Remote housing audit action by Queensland government

The Queensland government has responded to the assessment reports on staff housing which includes the housing in remote locations.  The initiatives are good for the most part but it has to be noted that the motivation for action came from foreseeable, unjustified attacks on workers in isolated locations.  The safety status of the accommodation was…

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Safety as an “old boy’s club”

One of the biggest handicaps modern professional organisations have is that many of them are “old boys’ clubs”.  Often this is not the fault of the executive committees or boards as this is the way in which professional organisations and associations, in particular, have evolved.

However, it is difficult to understand why committees allow the clique, the elites, the dinosaurs, to persist.  Some are in denial or are blind to the fact that all the members are of a similar age, background and attitude.  Others recognise the handicap but don’t know what to do.  The worst are those who impose racial or gender quotas without considering the broader impact on the association of this approach.

Organisations need to undertake a staged restructure of all elements of administration, promotion and operation to ensure that there is a future for, what in most cases are, worthy institutions.

What is very surprising is that, often, these organisations have the skills to achieve a positive outcome as the membership provides this sort of advice to clients.  The skills are there when providing a service but are absent when within their own organisation.

The inability to change is a trait we see in the most Luddite of professional associations.  The un-willingness to change is a trait that it is hard to forgive.
The reality is occupational health and safety is changing radically around the world with new hazards, new control measures, new political demands, new agenda and new health initiatives.  Few professional associations are managing to keep up; some are looking in the opposite direction.

WorkSafe and (maybe) WorkHealth

Earlier this year, the Victorian Premier, John Brumby, announced a workplace program called WorkHealth.  This illness prevention program is to be funded from WorkCover premium income and will focus on combatting health issues such as diabetes, cholesterol and obesity.

The rationale for the program is that poor health is contributing to workplace injuries and impeding rehabilitation.

There are several odd elements about the program.  Firstly, its introduction was announced without WorkSafe Victoria’s knowledge, even the program is to be administered through that agency.

Secondly, the trade union movement was not involved in the program development.  I am often critical of trade union influence being beyond its real level of support (look at New South Wales politics to see the complexities of this) but in any OHS program it is necessary to prepare the ground.  The Victorian government did not do this, for whatever reason, so now should not be surprised if the program comes under suspicion and the unions are hesitant to support.

WorkHealth is an odd mix of public health promotion and workplace health reaction.  There is support for such an approach from European initiatives and some Australian States are broadening OHS.  But in both these circumstances, the programs are developed through traditional structures ensuring participation and “ownership”.

What is most interesting is that at a recent WorkSafe-sponsored OHS conference in Melbourne, John Merritt,  Executive Director of WorkSafe made no mention of this three-month-old $600 million government program even though he was talking about future WorkSafe initiatives.  He showed a new TV ad.  He spoke about increased toughness on enforcement.  But he did not mention WorkHealth.

Kevin Jones

Gaining Political Mileage Out of “handcuff(ed) psychiatric patients”

The New South Wales Liberal Party has released an email from the Pialla Mental Health Nursing Staff to WorkCover detailing their “security” concerns. The original email is available HERE.
The Liberals are making as much political mileage out of this issue as they can. 

Many media reports in Australia have said that some patients have been handcuffed to beds. Below is a typical media report:

Psych patients ‘handcuffed’ to beds
Staff at a Sydney hospital have been forced to handcuff psychiatric patients to beds in the emergency department for up to 36 hours because of a lack of space in the mental health ward, the NSW opposition claims. (The full article is available from http://au.news.yahoo.com/080507/2/p/16rjd.html)

The original email from staff makes no mention of handcuffs.  Indeed there is no mention of restraints of any kind.

The NSW Liberal’s media release (available HERE) states

The NSW Opposition has revealed staff at Nepean Hospital have been forced to handcuff and sedate psychiatric patients in the emergency department for up to 36 hours because of a chronic shortage of mental health beds, NSW Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell and Shadow Minister for Health Jillian Skinner said today………..

“When patients are being handcuffed in busy emergency departments and staff express no confidence in the Iemma Government’s ability to respond to their concerns, you know the Minister is asleep at the wheel,” Mr Aplin said.

