New Work Safety Ads from Australia

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Twenty years ago, I was at a FutureSafe conference in Sydney, Australia, where Eileen McMahon of WorkSafe Victoria showed a series of graphic ads.  The audience were impressed and roundly supported the use of such ads in their own States.

At the time confronting ads were de rigueur as road safety campaigns had been using the same technique for a while.  Ads from both government authorities won critical acclaim and many awards.

Confronting workplace safety ads recently ran on Canadian television to a mixed receptionWorkSafe Victoria has clearly adapted these ads and their concepts to the Australian circumstance in its campaign that was launched on Australian television on 5 October 2008.

 

WorkSafe Young Workers Campaign
WorkSafe Young Workers Campaign

The Australian ads have emphasised the  lack of information and induction provided to young workers.  Rather than having the incident victim talk to the camera, WorkSafe emphasises the confused thought processes of a young person in a bakery being unsure of how to operate a machine safely, a young man experiments with a nailgun, and a young person scalded in a commercial kitchen.

In The Sunday Age, WorkSafe CEO, John Merritt, said that the graphic content was to gain the attention of young workers:

“It’s confronting, it’s not pleasant, but young workers have challenged us to confront them with the reality of what happens…”

“The guts of this campaign is to say to young workers: for goodness sake, if you’re not sure about something, speak up.”

“”It was clear from the research that nothing else would have impact.”

Media reports make no acknowledgement of the Canadian campaign which seems a little odd given the similarities of the kitchen-based ad, in particular.

The challenge of this type of ad is to run it for just long enough to make an impact but not so long that viewers get “graphic fatigue” – particularly important for appealing to young workers.  This is also a lesson that should have been learnt from the original WorkSafe ads a couple of decades ago.  The combination of both a workplace safety campaign and road safety campaign using the same techniques limited the effectiveness of both.

There is no doubt about the validity of the safety risks in WorkSafe’s target market but it is vital that these ads be balanced with the more gentle and parent-friendly “homecoming” ads and the workplace inspector ads aimed at business operators.  All three should be broadcast over the same period in order to provide the broadest context and the one that reflects the reality.

 

WorkSafe Young Workers Campaign
WorkSafe Young Workers Campaign

Clearly, the WorkSafe ad campaign is intended to maximise the retirn on the advertising budget by generating media debate.  This was vrtually acknowedlged by John Merritt when he said

“There will undoubtedly be a conversation and a debate about that message.”

A danger with this tactic is that the ads become the story rather than people discussing the safety of young workers.  Let’s watch who supports the ads and who criticises.

When psychosocial hazards originate from poor management

There are still some OHS professionals who are uncomfortable with approaching workplace hazards that do not involve nip-points and energy-transfer.  In fact there are some who can’t cope with the industrial relations interplay with occupational health and safety. A major industrial relations problem ran for some time at Tristar Steering and Suspension.  The absurdity of this…

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Workplace Safety at Board Level

In May 2008, the Safety Institute of Australia held a conference where, for one day, CEOs and senior executives talked about their experiences with workplace safety and how they manage OHS in their workplaces and with their boards of management. The presentations were of variable interest but those that were good were very good.  The…

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OHS uniformity is looking unlikely

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Michael Tooma, a lawyer with Australian law firm Deacons, has stated

“Despite the enthusiastic manner in which the harmonisation agenda has been pursued, and the appearance of progress in that regard, it is likely that the quest for uniformity in OHS laws across Australia will remain elusive.”

His reasons for this statement in a recent edition of Safety Solutions magazine (August/September 2008) are

  • The National OHS Review was set up to develop model legislation for implementation in each State jurisdiction;
  • Duty of Care is absolute in two States, Queensland and New South Wales;
  • “Reasonable practicable” is not applied in each State to the same extent;
  • The New South Wales right for unions to undertake prosecutions for OHS breaches;
  • Not each State has a legal forum dedicated to handling OHS prosecutions;
  • The level of enforcement of OHS law is inconsistent between States; and
  • The level of maximum penalty available.

Tooma is worth listening to for lots of reasons but principally he seems to be less wrapped up in political baggage compared with other OHS legal commentators.

Tooma seems to favour an industrial or OHS court because of the substantial jurisprudence that has been achieved through the New South Wales Industrial Commission.  I support the expansion of this type of court as NSW decisions, regardless of legislative differences, can be particularly useful is clarifying the most suitable OHS interventiosn for particular hazards.

He also says that enforcement must be consistent.  This is true or else, if given the chance, an employer could undertake certain hazardous tasks in the jurisdiction where enforcement or prosecution is less effective and active.

This relates, in a way, to Tooma’s last point on penalties.  An OHS offence in Victoria could lead to jail but in Tasmania, not.  A monetary fine of over $1 million could apply in some States with only $180,000 in another.

It seems that the fantasy of one OHS law for Australia will remain a fantasy.  The trick will be whether, after months of government review and hundreds of submissions, there will be sufficient consistency across the States.  The likelihood is that we will be slightly better off but still with State variations.  We have a little less red tape but red tape nonetheless. 

My question will be, was it worth it?

The safety context of sick leave entitlements

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If I have a cold that could spread to my work colleagues, I take the day off.  I use my entitlement of sick leave to achieve two aims – to get myself well and to avoid infecting my workmates.  Both these aims are within the context of occupational health, safety and wellness.

The Australian newspaper today provided an outline of a new absentee-management  IT system that would provide good support for sick leave management.  You ring in sick and a qualified nurse will estimate the necessary period off work and notify your supervisor.  There are several flaws that I can see in the system:

  • What if a worker produces a medical certificate that contradicts the determination of the nurse?
  • Can diagnosis really be undertaken over the phone?
  • This service only seems to relate to health matters. What about stress?
  • Some companies allow for “doona days” where time off is allowed to “chill out” and to minimise stress.  Are these classified as a sick day?  They certainly provide health benefits.

The article’s focus is on the IT system but given that the article is written by the newspaper’s Human Resources writer, it is a little dismissive of the role of sick leave entitlements. 

“Mondayitis” may be a glib throwaway term but there is also an implication that taking Monday’s off repeatedly is a sign of abuse of the system.  Repeated regular absences may be an important symptom of a workplace matter that needs addressing and not just disciplining.  For instance, if your boss repeatedly embarasses you in the Monday-morning staff meeting, you may feel this is a good reason to avoid Mondays.  The better path would be to address the cause of the absence, should your employer provide such opportunities.