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]


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”

Eye injury campaign evidence clarified

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A 19 May 2010 SafetyAtWorkBlog article commented on a new eye safety campaign by the  Optometrists Association Australia.  The eye safety brochure included several statistical references upon which clarification was sought.

Shirley Loh, OAA’s National Professional Services Manager has provided references, and we thank her for her efforts.

A couple of quotes in question were:

“60% of all eye injuries happen in the workplace and about 95% of eye injuries are the result of carelessness and lack of attention.”

“Up to 48% of office workers suffer from computer-related eye fatigue and this rate appears to be increasing.   Excessive computer use can cause eye strain and reduce productivity.” Continue reading “Eye injury campaign evidence clarified”

Move your way to better health

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Further to the recent posting on cardiovascular disease research, Dr David Dunstan participated in an online media briefing on 12 January 2010. (Video and audio interviews have begun to appear on line)

It is often difficult to identify control measures for workplace hazards from the raw research data.  Dr Dunstan, this morning elaborated on the possible workplace control measures that employers can design into workplaces in order to reduce the CVD risk from prolonged sedentary work.   Continue reading “Move your way to better health”

Sit down, get to work, get sick

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Sitting for longer than four hours while watching television is likely to increase one’s risk of suffering a cardio-vascular disease (CVD), according to a new study reported in “Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association”  in January 2010.

David Dunstan

The research was headed by Dr David Dunstan, Head of the Physical Activity Laboratory in the Division of Metabolism and Obesity at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Australia.  The study is Australian but can easily be transposed to other countries. (Several audio reports are now available online, one from NPR)

The significance for safety professionals comes not from the published report itself but the accompanying media release where Dr Dunstan speculates on the broader social issues behind his findings:

“What has happened is that a lot of the normal activities of daily living that involved standing up and moving the muscles in the body have been converted to sitting…  Technological, social, and economic changes mean that people don’t move their muscles as much as they used to – consequently the levels of energy expenditure as people go about their lives continue to shrink.   For many people, on a daily basis they simply shift from one chair to another – from the chair in the car to the chair in the office to the chair in front of the television.” Continue reading “Sit down, get to work, get sick”

Working remotely does not mean it has to be unsafe

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Australia is a big country and people work in very remote locations.  However OHS obligations do not apply only when it is convenient.  The law and duties apply equally wherever work is undertaken.

One example of safety improvements for remote work has been illustrated by the Community & Public Sector Union (CPSU).  On 10 November 2009 CPSU informed its members of amendments to the “Remote Travel Standards Operating Protocols”.  Some of those changes include

“Travel is twin engine aircraft is usual practise, but staff may be required to fly in single engine aircraft from time to time.  Employees will have the choice not to fly on a single engine aircraft if they have legitimate concerns for their personal safety.”

This acknowledges that in the Outback there are not always options but that union members can exercise whatever is available.  This also supports the individual’s OHS obligation to keep themselves safe.

Vaccinations for Hep A and B will be offered to employees before their first field trip, during orientation to remote servicing.

This is a standard travel safety option but often applied only for international travel.  To offer this domestically is sensible.

The union has also managed to introduce a

Dedicated section in the post trip report for all OH&S issues, including issues in office accommodation, and living quarters.

Traditional wisdom is “be seen, be safe” but this also applies to reporting an OHS matter.  If a form does not state that OHS is included, then it is increasingly likely that an incident or issue will not be reported.  Organisations also cannot be seen as deterring the reporting of hazards and incidents.

The next option is curious and a trial seems appropriate

Management agreed to a 3 week trial beginning the 6 December 2009 for the use of personal alarms in case employees are confronted with acts of customer aggression, or other dangers in the field. Management will be asking staff for feedback on this, which will inform their decision on whether to provide or not provide personal alarms to employees into the future.

The issues of safety when travelling remotely have been negotiated for many months and the CPSU website posted regular updates on negotiations.

CPSU members and public servants need to travel to remote locations to provide a range of services.  For instance, Centrelink’s Annual Report for 2008-09 says that

“Centrelink Mobile Offices, including the Murray-Darling Basin Assistance Bus, continued to travel around rural Australia to provide information and assistance to farmers and small business owners, their families and rural communities.”

These mobile offices covered 40,000 kilometres in one year.

Australia is a big country and urban safety professionals and policy makers need to be regularly reminded that a desk in an office is not a default workplace.

The “Remote Travel Standards Operating Protocols” are not publicly accessible by SafetyAtWorkBlog will provide a link, whenever possible.

Kevin Jones