The disheartening thing about these sorts of statements that receive considerable media attention is that the original, perhaps, legitimate claims by overworked and under-resourced staff get forgotten.  I encourage you to read the original email and ignore the political hyperbole.
It is reported elsewhere that

“A spokesman for WorkCover said inspectors had visited staff at Pialla twice since the letter was sent and they would have continuing involvement with the ward.
Health Minister Reba Meagher said she had been informed WorkCover were satisfied with safety measures at the hospital.”

This is not to say that everything is now allright but it does show that issues raised are being addressed.

Importantly, most of these emails address the frustration at lack of communication and consultation, or that management is not taking staff safety concerns seriously.  This desperate letter from Pialla’s Mental Health Nursing Staff is a classic example.

Safety Behaviours and Enforcement

One of the main reasons that the Safety Institute of Australia included a single conference stream on CEOs recently was so that OHS professionals could gain an insight into CEO perspective – to hear from the horses’ mouths. In a question and answer session after his presentation, Jerry Ellis said “Regulatory requirements are not the…

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Remember the personal on World Day for Health and Safety at Work

Today is the World Day for Health and Safety at Work. I will be attending the trade unions’ Workers’ Memorial service in Melbourne this morning as I do every year. The stories of those who have died at work keep my OHS morals grounded in the reality and the humanity of workplace safety. It reminds…

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The Blind at Work and in the Street

At the moment I am reviewing a draft OHS compliance code for amenities at the workplace. I am also working a morning shift for a communications company from 3am each morning. I have a blind father. My office faces a truck route.

These elements of my life combined when I received a wire story this morning about an initiative to increase the level of pedestrian safety. I found the National Federation for the Blind media release that the article was based on and decided that the request for “a two-year study to determine the best means to provide the blind and other pedestrians with information about the location, motion, speed, and direction of vehicles” fairly reasonable and I look forward to the findings in 2010.

At the moment I am reviewing a draft OHS compliance code for amenities at the workplace. I am also working a morning shift for a communications company from 3am each morning. I have a blind father. My office faces a truck route.

These elements of my life combined when I received a wire story this morning about an initiative to increase the level of pedestrian safety. I found the National Federation for the Blind media release that the article was based on and decided that the request for “a two-year study to determine the best means to provide the blind and other pedestrians with information about the location, motion, speed, and direction of vehicles” fairly reasonable and I look forward to the findings in 2010.

It will be interesting to watch the response that this US Bill will generate from those who see our world changing to accommodate minorities, those driving enthusiasts that give pedestrians and bikes little attention anyway, those advocates who say that pedestrian lights don’t remain on long enough and the right-wing critics of political correctness who are usually fully-sighted ( in the vision sense at least) and able-bodied.

Some of the issues the Secretary of Transportation should consider are:

  • How did blind people in China cope when that country depended almost 100% on bicycle transport? Bikes aren’t silent.
  • Aren’t cars being designed now specifically to minimise the damage to a pedestrian from a front-on collision? Let’s not go near the issue of bull-bars and car protection bars.
  • I know that the blind want to be independent but if I am elderly or disabled, I would not reject assistance in crossing a road. Don’t pedestrians offer assistance any more?
  • All age groups should be considered in the study as able-bodied pedestrians may be distracted or otherwise inattentive.

Basic ergonomic theory is that we don’t try to fit the person to the work environment. Perhaps urban planners and car manufacturers should consider how they can change what they do to ensure that the vehicles are compatible with pedestrian zones and interaction. I for one would ride my bicycle more if the streets were more friendly and drivers more aware.

How do workplace amenities and morning shift affect my perspective? I am not sure that the draft compliance code accommodates disabled workers so I will need to review the document through my father’s eyes, ineffective as they are.

Toilets in many office buildings have Braille labels below the male and female toilet signs. I often wonder how a blind person locates a 6cm Braille label on a 18 square metre wall when they are bursting for a pee and are new to that area. And from experience most people develop blindness after middle age and have little chance of learning Braille so just how many blind people are we serving by Braille toilet signs?