New safety campaign – making the invisible visible

hi res moving cement vwaThe last week of October each year is Safe Work Australia Week.  This theme is enacted in each State with their own resources and events.  WorkSafe Victoria is one of the more active of the state regulators and 2009 seems no different.

On 13 September 2009, WorkSafe Victoria will launch a new campaign of graphic advertisements but what makes these different is the injuries result from “simple” work activities.  They are not in high-risk industries where workers may perform high-risk tasks.  These ads concern the (mis)use of an office chair, lifting a bag from a pallet, not using the stairs, slipping on a wet floor and lifting a person.

hi res office chair vwaThere has always been the challenge of how to generate interest in manual handling injuries as they are internal or invisible, and cumulative.  WorkSafe has done well by illustrating the physical consequences of what many dismiss as “taking a fall”.  In fact, the images that are less confronting than the noise of the bones breaking or the hernia appearing.

WorkSafe’s Executive Director, John Merritt, describes the campaign this way

“There’s no ‘blood on the floor’ or spectacular images on the nightly TV news or in the morning paper, yet the consequences of these injuries are enormous for individuals, their loved ones and their employers.

“For business, the average cost of treating these people through Victoria’s workers compensation system averages $45,000 per claim.

“Individuals lose quality of life and many, the capacity to work for at least a short period, some require surgery or have permanent pain and never fully recover.

“For employers productivity is cut, there may be staff replacement costs, retraining and safety improvements to be made after the event. Industries lose people permanently.

“Identifying and preventing these issues has benefits for all.”

Merritt also provides the statistic that  60% of all reported workplace injuries* – more than 17,000 a year in Victoria – involve manual handling.

The new campaign is graphic but it is hard to see how the total costs – social, personal and business – could have been described better.  Having a worker clutch their lower back and grimace with pain has been seen in campaigns and images repeatedly for decades and a new approach was needed.  Making the invisible visible should help.

Kevin Jones

* Based on Victorian Workers compensation claims where people are off work 10 days or more and / or medical treatment costs in excess of $520.

SafetyAtWorkBlog gets praise for independence

Today, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) released a four-page document criticising the campaigning techniques and statistical foundation of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).  Nothing unique in that ideological battle, however, what grabbed our attention was that SafetyAtWorkBlog is mentioned specifically.

ACCIBriefing_8Sep2009 coverI contacted the ACCI this morning and thanked them for reading the blog and for describing SafetyAtWorkBlog as a “respected website”.  We’ll accept praise from anyone as our major indicator of success mainly comes from the steady increase in our readership statistics.

The ACCI makes considerable mileage out of a SafetyAtWorkBlog article that discusses the survey results that the ACTU released in support of some of its campaigning for further changes in the national OHS laws that are currently being drafted.

Several comments are useful in relation to the ACCI paper

SafetyAtWorkBlog obtained the survey results by requesting them through the ACTU and being provided them by Essential Media.  We have a policy on any media releases that quote statistics.  If the statistics are not readily available, or at least the relevant OHS parts of survey results, we do not usually report on the issues raised or we make a point of stating that the statistical assertions are not able to be verified.

The ACCI paper echoes many of the points raised in the blog article.  Our main point was to question the wisdom of using statistics as support for a campaign when the statistics do not, necessarily, support the  campaign objectives, or, in the least, may provide alternative interpretations.

The Essential Media report provided to SafetyAtWorkBlog could have been more detailed and the ACCI certainly wants more than we have seen.  Releasing such a paper criticising the ACTU for not sharing research data puts the ACCI in a position now where it cannot deny the public release of its research data, at least, on matters relevant to OHS.  The questions from ACCI have set a precedent for openness and information sharing.

Whether marching in the streets in support of an OHS campaign is effective, or warranted, or not is almost a moot point.  Many of the televisions stations covered the union marches in Australia earlier this week.  The 7.30 Report felt there was enough of a profile raised by the union campaign that it followed up many of the concerns raised with a long article in its show on 8 September 2009.  The media exposure has been able to further raise the profile of OHS as a contentious issue that is being acted upon by government.  It should raise the “seven out of ten” OHS awareness factor, quoted by the ACCI, a few points at least.

Given the criticism of the ACTU, one could genuinely ask, how the ACCI is increasing awareness of OHS matters in the community as well as its membership?  It is not expected out in the streets but the occasional media release or four-page rebuttal does not have the same affect as a march of hundreds of people on the television.

