Smart drinks may be dumb safety

Puzzle head brain mental health symbol idea conceptFatigue and impairment are two of the most difficult workplace hazards to address.  These are further complicated when they are contextualised in workplace mental health.  So it is concerning when an entrepreneur produces a product that is meant to help address mental fatigue but that may also mask occupational health and safety (OHS) actions that are required to provide truly sustainable workplace improvement.

The Australian Financial Review (AFR, $), on 12 December 2016, reported on the establishment of a “smart drinks” company called Shine+.  AFR reporter Misa Han, wrote:

“Shine+ is one of many companies who are trying to take advantage of professionals and students who take drugs in order to enhance their performance and brain functions.”

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Drugs and Alcohol at Work – Part 2

Part 2 of the Cabbage Salad and Safety podcast’s discussion on managing drugs and alcohol at work is now available.

 

Kevin Jones

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Tinnitus can be a safety hazard

I have tinnitus. There I have outed myself along with 18% of men and 14% of women, according to a research report* from Hearing Research journal published recently. For those unfamiliar with tinnitus it is a persistent buzzing or ringing in one’s ears usually caused by exposure to loud noise. It is relevant to occupational health and safety (OHS) in a number of ways:

  • It needs to be considered in issues of communication
  • Tinnitus can be distracting
  • Tinnitus may be a symptom of poor noise management practices at work.

Human Ear PainThe research study conducted by David Moore and others was focusing on “lifetime leisure music exposure” so workplace noise is mentioned in the report only in passing.

It is common that unless a worker is deaf or seen signing, the default assumption is that everyone’s hearing is undamaged. The research data above shows that the assumption is false.

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Cabbage Salad and Drugs

Episode 6 of the Cabbage Salad and Safety podcast is now available with the discussion centring on drugs and alcohol issues at work. For those looking for information on drug and alcohol testing, this episode is not for you.  We thought that the testing issue is dealt with in many workplaces through legislative and regulatory matters and you have to comply with what you have to comply. Continue reading “Cabbage Salad and Drugs”

Drug and alcohol testing for Australian construction sites

On 18 September 2015 Senator Eric Abetz introduced amendments to the Building Code so that drug and alcohol testing will be required on construction sites.  In his media release he states that:

“The construction industry is a high risk industry where the risks associated with the use of heavy machinery, mobile equipment, working in congested areas and working from heights, are accentuated by the effects of alcohol and drug use.”

Following this argument, would not greater safety benefit be gained by addressing the risks posed by machinery, working at heights and in congested areas?  Drug and alcohol testing will do little to reduce these risks, or more correctly, hazards.  Being impaired may make it more likely for a worker to fall while working at heights but creative and safe design could eliminate the risk of working at heights altogether. Continue reading “Drug and alcohol testing for Australian construction sites”

Is methamphetamine a significant workplace hazard?

The Australian Industry Group (AIGroup)  submission to the Australian Government’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement inquiry into crystal methamphetamine, commonly known as Ice, has been made publicly available.  The submission focuses on the risks to all workplaces, primarily, by imposing non-work statistics onto the workplace, lumping Ice in with other illicit drugs, and relying on anecdotal evidence. This approach is not unique to AiGroup and can also be seen regularly in the mainstream media but such an important Inquiry requires a much higher quality of evidence than anecdotes.

The submission references a recent Australian Crime Commission (ACC) report into Ice saying it:

“… paints a bleak picture for the community and Australian workplaces. This combined with greater ease of access, including in regional areas, places Australian workplaces at risk.

A key requirement for employers seeking to manage safety risks arising from persons attending work affected by Ice is the ability to conduct workplace drug and alcohol testing.” (page 3)

The ACC report refers almost exclusively to the hazards presented to hospital and emergency staff, not by Ice use by staff, and yet is able to link Ice-affected public to the drug testing of workers. Continue reading “Is methamphetamine a significant workplace hazard?”

