The reality is all about perception

Occupational health and safety (OHS) policy makers are keen on making decisions based on evidence.  But evidence seems hard to get, for many reasons.

Some people, including those in workplace relations and OHS, often fill the evidence gap with “anecdotal evidence”.  Frequently people being interviewed are asked for evidence to substantiate their claims and respond that “anecdotally” there is a problem yet there is no sample size for this evidence, there is no clarity or definition of the incident or issue – it is simply “what I heard” or “what I’ve been told”.  Using anecdotal evidence is okay as long as its inherent uncertainty is acknowledged and it is not used as a basis for substantial change.

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SIA receives $50K through Enforceable Undertaking

Enforceable Undertakings (EUs) are increasingly popping up in the prosecution lists of occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators.  A curious one appeared on WorkSafe Victoria’s website in January 2018.

Ardex Australia P/L was prosecuted for breaching OHS laws after a subcontractor was burnt:

“…when a dry powder mixing machine was operated whilst hot metal slag from welding activity was in the plant, causing an explosive dust-air mixture.”

But what is most curious is the EU’s inclusion of a $A50,000 donation to the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA).

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Evidence needed for the productivity benefits of workplace safety

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One of the arguments that occupational health and safety (OHS) consultants use to convince employers of the importance of workplace safety is that good safety management will increase productivity through the reduction of disruptive incidents.  But there are various types of productivity. Multi-factorial productivity (what business lobbyists usually talk about) is declining in Australia BUT labour productivity has been steadily increasing for years, until only recently.

Crikey newsletter keeps pointing out this reality to its readers because the official data is being ignored by many business commentators and advocates who continue to claim that (labour) productivity is declining or in crisis.  The discussion usually revolves around company tax rates but it is an important differentiation for OHS professionals and safety advocates.

It seems that workers and companies have taken heed of the urging to work smarter and not harder but how does OHS fit with all of this? It is difficult to know because any correlation between OHS data and labour productivity has not yet been made.  (Partly this is because OHS data continues to be based on workers’ compensation claims rather than incident data and associated costs; I’ve banged on about that enough). It may be that good safety management = less incidents = greater productivity = greater profits but the evidence for that flow does not seem to exist outside of anecdotes or vague economic logic.

And it is evidence that the OHS profession is going to need if it is to continue using the productivity/safety/disruption argument in a very crowded and competitive market of business consultants.

Kevin Jones

OHS is not all about workers compensation data

Every couple of months, after the release of official workplace fatality figures and serious injury, the Australian media reports the three most dangerous industries as Agriculture, Fishing and Forestry.  The latest article appeared in Australia’s Fairfax Media on 17 January 2018.  It is good that occupational health and safety (OHS) is gaining attention.  When so little media attention is given, any publicity is useful.

However this type of article also presents some negatives, including that it may be only representing 60% of all workplace fatalities and serious injuries.

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