I am entering the last of my four week’s work on a construction site in Sydney. In my first week, the city was blanketed with thick smoke from nearby bushfires and all construction sites closed early for a day because the air was deemed hazardous. That smoke has persisted for all of my time in Sydney. Last Friday I was on site when the occasional piece of ash fluttered on to me. The bushfire situation is unprecedented and my experience has shown me that Australia and Australian companies seem to struggle with how to operate in a disaster that will undoubtedly return.
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.
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”
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..”
“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
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”