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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Firefighters’ mental health

More details are appearing of the findings of an independent inquiry into mental health and suicides in the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB), a report whose release has been stalled by the United Firefighters’ Union (UFU).

cover-bullying-health-sectorAccording to the inquiry’s chair, in an article in the ABC news website, Dr Peter Cotton,

“…the MFB has a mono-culture with few women or members from diverse backgrounds, making it difficult to assess the level of bullying and harassment.”

“… the MFB does not screen for alcohol or drug use, and has a lack of policies and procedures to address drug and alcohol issues.”

“Management’s handling of complaints were found to be ad hoc and inconsistent with a “lack of will to follow up” and “give them a wide berth” thought pattern.”

“the mental health of firefighters was comparable with Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria,…”

The latter point is useful to remember as a similar report into the Victoria Police was released earlier this year. The most recent inquiry into Ambulance Victoria was undertaken by the Victorian Auditor-General in 2016. Continue reading “Firefighters’ mental health”

Workplace bullying in the police force illustrates the challenges of change management

There are two newspaper reports in Australia on 21 June 2012 about the Victorian Police Force that illustrate a fractious safety culture and a major organisational and ideological impediment to reducing workplace bullying.

The Australian article ” OPI concedes failure against force’s culture” (only available to subscribers) states that:

‘The Office of Police Integrity has conceded it and other corruption fighting measures have failed to root out the entrenched culture of reprisals and mateship in pockets of the Victoria Police that seriously harms the force….”

“The OPI says current law fails to deal with why whistleblowers are targeted. ‘‘The legislated protections against retaliation do not address the root cause of reprisal — a workplace culture of misguided loyalty,’’ it argues.  “The protections are individualistic and short-term, tending to ‘look after’ victims and potential victims of reprisal rather than address why reprisal occurs.’’

“Despite the subsequent formation of the OPI and the beefing up of the Ombudsman’s powers, police still struggled to break free of the shackles of loyalty and the so-called brotherhood.’

The Age article, “A fifth of police bullied at work“, reports on a government survey circulated to 14,000 people.

‘The figures, provided to The Age, mean about 1250 of the 4200 police staff who completed the survey have seen bullying behaviour, while nearly 900 say they have been bullied.’ Continue reading “Workplace bullying in the police force illustrates the challenges of change management”

How the treatment of traumatic brain injuries has changed and the positive role of workers’ compensation

An American workers’ compensation blog, Workers Comp Insider, posted a fascinating article on the workplace-related traumatic brain injuries.  The article discusses a new research paper by Peter Rousmaniere – “Gray Matters: The Employer’s Role in Brain Injury Recovery”.

The original article in Risk Management magazine is also a good example of clear writing on  a complex matter.

Clearly, workers who receive a severe brain injury should not be shuffled away into the Never-Never as is traditional.  There are counselling and rehabilitation techniques available that have originated from many sources, including contemporary wars. Continue reading “How the treatment of traumatic brain injuries has changed and the positive role of workers’ compensation”

Peanut allergy fatality saga to continue

Safety management in the education sector seems to be one of the hardest management challenges.  There are overlapping safety obligations through OHS legislation, education department guidelines, public health matters and meeting the demands of parents and students.

700 Peanuts - Federal Court coverA decision in the Federal Court of Australia on 30 June 2009 illustrates the challenges.

A 13 year old boy from Scotch College, in Melbourne, Nathan Francis, died after eating from a ration pack of beef satay on a Defence Forces camp.  The school, which was supervising the camp, were aware of the boy’s severe allergy to peanuts.

The Australian Department of Defence was fined over $A200,000.

The full judgement of the court raises several  issues that are relevant to the management of safety of people in one’s care.  The judge has recommended a State coronial inquest to determine the roles and responsibilities of Scotch College in Nathan’s death.

Justice for Nathan and his family is likely to have many more months to go. [ SafetyAtWorkBlog will follow the issue.]

A fantastic audio report on the decision is available at the ABC website. The payment of the fine back to the government is not dealt with in this blog.