In all of this to-ing and fro-ing, SafetyAtWorkBlog takes pride in its independence and as a forum for expressing views on a social and industrial issue that has only ever before been discussed by political ideologues from fixed perspectives.

Perhaps safety professionals could apply the wisdom of Oscar Wilde to safety

“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

It seems to me that OHS has not been talked about for far too long.

Kevin Jones

Safety industry jargon

Every industry has jargon.  A common language and common terms can build companionship and solidarity.  But when used outside a “discipline” it reduces the effectiveness of communication.  The mis-application of jargon can generate confusion and is, in many areas, being purposely used to hide meanings.  Sadly in the safety profession, jargon is used to mask the inadequacies of professionals in many circumstances.

Below is an example of the (lack of) communication that recently did the rounds in Australia:

“…. partnership to assist in facilitating a more holistic approach to our (OHS) profession along the lines of more clear, established and disciplined paths and requirements to progress those paths.”

I would suggest this would translate as “someone has given us money so that we can do things”.

A very good blog article on current “business-speak” is available online.

Please send in your examples of safety-related nonsense that you may have found in mission statements, annual reports or other documents.

Kevin Jones

Share Solutions for the 21st century

SafetyAtWorkBlog has received several enquiries around the Share Solutions mentioned in an August 5, 2009 blog posting.  Coincidentally overnight WorkSafe Victoria released one of its “Health and Safety Solutions” dealing with falls through cellar trapdoors in the hospitality industry.

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For those of the “Youtube generation” the video below shows the risks of not controlling the hazard of an open cellar door.

Information distribution

This latest is a good example of how good old ideas can be updated, but it would still be good to see such solutions “harmonised” through a national process and disseminated more widely that relying on business finding these items on the website.

It is understood that WorkSafe believes that the OHS professionals are an important medium for this type of information, and this mention in SafetyAWorkBlog perhaps illustrates that strategy.  Looking at the websites of some of the OHS associations in Australia, none seem to be lining through to new WorkSafe content or reproducing the content on their own sites for their members.  The commercial sites are doing the work for regulators and the associations and funding their activities through advertising.

This certainly makes a low cost distribution model for WorkSafe but one that is short-sighted and of questionable sustainability.

Kevin Jones

Heimlich maneuvre has no scientific evidence

The Heimlich manoeuvre is an established first aid technique for removing a blockage, commonly from food.  First aid courses in Australia do not teach the technique as the evidence for the efficacy of the technique is lacking.  The Australian recommendation is to relax the person so that they can cough and to dislodge the blockage through solid thumps on the back.

First aid instructors need to spend time in almost every first aid class to counter the cultural dominance of the Heimlich manoeuvre.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “The Health Report” investigates the evidence for and against the Heimlich manoeuvre with interviews with Dr Henry Heimlich and with one of Dr Heimlich’s critics, his son Peter.  Peter describes his father as a celebrity doctor.

A Wikipedia article on choking includes the following quote from a 2005 article in the Cincinatti Magazine:

“According to Roger White MD of the Mayo Clinic and American Heart Association (AHA), “There was never any science here. Heimlich overpowered science all along the way with his slick tactics and intimidation, and everyone, including us at the AHA, caved in.”

The relevance of this podcast is very important for OHS professionals as an indication of the competence and validity of first aid training providers.

The podcast also raises other relevant issues concerning evidence-based decision-making, the manipulation and power of the media, and the credibility of subject-matter experts.

The podcast is a fascinating medical tale, a family saga and, perhaps, a case study for media students, but mostly as a precautionary tale for OHS professionals.

Kevin Jones

New old US research into driving and talking

The New York Times has revealed research on the hazards of driving and using mobile phones that was withheld since 2003.   The newspaper understandably focuses on the intrigue that prevented the report from being released but the content of the report has the potential to substantially change how companies “manage” the hazard of their staff using mobile phones whilst driving. Pages from original

The report, obtained through Freedom of Information and made available on the newspaper’s website, was a  substantial project for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and, according to NYTimes:

“The research mirrors other studies about the dangers of multitasking behind the wheel. Research shows that motorists talking on a phone are four times as likely to crash as other drivers, and are as likely to cause an accident as someone with a .08 blood alcohol content.”

The full report is available by clicking on the image in this post.

Kevin Jones