Do open plan offices and sit/stand desks create as many problems as they solve?

The mainstream media regularly includes articles and, increasingly, advertorials, about the modern workplace, usually office buildings, that are designed to foster creativity, communication, productivity and improve physical health.  In many of these workplaces, it quickly becomes apparent that there are never enough meeting rooms for confidential discussions, making the coffee shop in the foyer or a nearby building, essential venues for conversations that would, in the past, be conducted in an office.

It also does not take long for a lot of the workers to be at their desks wearing earbuds or headphones in order to negate the noise that the modern workplace allows and creates.  This need for isolation and concentration is contrary to the intentions of the office designers.  It is not simply a reflection of the modern ipod technology but a human desire for privacy, focus, diligence and productivity.  New research  seems to indicate that the situation is not helped by sit/stand desks.

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Two ABC radio broadcasts on OHS

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Dolly Parton sang about working 9 to 5, asked “what a way to make a living” and asserted that it would drive you crazy if you let it.  Many workers would look on a shift of only 9 to 5 as a luxury.  ABC Radio in Brisbane played this song as an introduction to a series of radio interviews about workplace safety in which myself and Professor Niki Ellis participated on 9 May 2016.

Curiously the interview, part of their The Juggle series, occurs in the Drive time slot of 4pm to 6pm but the discussion was almost all about occupational health and safety  (OHS) in the office environment.  If 9 to 5 still exists anywhere, the audience for office safety information was busy.  It would have been interesting to talk about OHS and work vehicles. Continue reading “Two ABC radio broadcasts on OHS”

Standing workstations – useful, fad or salesmanship?

Over the last week Australian media has been reporting on office workers using standing workstations. Given sedentary working has been shown to have negative health effects, standing seems sensible as it increases mobility but is it enough to stand?  Or is this recent media attention just another example of shallow writing on occupational health and safety matters, or even media manipulation?

An article in the Canberra Times (which appeared in other Fairfax publications around 17 April 2015) states that:

“…health and ergonomics experts say the benefits to overall health for standing-up workers is irrefutable..”

and

“Some also believe it makes workers more productive…”

The article then quotes the head of office supplies and furniture from an office furniture retailer, Jim Berndells of Officeworks.  Its next expert is another retailer of furniture, Office Workstations and its managing director Jovan Vucetic.  The attention granted to these retailers along with a mention of the price of a standing workstation and the companies that Vucetic has supplied, seems to imply that the article is less about OHS than about product information.

(It may be relevant that

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Just workplace hardship

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Yossi Berger writes:

We’re all familiar with the notions of focus and attention, and selective attention.  We’ve all experienced how difficult it can be to attend to target information when background noise is distracting.  The issue can be referred to as the signal-to-noise ratio.

I often find its effects in discussions with managers and workers during workplace inspections.  That is, I hear animated discussions of hazards, of risks, of risk assessments and risk management and various systems and theories.  The conversations over flow with these concepts whilst most of workers’ daily problems aren’t even raised, they don’t reach the level of a signal.

Thankfully in most workplaces, most managers and most workers have not experienced any fatalities.  By far most of them will not have experienced or witnessed a serious injury or serious disease.  Nor have most experienced their local hazards actually seriously hurting anyone.

But most workers will have experienced some dangerous working conditions, mostly not mortally dangerous, but dangerous.  Continue reading “Just workplace hardship”

OHS Canaries and Apathy

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Guest author, Yossi Berger writes:

“What’s the point of tellin’ them the same thing over and over when nothin’ changes?  I open my mouth about safety again I could lose me job” he said, “Why would I bother?”[a]

Introduction

Words and names can be used as sneaky accomplices to construct popular or inaccurate narratives.  When such constructions are used as explanations of workers’ behaviour and presumed attitudes they can misdirect occupational health and safety (OHS) programs.  An example is the frequently heard ‘workers’ apathy’ explanation of poor OHS standards.  The important UK 1972 Robens Report on OHS noted:

”….our deliberations over the course of two years have left us in no doubt that the most important single reason for accidents at work is apathy”.[1]

It’s 2009 and some of this in various guises[b] still obscures simple facts at work.

I believe that choosing the banner of ‘apathy’[c] as an explanation of poor OHS standards was and continues to be inaccurate.   Continue reading “OHS Canaries and Apathy”