The first section of the judgement (below) indicates what the judge believes are the failures that need to be addressed through an appropriate safety process:

  • Communication;
  • Instruction;
  • Provision of appropriate supplies;
  • The importance of labelling; and
  • Following procedures and guidelines

Some readers may find that this prosecution could make an interesting case study for safety management.

Kevin Jones

Justice North found that the Federal OHS Act was breached by the Commonwealth government through the Chief of Army.  The respondent

(a) supplied Cadet Nathan Fazal Francis, Cadet Nivae Anandaganeshan and Cadet Gene van den Broek with one-man combat ration packs (CRP’s) containing a satay beef food pouch which contained peanuts or peanut protein for their consumption despite having been informed that the said cadets were allergic to peanuts;
and, in so doing, it failed to:

(b) warn parents of the [Australian Army Cadets] AAC cadets about the contents of the CRP’s;

(c) warn AAC cadets about the contents of CRP’s;

(d) warn AAC cadets with pre-existing food allergies of the contents of CRP’s;

(e) make appropriate use of information provided by AAC cadets and parents of AAC cadets regarding pre-existing or known allergic conditions and correlate that information with the potential risk of being exposed to allergies through the supply of food contained in CRP’s;

(f) ensure that the contents of CRP’s allocated to AAC cadets did not include food products or allergens that may have triggered allergic responses by removing or requiring the removal of peanut-based food products from CRP’s;

(g) prevent distribution or provision of peanut-based food products to AAC cadets with pre-existing allergic reactions by:

i. inspecting the contents of CRP’s to be allocated to those individual AAC cadets who had given notice of allergic conditions;

ii. isolating cadets with pre-existing medical conditions and/or notified food allergies at the time of distribution of CRP’s and issuing them with CRP’s that did not contain peanut products or other food allergens;

iii. removing all CRP’s known to contain peanut protein or other food allergens from circulation amongst AAC cadets;

iv. requiring all AAC cadets with notified allergic conditions to provide their own food supplies;

(h) issue any or any adequate instructions or provide adequate supervision regarding distribution of CRP’s;

(i) issue any adequate instructions or provide adequate supervision regarding consumption of contents of CRP’s;

(j) prevent the consumption of CRP’s containing food allergens by AAC cadets with food allergies;

(k) distribute CRP’s after consulting or considering pre-existing medical conditions; and

(l) take into consideration the findings of a report dated 22 November 1996 by the Australian National Audit Office entitled ‘Management of Food Provisioning in the Australian Defence Force’.

The new generation of foolhardy reporters

In 1975 five Australian reporters were killed while covering the armed dispute between the Indonesian military and, what used to be called “freedom fighters”, the Fretilin in East Timor.  An indication of how circumstances can change is that José Ramos Horta, the current President of East Timor was a founder and former member of Fretilin, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor.

Since that time, in particular, in Australia, the issue of safety of media employees has gained considerable attention, primarily through the work of the journalist’s union, the MEAA, and the international Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma

But there are a new generation of freelancers and writers who come to reporting from outside the tertiary journalism courses (this writer included) who do not have the benefit of accessing the wisdom and advice of experienced reporters.  These writers (I do not apply the term journalist  even to myself) see the excitement of reporting from exotic locations and areas of conflict.  New technology of recording and distribution only encourages them because it makes the reporting process easier or, at least, makes it easier to provide content, the quality of the content is often questionable.

A new book is being released in Australia concerning the Balibo Five and the author spoke to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.  Tony Maniaty, who was in Indonesia at the time and spoke with the Australian reporters, touches on the risks to which the new generation of reporters are willingly exposing themselves.   His comments are timely and reinforce the importance of what used to be called listening to the wisdom of elders but now seems to be mentoring.  His comments apply to all occupations and professions.

A feature film is being made about this period and the events surrounding the Balibo Five.  Maniaty attending the shooting of the film and spoke about this in a Youtube video, ostensibly for the promotion of his book. 

Kevin Jones

 

 

“Getting back on the (trauma) horse”

Mental health in the workplace is one of those recent manifestations of psychosocial hazards.  It continues to evolve and during this process one is never quite sure where the best and most relevant information can be obtained.

