The evidence on occupational lung diseases remains inadequate

Workplace injury statistics are always less than reality as they are based on the number of workers’ compensation claims lodged with occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators or insurance agents.  The nature of occupational illnesses is that there may be many years before their presence is physically identified making them more contestable by insurers and less likely to appear in compensation data.  The frustration with this lack of data was voiced on November 13 2017 in an article in the Medical Journal of Australia (not publicly available).

A summary of the research article includes this alarming statistic:

“Occupational exposures are an important determinant of respiratory health. International estimates note that about 15% of adult-onset asthma, 15% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 10–30% of lung cancer may be attributable to hazardous occupational exposures.”

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One view of how OHS needs to change

In a recent interview Richard Coleman states that the biggest opportunity for the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession is through health. He is another in the a long line of safety people (myself included) who advocate looking outside the traditional safety perspective to better understand safety.  But health may not be the best option as the health profession can have just as much myopia as the safety profession. Continue reading “One view of how OHS needs to change”

More care needed in discussing workplace mental health and mental illness

Writing about workplace mental health is a tricky task.  An article recently posted to Business News Western Australia shows how tricky it can be and how mental health can be misinterpreted as mental illness.

The headline, “Are you one of the 20% of workers that will experience a mental health issue?” clearly refers to workers but the first sentence of the article does not.  “Australian adults” are not all “workers”.

Out of the total population of around 24 million Australians, Wikipedia estimates the working-age population of Australia (15 – 64 years) at round 67% (16 million, approximately). If we apply these statistics to the headline, there are 3.2 million workers who “will experience a mental health issue”. But is this annually, over one’s working life or over a lifetime? The article does not say.

Not only are the statistics messy, so is the terminology.

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What if “reasonably practicable” was applied to a disease outbreak?

There seems to be an increasing trend for the principles of occupational health and safety (OHS) to be applied to matters outside the workplace.  OHS principles were created to reflect the values of society in the 1970s and 80s and, although the laws have changed to reflect economic needs, the principles remain basically the same.  A major legal change has been the move away from preventing harm “at the source” to one of reasonable practicability and this can reduce the overall level of safety available to workers and others.

It is interesting to note that statements on the current Ebola outbreak argue the sense in dealing with the outbreak “at the source”.  Why do we accept a reasonably practicable control measure for harm at work but expect a stronger preventative measure for public health threats?  Shouldn’t we be aiming to reduce all harm “at the source” regardless of the type of harm? Continue reading “What if “reasonably practicable” was applied to a disease outbreak?”

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