ACTU Congress’ draft OHS policies deserve serious analysis

Pages from draft-2015-actu-congress-policies-2015-consolidatedThe Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) commences its 2015 Congress this week.  Each year around 800 trade union delegates meet to discuss changes to policies and to develop or refine strategies. This year the ACTU released its draft policies publicly prior to the Congress.  These policies have a long and strong historical and industrial relations context.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) is an important part of these policies and should spark discussions in the union movement and the OHS profession.

Early in the document, the ACTU states its “bargaining agenda” in which is included

“better work, life and family balance.” (page 7)

Curiously, the ACTU has chosen “better” rather than “safe”.  Better is a more inclusive term but harder to define.  Better for whom?  Better could be better paid or more secure or safer.

Trade unionists often see OHS as being monitored and enforced through the mechanism of the Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) and would argue that OHS is throughout all the draft policies due to the HSR role but there are more workplaces in Australia without HSRs than with and it is worth considering the policies as independent from the HSR structure, if that is possible..

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Impairment argument fails to convince Fair Work Commission over unfair dismissal

On 16 January 2015 the Australian newspaper (paywall) reported on a Fair Work Commission (FWC) decision involving an unfair dismissal claim by a worker who, as a result of a random drug test, was found to have methylamphetamine in her system “at levels four times above the minimum detection level”.  The company, Downer EDI Mining, sacked the worker, Leah Cunningham, as she presented a hazard to her work colleagues. The newspaper article was called “CFMEU slammed for drugs defence” and the FWC decision is Tara Leah Cunningham v Downer EDI Mining Pty Limited (U2014/1457) (14 January 2015).

The Australian, a newspaper with no love for the trade union movement and the CFMEU in particular, focussed on the apparent absurdity of a trade union, that places such a high priority on workplace safety,  contesting the dismissal of a worker who presented a hazard to herself and others at work.  The newspaper quotes Commissioner Ian Cambridge:

““It was highly regrettable to observe during the hearing that an organisation, which apparently conducts campaigns which strongly advocate safety in the workplace, could contemplate a proposition which, in effect, would countenance a person driving a 580-tonne truck whilst having methylamphetamine in their body at a level four times the reportable cut-off figure,” he said in his decision this week.

“Any realistic and responsible pursuit of the case on behalf of the applicant should have been confined to the development of evidentiary support for the applicant’s explanation for the presence of the methylamphetamine. Indeed, much greater energy and focus should have been devoted to such an evidentiary position rather than any attempt to defend the indefensible.”

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Sniping in social media raises issues about hydration

A spat has recently emerged on one of the safety discussion forums in Linkedin.  The catalyst was a statement that

The source of this data, not disclosed at the time of the original post, was a company that sells

“…a great tasting, scientifically proven mix of cutting-edge branch chain amino acids and low Gi carbohydrates for sustained energy release, combined with a formulated blend of electrolytes for optimum hydration in harsh Australian conditions”.

The discussion quickly refocused from the original safety concern to one of unreliability of statements; sadly the discussion also became personal and abusive. but the discussion raised two discussion points:

  • The reliability of statements on the internet, and
  • the issue of hydration and work performance.

Continue reading “Sniping in social media raises issues about hydration”

Where is the evidence for new moves on drug and alcohol testing?

On 1 July 2014, the Victorian Government introduce a mandatory drug and alcohol testing regime for the sections of the construction industry.  According to the government’s media release:

“New requirements for tighter screening of drug and alcohol use at construction workplaces across Victoria will commence from 1 July, helping to ensure a safer and more secure environment for workers.”

This decision has been made on the basis of “widespread reports of workers being intoxicated, and of drug distribution and abuse” but the rest of the media release reveals other reasons for these changes including political pressure on its Labor Party and trade union opponents in the months before a close State election. Premier Denis Napthine has indicated that the move is also about cracking down on “outlaw motorcycle gangs dealing drugs on the sites”.

But are reports of potential criminality on building site enough to introduce a drug and alcohol testing regime? It is worth looking at some of the existing research on drug and alcohol use (or its absence) in Australian and Victorian work sites.

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