Cnfusion for the safety professional can come from new, slightly off-topic, issues that can skew the public perception and understanding of exactly what it is one is trying to manage.

Is it reasonable to take inspiration (if that is the right term) from studies of Iraq War sufferers of post traumatic stress syndrome in providing clues to handling mental health issues at work?  

During tertiary risk management courses the debt owed to the armed forces and their planning processes is acknowledged but soldiers operate in a unique culture of accountability, clearly defined duties and a rigid hierarchical structure.  In most circumstances only the broadest of concepts could be translated to the real (non-militarised) workplace.  In a similar way studies of Scandinavian workforce management are interesting but are highly unlikley to be transferable outside the cultural geography.

A very recent example of this problem of getting excited about innovation and then wondering about its genuine applicability, can be seen in the TV show, Catalyst, (video available online for a short time) broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on 16 April 2009.  

The program provides a profile on a computer simulation program that purports to aid the rehabilitation of war veterans by returning them to traumatic events of the war zone.  It seems that the theory is the same as “getting back on the horse that threw you”.

In OHS terms, the applicability for firefighters, emergency response personnel etc is obvious but SafetyAtWorkBlog has reservations.  The use of video simulations and games by the armed services before, during and after combat is discomforting.  

Managers and health care professionals may need to carry some of the responsibility for the cloudiness of mental health and trauma by applying the hyperbole of trauma to relatively benign workplace issues.  Many elements of work are being described as traumatic when they are not.  They maybe disturbing, disconcerting or even harmful but there is a big difference between being punched in the face by a psych patient and driving over a car of civilians in an armoured vehicle.

In other industry sectors, such hyperbole would be described as spin.  It is the responsibility of OHS professionals to cut through the spin and not be distracted by “exciting”, but indirect, innovative solutions.  Let’s look for the evidence and operate from what we know works.  At least until new evidence appears.

Kevin Jones

First Aid and Burns

The correct and established treatment for burns is

“.. to hold the burn under cool running water for at least 20 minutes”.

This reduces the continuing damage generated by burning tissue.  

This has been the advice for decades and was recently reemphasised by the Victorian Government.  So why are burn creams still on the market?  

Perhaps there is a place  for burn creams – when 20 minutes’ supply of cool running water is not available.

In December 2008, the Australian Defence Forces used burn cream.  According to a media release

The ADF has been advised that four Iraqi civilian vehicles were damaged and two Iraqi men received superficial burns to their hands when they reportedly attempted to remove hot debris from their cars.

The Iraqi men were treated at the scene by Coalition Forces with burn cream.

Child Safety Australia recommends burn cream in a domestic first aid kit for the treatment of blisters.

The Australian Red Cross are emphatic, but allow room to move:

“NEVER use burn cream as an initial treatment.  This should only be used a doctor’s recommendation.”

In 2003 (reference not publicly available), the Mayo Clinic in Rochester advised the following first aid treatments for burns

  • With chemical burns, make sure the chemical and any clothing or jewelry in contact with the chemical are removed.
  • Cool the burn under running water long enough to reduce the pain, usually 15 to 20 minutes. If this isn’t possible, immerse the burn in cold water or cover with cold compresses. Don’t put ice directly on the burn. Ice can cause frostbite and further damage.
  • Once the burn is cooled, apply a lotion or moisturizer to soothe the area and prevent dryness. Don’t apply butter. It holds heat in the tissues and may cause more damage.
  • Cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage. Wrap loosely. Bandaging keeps air off the burn and reduces the pain.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medication unless your doctor has told you to avoid these medications.
  • Don’t break blisters. If the blister is broken, wash with antibacterial soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment and bandage.

No mention of burn cream and only an antibiotic cream in relation to blisters.

Safety professionals seek evidence, from which solid and valid decisions can be made.  Why then does the initial treatment of burns have such a variety of advice? Can we simply put it down to the commercial desires of cream manufacturers? Or the  lack of  explanation from the defence forces?

