Real men and work-related suicide

Recently Huffington Post Australia posted a video about male suicides called “Men are killing themselves to be real men”.  Many of the speakers talked about their experiences at work or with work.  The video is highly recommended.

SafetyAtWorkBlog had the opportunity to talk with the Associate Video Editor, Emily Verdouw. Below is an edited transcript.

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Free online safety conference – RTW Summit

Recently I recorded my contribution  to an online conference called the RTW Summit.  This conference is first to Australia although other organisations have proposed such a format previously but never eventuated.

The conference has been devised and organised by Mark Stipic, a young Return To Work professional who started a podcast recently.  He is intelligent and one of those people who is not afraid to take risks in the emerging world of social media.

Continue reading “Free online safety conference – RTW Summit”

Editing is an essential element of safety communication

In a comment to a recent blog article Gregor McGhee asked:

“Just out of curiosity can you recommend any books for comparison with respect to presentation, footnotes, references and endnotes?”

Most books related to occupational health and safety (OHS) are written by academics for an academic audience so there are clear referencing protocols and styles with which that readership will be familiar and comfortable.  The challenge comes when academics are asked to write for a lay audience for whom concepts must be explained and backgrounds and context provided.

But there is a similar challenge to OHS regulators who provide guidance material that often derives from academic research but also for the legalities of safety legislation.  SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to talk with Jackie McAdam, a freelance editor, designer and writer who has worked for the UK’s OHS regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Format and Language

In Carsten Busch’s book, he chooses to use endnotes for references but an ABC system for footnotes. This non-conformity is part of the reason the book is a challenging read.Dust jacket 3.3 13.12.01

NIOSH has a program of Research to Practice (R2P) where research grants are given, or work commissioned, on the understanding that the research will also be “translated” into a format and language that allows for the research findings to be applied in the real world.  NIOSH says it:

“…..collaborates with partners and stakeholders to:

  • Identify needs
  • Design, plan, and conduct studies or evaluate technologies into workplace policy, procedure, technology, and/or practice
  • Communicate and transfer NIOSH policy, procedure, or practices to relevant users for implementation in the workplace
  • Evaluate or demonstrate the impact of these efforts on improving worker safety and health.”

Focussing on the communication element of the program fits with the OHS principle of consultation (although the whole R2P program is really consultation) with particular attention to the reader and audience.  NIOSH has provided an excellent roadmap guidebook to assist writing research in this “new” way.

For more practical advice on the style of writing, governments often publish style guides or manuals.  Australia has published such a book for fifty years and the recent 2002 edition remains a mandatory read for most government policy writers.  The American Chemical Society publishes a guide of its own.

The UK Experience – Jackie McAdam

210a64fJackie, can you provide readers with a bit of background of your work with the HSE?

I have worked with HSE on and off since 2005 as both an editor and a designer. It’s important to clarify that these are my thoughts as an individual, but I do have a lot of experience and knowledge of how HSE operates and what the organization deems as important.

Early projects I worked on (which are still available online) include COSHH essentialsAsbestos Essentials and leaflets such as  Working with substances hazardous to health: A brief guide to COSHH.

Who does HSE believe its audience to be? Business owners? OHS Professionals? Consultants? Or All of these?

HSE is well aware that OHS professionals use our guidance and information as a valuable resource, but our editorial style guide emphasises the need to use plain English to make publications accessible to workers and management too.

COSHH essentials, for example, has an initial sheet in each series aimed at managers, but the remaining sheets are intended to be used by everyone. A lot of guidance includes safety checklists for workers to make sure they are protecting themselves.

Despite the view of the UK in some respects as a nanny state, it’s important the workers take responsibility for actions that could put themselves and their workmates in danger. As an organisation, HSE does a lot of work with stakeholders to establish what happens in practice in the workplace. It’s all very well providing a perfect scenario, but that doesn’t happen in real life, and it’s about taking measures that are reasonably practicable and not coming up with a solution that’s disproportionate to the level of risk. I think that’s why our recent strategy events [#HelpGBWorkWell] were so successful at getting feedback from so many stakeholders. [link added]

How important is it to refer to previous editions of OHS documents or should each edition be considered brand new?

We try to discourage links directly to PDF documents in our publications, as the landing page gives vital information on what has changed since the previous version. It could be a change to the law, but sometimes we have just updated some of the references. Even if that information isn’t on the landing page, it should be on the first page of the document so read that first, it isn’t just sales blurb.

What are the most common criticisms of safety guidances from readers?

I don’t always get that feedback directly but I know that it’s crucial that we work with industry experts to get our facts and our language right. HSE’s long-term belief that plain English is crucial to making guidance easy to access has recently become the mantra of www.GOV.UK in marketing  its ‘digital-by-default’ approach. You mentioned Australia’s style manual, I haven’t read it yet, but if you want to compare notes you could check out Gov.UK’s style guide at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/content-design/writing-for-gov-uk.

