Presenteeism in the US

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Presenteeism is when a worker attends work when they should not due to illness.  Frequently ill workers attend the office or the factory because they feel that they are indispensable.  This may be the case but they can then present health risks to others by communicating their flu or other disease to their colleagues.  However, the worker is also impaired and may undertake work tasks or make decisions that put themselves at risk, a clear breach of their OHS obligations.

Presenteeism is an obvious overlap between OHS and Human Resources.  Sick leave has an important role to play in managing a safe and healthy work environment.

A 28 July 2008 article on NPR reports on a poll about presenteeism.  The US context is slightly different from Europe and Australia because paid sick leave is not a workplace entitlement although many workplaces provide health insurance.

I don’t agree with Marc Burgat, vice president of government relations for the California Chamber of Commerce who argues against the imposition of sick leave entitlements on employers.

Good managers have structured their workforces or production deadlines to accommodate levels of absence due to illness.  Health absences should be an element considered in a risk management plan.  Good employers can cope with sick workers and foster good relationship (a good workplace culture) by accommodating unavoidable human foibles.

Medical research into stress indicators

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Dr Rita Effros spoke to All Things Considered this last weekend about her research into telomeres and cortisol.  In the OHS field this is gibberish until you consider the implications of the research outside of the lab.  According to the UCLA website “cells of persons under chronic stress have shorter telomeres.”  Dr Effros said

“When the body is under stress, it boosts production of cortisol to support a ‘fight or flight’ response. If the hormone remains elevated in the bloodstream for long periods of time, though, it wears down the immune system. We are testing therapeutic ways of enhancing telomerase levels to help the immune system ward off cortisol’s effect. If we’re successful, one day a pill may exist to strengthen the immune system’s ability to weather chronic emotional stress.”

Dr Effros findings could one day reduce the long-term stress experienced by carers of chronically ill family members, soldiers, air traffic controllers, astronauts and people who drive long distances.

UCLA
Chromosomes (stained blue) end in protective caps called telomeres (stained yellow), which are shorter in persons suffering chronic stress. A new UCLA study suggests cortisol is the culprit behind the telomeres' premature shortening. Copyright: UCLA

Managers doing what they think the boss wants

The walkout from the Tasmanian Coronial inquest of the Beaconsfield Mine legal team has given the issues associated with the death of Larry Knight more media prominence than it would otherwise have received.  The withdrawal also allows statements concerning the financial pressures on the mine to continue uncontested. An ABC podcast on the coronial inquest…

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Formaldehyde risks of temporary accommodation

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There is continuing concern in the United States about the thousands of claims of health problems by survivors of Hurricane Katrina related to living in trailers provided to them by the government. (A 23 July 2008 podcast includes a mention of this issue but the relevant information is within the first 3 minutes)  The problem is that residents were exposed to toxic levels of formaldehyde.

This may sound familiar to some Australian OHS professionals as similar claims were made over formaldehyde exposure in temporary housing for government workers who were participating in the Federal government’s indigenous intervention program.  The ABC reported that the government investigation found 

“department’s response to the complaints was slow and inappropriate given the seriousness of the health risk.”

An earlier report on this matter containing commitments to health and safety by the Minister is available HERE

The full report by Tony Blunn is available for download as is the relevant media statement by Jenny Macklin, the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

Texas Crane Collapse

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Large cranes are now a basic tool for high-rise construction.  Over the last six months the United States has had several crane collapses.  The latest occurred in Texas on 19 July 2008 and involved a mobile crane.  The collapse resulted in four deaths and injuries to seven workers.  Fed-OSHA is investigating but as this is the latest in a run of collapses there is increased media attention.

According to the most recent media statement by the company that owned the crane, Deep South Crane & Rigging

“The Deep South Crane and Rigging Company experienced a tragic industrial accident yesterday in Houston, TX, that resulted in the death of four members of our company family. Our thoughts and prayers are focused on our deceased co-workers, their families and friends, and the extended Deep South Crane and Rigging family.

We wish we had all of the answers on what happened and why – but we do not – and speculating on cause would not resolve anything. But we are actively working to find those answers. We are fully engaged and cooperating with OSHA in their investigation of the accident. Our common goal is to identify the root cause, correct any issue that may be found, and ensure that this type of tragic accident does not occur again.”

According to one article:

“An Associated Press analysis in June found that cities and states have wildly varying rules governing construction cranes, and some have no regulations at all, choosing instead to rely on federal guidelines dating back nearly 40 years that some experts say have not kept up with technological advances.”

Video and audio reports on the incident are available through the links below.  SafetyAtWorkBlog will be reporting on any new information about the investigations

Company representative – http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/5896374.html  

Crane investigations – http://www.khou.com/video/index.html?nvid=264952 

Crane investigations/”competent person” – http://kut.org/items/show/13389