I am old enough to have experienced my mother applying butter to my burns.  We have had generational change in this treatment but how much more change would have occurred if workplace first aiders, and parents, had not had burn creams advocated as a legitimate first aid treatment?

Kevin Jones

“Illegal” asbestos use in the Australian Navy

The defence forces operate with a different understanding of risk and safety.  In the past there are many instances where soldiers lives have purposely been sacrificed for the greater good.  This has been an integral part of many “heroic” battles. 

The Australian federal OHS authority, Comcare, is at the forefront of a clash between occupational safety and armed services culture.  The Age newspaper has revealed the Australian navy’s continued use of chrysotile asbestos in its ship and navy bases years after the substance was banned for use.  The newspaper says that a risk assessment report has found

..”the risk to personnel was significant, exposure to asbestos was almost certain and the consequences were “potentially catastrophic”.”

OHS standard practice is to identify the control of hazards in line with the Hierarchy of Controls which seems to have been done as the newspaper reports

“A ban on the use of and import of asbestos-containing materials in Australia came into force on January 1, 2004. But the ADF [Australian Defence Force] requested and won an exemption [page 5 of the SRCC 2005-06 Annual Report] to continue using chrysotile asbestos parts until 2007 on two strict provisos: that the parts were “mission-critical” – meaning their absence would ground equipment and jeopardise a mission – and that no non-asbestos replacement parts could be found.”

So the hazard can’t be eliminated or substitutes found.  That’s the first two levels of the hierarchy down.  The report goes on to assert that the (in)action of the Navy could be illegal and says the exemptions were renewed for another three years (page 81 of the SRCC Annual Report 2007-08)

The remaining levels of the control hierarchy are not addressed in recent media reports or documents available through Comcare’s website but the continuing cases of asbestos-related diseases reported by the lobby groups would indicate that personal protective equipment may not have been used or used appropriately. 

Most organisations are aware of the hazard of asbestos if not how the hazard relates to the specific circumstances.  The Navy cannot claim this as it has specifically claimed exemptions for the hazard. 

The current Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, took action on the defence force’s use of asbestos products almost 12 month’s ago and even though it was reported that he gave the Defence chiefs a “dressing down” over the issue, circumstances seem not to have improved. 

“But Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, who first accused the Defence Force of lethargy in its efforts to remove asbestos in 2007, when he was in opposition, said despite the massive cost of ridding the ADF of asbestos, its continued use was unacceptable.”

For those who habitually argue that worker safety is not affordable, the Minister’s quote above shows commitment.  Sadly it is these types of comments that can come back and haunt politicians.

It is suspected that the Minister or the Navy is receiving letters about non-asbestos gaskets from keen equipment suppliers as you read this blog.  But that raises the problem of the labyrinthine issues of defence equipment procurement.  Perhaps the fact that anti-asbestos campaigner and former trade union leader, Greg Combet, is now the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Procurement may fast-track the issue.  It is hoped that on the issue of asbestos in the defence forces, Greg speaks up soon.

Kevin Jones

Indonesian Mines & Depleted Uranium

As in most professions during time in occupational health and safety, one meets amazing people.  One that SafetyAtWorkBlog  cherishes is Melody Kemp.  

Melody is an ex-pat Australia who currently resides in Laos. As well as working on OHS matters throughout the Asian region she is also the author of the excellent OHS publication Working for Life: Sourcebook on Occupational Health for Women, a free download.

In 19 December 2008 Melody had an article printed in Asia Times Online concerning the social impacts of a proposed mine on the small Indonesian island of Lembata.  In this era of corporate social responsibility, safety professionals have a broad brief which covers many industrial, corporate and environmental responsibilities and it is often company behaviour in far-flung outposts of the corporate structure or the world that indicates a clearer picture of corporate and safety culture.  

Melody’s article is highly recommended for those with a social conscience, for those in the mining sectors and for those whose companies have Asian operations.

In 2003, Melody wrote an article on the health risks of the use of depleted uranium for Safety At Work magazine (pictured below).  That article can be accessed HERE.

Kevin Jones

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