Australian suicide research expands understanding of workplace factors

Research is intended to provide answers but sometimes it can only provide clues. But clues allow progress and flag peripheral issues that could possibly become mainstream.  Social research into the possible workplace influences on suicide is one area of clues and, again, the Creative Ministries Network (CMN) has undertaken solid research into the worst-case scenario of workplace mental health advocates.

Recently CMN released “Suicide and Work“, it’s March 2010 research report. The accompanying media release said:

“Of eleven suicides where the deceased person had at least one prior WorkCover claim prior to their death, the length of time on workers’ compensation was positively correlated with increased probability of suicide. The data is not able to indicate what it is about the length of time on compensation that may be critical to whether an injured worker commits suicide. Continue reading “Australian suicide research expands understanding of workplace factors”

Company pleads guilty over insulation installer death

In June 2010, Arrow Property Maintenance Pty Ltd was charged with failing to conduct its business or undertaking in a way that was electrically safe, after, accoridng to one media report:

“[A] 16-year-old boy was electrocuted while installing fibreglass insulation in the ceiling of a home at Stanwell, west of Rockhampton, on November 18, 2009.”

On 14 September 2010, Queensland Industrial Magistrate John McGrath heard the company plead guilty.   Continue reading “Company pleads guilty over insulation installer death”

Death at work and work-related death

People die every day.  Some die in their sleep in bed, some collapse in the street, some suicide at a place of their choosing, others die at work.  But for those who die at work there is an important differentiation between dying at work and dying from work.

The differentiation can be fairly simple to determine but can be muddied by workplace politics.  For instance, the South Australian desalination project (video report available) has had one work-related fatality but there have been at least three deaths on-site.  Determining what is work-related is important for safety managers as this affects the way an incident is investigated, the resources allocated to the investigation and the level of emphasis placed on prevention. Continue reading “Death at work and work-related death”

Pressure grows for the release of oil drilling investigation

The Australian government has indicated that it will release a report into the Montara oil spill after the general election.  However the Australian election result remains in doubt and, therefore, still no report.

The frustration over this stalling has begun to appear in the very conservative Australian newspaper, The Australian Financial Review (AFR). Once the business and financial community start complaining, a government knows something is serious.

In the AFR editorial on 1 September 2010 (not available online),

“The Borthwick report is likely to make some tough recommendations on safety procedures to prevent another spill. The inquiry heard extraordinary evidence that crucial work programs on the rig were sometimes scrawled on a whiteboard. PTTEP has a promised to review its procedures in the light of the deficiencies raised at the inquiry, but the government should look further afield. It is hard to imagine that PTTEP was a totally isolated case.” Continue reading “Pressure grows for the release of oil drilling investigation”

Are OHS inductions sound?

Mostly no.

Over the years I have experienced site safety inductions that have involved sitting in front of a television and video player in a shed and then telling the safety manager I watched the induction video and understood it.

I have sat in a site shed with a dozen others and endured an induction of scores of PowerPoint presentations and a questionnaire that was, almost, workshopped and did not represent any understanding of the work site’s OHS obligations.

There have been long inductions where there is a lot of information but no handbooks to take away or to refer to later.

There have been OHS inductions that have involved no more than  “there are the toilets, the tea room is over there and there’s a fire extinguisher here somewhere”.

Bad induction is an unforgiveable flaw in a company’s safety management system and clearly indicates a careless attitude of companies towards their employees’ and contractors’ safety.  The significance of induction should not be underestimated because it has two purposes – to establish a common state of knowledge of all workers on a site before one starts work and to have a reference point for investigations of any incidents. Continue reading “Are OHS inductions sound?”

Only vampires work nightshift

For several years now evidence has been growing that nightshift is unhealthy.  Nightshift and other shiftwork can produce digestive problems, fatigue and impairment, increased breast cancer risks…….  OHS and workplace experts seem to avoid the question “should nightshift be allowed?”

Recently, a senior executive met with nightshift staff in a remote branch office.  The nightshift work was office- and computer-based.  The executive described nightshift as a “lifestyle choice”.  This comment infuriated some of the more placid employees to speak up and take the executive to task.  Their point was that the job has deadline constraints that have existed for well over twenty years but this does not mean that any of the employees would not jump at the chance of undertaking the same tasks in daylight.  Could the nightshift tasks be undertaken in daylight, in a new shift arrangement and still meet the client’s information needs?  The question had not been asked and, as a result, nightshift became the unquestioned status quo.  Status quo meant that any health hazards associated with the work were similarly seen as unchangeable and therefore not worth assessing. Continue reading “Only vampires work nightshift”

Workplace bullying needs prompt and concise action to be effective

It is very important to treat media reports of bullying with a great deal of scepticism.  An article in the Herald-Sun on 20 July 2010 is a good example of the collation of new and old information intended to generate alarm or outrage.

Werribee Secondary College has had several incidents of occupational violence and school violence.   All schools will have bullying incidents of student to student but these can be minimised and controlled with effort, commitment and vision.  Bullying between staff is different, although the controls are similar, and inhabits the  different legislative context of OHS.  WorkSafe Victoria has been involved with workplace bullying incidents in the education sector in the past.

The Herald-Sun builds on the myth that teachers have it easy because of the amount of leave that is scheduled. The current article entitled “Teacher seeks bullying payout” has a headline about workplace bullying but the article mixes up student bullying and workplace bullying as if they are the same issue but to different degrees and with different participants.

The Victorian Education Department has addressed the issue of workplace bullying to some extent.  The department has several sites devoted to bullying issues and occupational violence but much of it refers back to policies and reactionary responses.  Continue reading “Workplace bullying needs prompt and concise action to be effective”

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