SANTIKA NIGHTCLUB FIRE

by Dr Marianne Foley and Travis Stirling, Arup Fire, Sydney

In the early hours of New Years Day 2009, fire engulfed Bangkok’s Santika nightclub, killing 64 people and injuring more than 200.  Our knowledge of the events of that night is based on media reports and publicly available information, and the precise cause of the fire is still unclear.  However, we do know that there are strong correlations between this and many similar tragedies at entertainment venues dating back as far as the first half of the twentieth century.  While we wait for the results of the official investigation and coronial enquiries, it’s timely to ask questions about these fires.  Why do they happen over and over again?  Why do so many people lose their lives?  What lessons can be learnt?  And what practical measures can be implemented to stop them happening?

RECURRING MISTAKES

Arup’s analysis of case studies has revealed six themes that commonly contribute to the severity of high-fatality nightclub fires: insufficient exits, the presence of highly flammable materials, a lack of good fire safety systems, confusing environments, pyrotechnics and open flames, and buildings used inappropriately and maintained poorly.  By addressing each of these themes, we aim to provide design solutions that could mitigate the risk of future nightclub disasters.

[The themes in the full article are

  • Insufficient exits
  • Highly flammable materials
  • Fire safety systems
  • Confusing environments
  • Pyrotechnics and open flames
  • Buildings used inappropriately or maintained poorly]

New old US research into driving and talking

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The New York Times has revealed research on the hazards of driving and using mobile phones that was withheld since 2003.   The newspaper understandably focuses on the intrigue that prevented the report from being released but the content of the report has the potential to substantially change how companies “manage” the hazard of their staff using mobile phones whilst driving. Pages from original

The report, obtained through Freedom of Information and made available on the newspaper’s website, was a  substantial project for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and, according to NYTimes:

“The research mirrors other studies about the dangers of multitasking behind the wheel. Research shows that motorists talking on a phone are four times as likely to crash as other drivers, and are as likely to cause an accident as someone with a .08 blood alcohol content.”

The full report is available by clicking on the image in this post.

Kevin Jones

Driving and talking

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The issue of driving while using a mobile is a perennial issue for the media but nothing much changes.  The New York Times on 20 July 2009 carried an article on the latest research which confirms  many previous studies that using a mobile phone while driving increases the risk of an accident.

Pages from 6i17 rawNo US State has banned the practice because social use of mobile phones has become so widespread that any ban is impossible to enforce effectively.

In January 2009, SafetyAtWorkBlog reported on the recommendations from WorkSafe Victoria on the matter.  Even in their guide they would say nothing more than

“recommend that hands free calls be kept to a minimum”.

At some point for most workplace hazards, the evidence outweighs the enforcement difficulties and bans ensue.  It has happened to asbestos, it has happened with smoking, but these are decades after dancing around the most effective control measure – elimination.

Pages from 6i02 v4The industrialised world, in particular, has been wrestling with the hazard of phones and driving for well over a decade.  One report from 2002 said

“Tests carried out by scientists at the Transport Research Laboratory established that driving behaviour is impaired more by using a mobile phone than by being over the legal alcohol limit.”

The footnote to this comment said

“Previous research has shown that phone conversations while driving impair performance. It was difficult to quantify the risk of this impairment because the reference was usually made to normal driving without using a phone. “Worse than normal driving” does not necessarily mean dangerous. There was a need therefore to benchmark driving performance while using a mobile phone to a clearly dangerous level of performance. Driving with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit is an established danger.”

There are always conditions set with research findings but these are sensible and valid.

Pages from 3i13According to a 2004 report by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported by UPI (unable to find a link)

“…estimated 8 percent of all motorists — about 1.2 million drivers — were using cell phones at any given time while driving, up from 6 percent in 2002 and 4 percent in 2000. About 800,000 of those drivers used handsets and not hands-free devices.

  • Handheld cell phone use increased from 5 percent to 8 percent among drivers aged 15 to 24 between 2002 and 2004.
  • Use of cellular-phone handsets increased from 4 percent to 6 percent of female drivers, while the number of men talking on handheld cell phones while driving remained constant at 4 percent.
  • Motorists were more likely to use a cell phone while driving alone, but drivers with children in the vehicle were just as likely to use the phone as those without children in the car.”

For those readers who like dollar figures, the same UPI article stated

“A 2002 study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, part of Harvard University’s School of Public Health, found drivers using cell phones caused 1.5 million accidents annually resulting in 2,600 deaths and 570,000 injuries.

Researchers estimated banning cell phone use in vehicles would cost $43 billion a year in lost economic activity.”

Pages from 2003-119[The only HCRA report on the website is is a 2003 study – Cohen, J.T. and Graham, J.D. A revised economic analysis of restrictions on the use of cell phones while driving. Risk Analysis. 2003; 23(1):5-17.]

A September 2003 report from NIOSH lists a range of driver hazards related to work activities and is worth downloading.  Pages 51-555 deal specifically with phone use.

(If any reader knows of a literature review on this topic, please contact SafetyAtWorkBlog)

This workplace hazard has been around for so long that in the opinion of SafetyAtWorkBlog, when someone is driving a work vehicle 100% of their attention should be on the principal task at hand – driving.

Achieving this realistic aim can be helped by

  • not passing on mobile phone numbers when one knows the person is driving.  The low tech alternative of taking a message works.
  • having employees turn off the phone while driving. (The phone does have an OFF switch)
  • not fitting workplace vehicles with hands-free units.
  • reminding employees of the safe driving policies of the business; and
  • enforcing those policies so that employees know that dangerous acts will not be tolerated or compensated by the company.

Above all, employees must be informed of the risks involved with distraction, must be reassured that employers will support safe actions, and must realise the affect on other drivers and their families from their own mistakes.

Kevin Jones

Research review of influenza and noise-induced hearing loss

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The Cochrane Library has long been a good source of research information.  Recently, the library undertook reviews of some of the seasonal influenza intervention and have produced a short podcast on the research.

Also, the Library looked at noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).  The importance of this condition is high due to the damage being irreparable.  In some countries, regular occupational hearing tests are a regulatory requirement in some industries and the research review did find some low-level research that supported hazard control through legislation. The review says

“There is contradictory evidence on the effectiveness of hearing protection and hearing loss prevention programmes. Higher quality prevention programmes and better implementation of legislation are needed.”

There was some support for the efficacy of PPE but training in the proper use of earplugs increased the benefits considerably.  Those readers who are in the mining industry may find the NIHL podcast particularly useful.

These reviews are of  rsearch studies and are not research in themselves, but they are useful summaries of a current state of knowledge on particular matters.  Always look to the original data source if you wish to initiate prevention strategies or, better yet, contact you local OHS regulator and apply for a research grant so that you can generate research that meets the OHS needs of your industry.

Kevin Jones