The unmentioned OHS

Occupational health and safety (OHS) people know how to fix most hazards at work but often have very little power and insufficient influence to apply the fix. That is why OHS people need to read the business sections of major newspapers and mainstream media business websites. It is there that the executives and corporate leaders discuss OHS changes, even if they never say “workplace health and safety”. An article in last weekend’s The Guardian provides a good example.

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We know how to prevent burnout but we have little desire to change

Probono Australia is reporting that employee burnout is on the rise. Burnout is increasingly being used as an alternative term for mental ill-health or stress at work. The report on which the writer based their article is not surprising, but the recommendations are. The subheading for the article is:

““Structural and cultural shifts, not wellness initiatives, are needed to address the chronic workplace stress of burnout.”

But the article also pulls together other workplace mental health factors:

“The rise of digitisation has brought with it a need to  ‘always be on’ and, with that, employee work-life balance has become harder to maintain. It was this type of ‘24/7 access to employees’ thinking, the study found, that led to burnout.”

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Blaming others after a cock-up

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has a long relationship with Blame. Blame has a long association with Responsibility. In the Australian Financial Review on January 19, 2022, Andrew Hill of the Financial Times wrote about both in relation to Novak Djokovic’s actions that led to his deportation.

Djokovic said that one of his administrative team completed his travel declaration incorrectly.

“…. my agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box.”

Hill states that regardless of who completes paperwork on your behalf, you are responsible for the document as it is your document that you are submitting. You are responsible for the document and ensuring that the document is correct.

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Bad work “habits” are part of the problem

The headline immediately caught my attention:

“Five bad habits to dump before resuming work”

Australian Financial Review, January 4, 2022

Such is the power of the click-bait headline.

This article is aimed at middle managers and those working from home. It is in the Australian financial/business newspaper so articles about individual empowerment and entrepreneurship rather than structural change are expected. The article above is a classic example of the Australian Financial Review’s approach to workplace health and safety matters: a newspaper with significant influence on business leaders and executives but one that rarely quotes or approaches occupational health and safety (OHS) experts.

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The PM misses an opportunity for OHS leadership

Last week in Devonport, Tasmania, an inflatable jumping castle flew into the air injuring and killing several primary school-aged children.  Shortly after Prime Minister Scott Morrison conducted a press conference in conjunction with the Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein and others in which he spoke about the incident and its impact on the local community.  It is worth looking at the PM’s comments from an occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective.

Many readers will be aware that fatalities related to inflatable amusement devices becoming airborne are uncommon but not unknown, as the ABC article linked above shows.  Most Australian jurisdictions have issued OHS guidelines for amusement devices, including inflatable jumping castles. Here are links to two examples that illustrate the state of knowledge of the risk. This article makes no comment on the OHS circumstances of the Devonport incident.

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We can control workplace mental health if we want to

Some years ago, Time Management was all the rage. It was the precursor to the resurgence of the Work Smarter – Not Harder movement, but it seems to have faded from conversation recently. Part of the reason is that everyone is expected to be contactable, every day, every week, every month. And then we wonder why there seems to be a workplace mental health crisis?!

The answer is simple – turn off your phone, turn off your work computer. This will cause some readers to shake and say that they cannot do that as their bosses expect them to be available. The unfairness of this was discussed a little in the article on “work-to-rule“, but the employers’ expectations are more than unfair. They indicate a poor manager who cannot manage their time and of a workplace culture that endorses this sloppiness/laziness. A recent New Zealand article looked at some of the recent trends.

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Increased OHS accountability sought

The political strategy of Ken Phillips of Self Employed Australia (formerly of the Independent Contractors of Australia) received a boost in The Age newspaper on December 12 2021, in an article headlined “Group to mount legal challenge to force prosecution of Premier over hotel quarantine disaster” online (paywalled) or “Business owners seek prosecution of Andrews over hotel quarantine” in the print version.

Phillips uses a section of Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act to make a political point about accountability. Previously, Phillips, his usual mainstream media contact Robert Gottliebsen, and others have called for Premier Daniel Andrews to be charged with Industrial Manslaughter (IM) over the deaths of over 800 people linked to a COVID-19 outbreak from the failure of Victoria’s hotel quarantine program. (The recent non-hotel outbreak is around 597 deaths)

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