There has been evidence that peer pressure prevents workers even reading guidance, so making sure it’s relevant to the target audience is top of the list. That’s about the way it reads, the way it looks and how it’s marketed.

How much “translation” is required and has this amount lessened over your experience?

As an editor with no specialist knowledge in health and safety, or the type of hazards we deal with, I have to check with my authors that I’ve understood the gist of what they are trying to convey before I edit their text. They get to approve every change to make sure I haven’t changed the meaning. My job is essentially to translate the technical jargon into something the person on the street can understand. Occasionally HSE has to use some technical language, but technical doesn’t mean academic; academic styles of writing can put people off. They simply don’t think it’s aimed at them.

I’ve also been asked to ‘translate’ the findings of research reports. For example, RR558 – Taking risks with asbestos: What influences the behaviour of maintenance workers? by the Institute for Employment Studies discusses worksite culture and the reasons that workers don’t recognize themselves as being at risk from asbestos.  The report mentioned a greater concern for others than themselves, so I used language to remind them that the risks they took could affect their workmates or family to try and bring about behaviour change.

Did the HSE MythBusters program affect the writing style or strategy?

To be honest, no! When you work at HSE, you quickly realise how crazy some of these myths are. HSE’s line hasn’t changed, but Myth Busters was one way to get the public, and companies, to recognize when HSE was being used as a scapegoat for someone else’s over-cautious approach.

You mention in your review of Carsten Busch’s Safety Myth 101 that Carsten describes a Safety Culture that has been so misused that it has become a meaningless buzzword in many circumstances. There can be no doubt that this is the case, HSE’s press office is quick to rebut any over-the-top reporting of ‘elf ‘n’ safety gone mad’. Most of this in the UK tends to be in the tabloid press whereas I’ve noticed a change over the years towards more accurate reporting by agencies like the BBC.

Does HSE still produce hard copy editions of publications and guidances?

Not as many as we used to, but yes we do sometimes still print publications if there is enough demand for a printed version.

What about the future of OHS communications?

The future is digital – mostly. Yes, we will still print some publications, but like all things these days, it’s now about the immediacy of social media, responsive communications that can be read on the go on your smartphone rather than opening a book. Everyone expects the answer to any question to be readily available, and OHS is no exception. Essentially, we all want an app that can do that – and there is, for some things. Check out HSE’s asbestos app

When I’m asked what an editor does, which is a surprisingly common question, I do sometimes have to remind myself of how important our role is. We don’t write the stuff, necessarily, but we do make it readable by the right audience.

What about language that just doesn’t really tell you anything, but is just bluster and padding? Politicspeak, jargon, gobbledegook.*

One of the main jobs of an editor is to get rid of all that. Yes, we also make the text consistent, it doesn’t just read better, but it’s easier to follow; you set a precedent at the beginning of the text and you follow it through. We correct the grammar, obviously, but we also make the text make sense! OHS guidance could probably never be called a good read, but it doesn’t have to be a complicated one.

I am not sure that this answers Gregor McGhee’s question as the books mentioned above are not straight comparisons with Busch’s Safety Myths book.  In some ways any safety book from a reputable and established publisher should illustrate the structure and protocols required.  One of my points and why I contacted Jackie McAdam was to emphasise the importance of an editor in any work.

It is useful that Jackie is a graphic designer as well as an editor as this allows her to picture the end result as well as the information contained.  Also she points out the crucial importance of communicating with the writers or source content providers to ensure you don’t misrepresent ideas in the translation from the technical to the readable.

Recently I spoke with Dr Rob Long when he was working through the proofs to his latest book , “Risky Conversations” and he was frustrated with the editing process required but also impressed by the complexity of editing.  Editing is a skill and a trade and one that is becoming less common as more and more of the text production tools become readily available.  But in most circumstances editing will still be a requirement even if it is to provide that final polish to a product or book.

Of course, like workplace safety, the best results come from having this role as early in the creativity and production processes as possible. Engaging an editor early in a project educates that editor on the text’s context, aim and point and builds a collaboration which avoids, mostly, a deadline panic, which can be an occupational hazard for all writers.

Kevin Jones

*[gobbledygook ˈɡɒb(ə)ldɪˌɡuːk,-ˌɡʊk/

noun, informal

noun: gobbledegook

language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of technical terms.]

Could safety by algorithms be next?

It seems to be increasingly important for occupational health and safety (OHS) to focus on the human and the humanity of the worker but this seems out of touch with the world of Human Resources (HR) and recruitment that is increasingly being dominated by impersonal algorithms.  Recently BBC’s Global Business program looked at Recruitment By Algorithm.

According to Global Business, recruitment assesses the “fit” of a job applicant through assessments undertaken by computer programs and algorithms.  This is occurring at the same time as OHS professionals are increasingly advocating the importance of a “safety culture” even though safety culture is difficult to define, and some deny it exists.  There seems to be an inherent conflict in the process of recruiting safe workers. Continue reading “Could safety by algorithms be next?”

Cry of frustration in Industrial Manslaughter Bill

Over the last few months some in Australia’s trade union movement have renewed calls for the introduction of industrial manslaughter laws in various jurisdictions. The issue has appeared both on television and online.

Curiously the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) seems to have dropped the “industrial manslaughter” terminology it has used in the past. In a 28 April 2015 media release, the ACTU stated:

““Strengthening OHS laws to make negligent companies and individual directors liable sends a clear message to employers that they must ensure people are safe at work.”

and

“Current laws need to be strengthened so that companies and company directors are liable for our safety at work.”

It seems that the charge has been left to the South Australian Greens Parliamentarian,

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Podcast of interview on OHS reviews

The recent article into the review of SafeWorkSA caught the attention of the Your Rights at Night radio program and led to an interview on 9 April 2015.  The podcast of that interview is now available online.

Interviews are odd experiences, particularly when they are over the phone.  Although there is a reason someone wants to talk with you, you usually do not know the questions beforehand.

For the interview above, I was in the bedroom, away from noises, with printed blog articles, media releases and OHS statistics across the pillows.  I thought the spread of information was important to have at hand to make sure the information I provided was accurate but one can still get caught out when the pace of the interview has settled. The last question asked in the interview could have been answered better.  Neither of the reviews announced have a fixed end date, regardless of what I said, in fact you can hear the shuffling of papers while I looked for the SA government’s media release. Oh well.

Kevin Jones

Professor Niki Ellis speaks about OHS, CSR and resilience

Next week the National Comcare Conference is held in Melbourne Australia.  One of the keynote speakers at the conference is Professor Niki Ellis, a prominent Australian OHS researchers and consultant  who is also heading up the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR).

On a sunny September 5 2011 I was able to spend half and hour with Niki at a noisy cafe outside Victoria’s State Library talking about:

  • The profile of OHS is Australia as a profession
  • The importance of a practical application for OHS research (what Niki refers to as “interventionist research”)
  • The need for innovation in tertiary institutions
  • The legacy of Dame Carol Black’s UK report “Working for a Healthier Tomorrow
  • The challenge for OHS professionals to cope  with emerging psychosocial hazards
  • The role and importance of Corporate Social Responsibility to workplace health and safety
  • The deficiencies of applying resilience to workplace mental health issues

Kevin Jones

Interview with Kevin Jones

In a few weeks time SafetyAtWorkBlog will be reporting on the Safety in Design, Engineering and Construction conference to be held in Melbourne.  The conference organisers interviewed me on my thoughts on workplace safety.  The interview is available HERE but you may need to provide your contact details.

The odd thing about the interview is that a safety conference organiser chose me for the interview yet I am not a speaker at the conference they are organising.  IQPC is the company and the August conference in Melbourne is Safety in Design, Engineering & Construction 2011.

Excerpt:

Construction IQ

“It’s very nice to have you here. Now, as a commentator on safety and OHS, you’d know that there’s a lot of talk surrounding the Harmonisation process. How do you think the legislation will change the OHS landscape, and do you think there are any particular areas that will translate into normal practices across all work sites?”

Kevin Jones

“No, I think it will have a particular impact on national companies, those that operate across jurisdictions, so it will be very important to them because that’s where the cost savings are meant to be coming from by reducing the administrative duplication, but that deals with only about 5% to 10% of companies in Australia.  For those companies that operate within just a single state jurisdiction, Harmonisation isn’t going to impact them overly much.  There are going to be some changes to the state legislation because the national model legislation has to be implemented at each State level, so individual States will see some changes. But those changes, by and large, are not radical in terms of how safety is managed.  It’s certainly a considerable shock for some companies – particularly on issues of union right of entry and prosecutions and those sorts of things – but if you have a look at the management of safety in a work site, I don’t think the Harmonisation process is going to change the way it is controlled and managed.”

In my experience many conferences produce a “teaser”, in audio or video, of the keynote speakers, in particular.  This is intended to generate some enthusiasm for the conference in order for people to register but it also introduces speakers with whom the audience may be unfamiliar.  As with any advertising it is difficult to quantify the benefits of such strategies but with the phone interview mentioned above, there is little cost other than 10 minutes of time, once the recording process is established, and so perhaps the return on investment is not of great significance.

Kevin Jones

Clarity of OHS laws in Australia

On 2 September 2010, an interview I undertook with Radio Atticus was broadcast in Australia  (9 minute mark of the podcast)  Radio Atticus is a law program on public radio in Australia.

As well as my comments, the reporter, Nat Cagilaba, interviewed Neil Foster of the  University of Newcastle (referred to as Ian in the podcast I believe).  We discuss the intended role and the current reality of OHS laws.

Comments on the audio are welcome.

Kevin Jones