Just workplace hardship

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”

The productivity debate in Australia misses the opportunities presented by wellbeing

At the moment Australian business is campaigning on the need to increase productivity rates in Australian workplaces.  It, with the recent support of some State governments and ideological colleagues, is seeking to achieve this by weakening the recent changes to the industrial relations structure encapsulated in the Fair Work Act.  Fair Work Australiatrade unions and industry associations are primarily focussed on the industrial relations elements of this ideological fight over productivity.
Evidence of the potential productivity and economic benefits of improved occupational health and safety has been missing in the debate yet it is this linkage that Dame Carol Black has been talking about recently in Australia.  It seems there is a keen audience for her perspective in Australia as she will be visiting the country four times in 2012.
At a recent OHS conference in Melbourne one speaker said some OHS positions in the United States are being renamed Occupational Health Productivity in recognition of the importance of wellbeing  in the OHS roles.  Renaming “wellbeing” as “productivity” provides a different context to OHS activities and should better gain senior executive attention as it would be easier to see how this activity fits with traditional operational thinking. Continue reading “The productivity debate in Australia misses the opportunities presented by wellbeing”

Evidence on the need for safe job design

One reader has provided an example of recent research that supports the previous SafetyAtWorkBlog article on the importance of quality and safety in job creation.

In the March 2011 online edition of the Occupational & Environmental Medicine journal, Australian researchers have analysed data concerning “the psychosocial quality of work”.  According to an accompanying media release (not available online yet) they found that

“The impact on mental health of a badly paid, poorly supported, or short term job can be as harmful as no job at all…” Continue reading “Evidence on the need for safe job design”

Rolling the sleeves up – a good OHS technique.

My father has a smallish block up in the bush, north-east Victoria in the Ovens Valley.  He can’t live there safely anymore, but since he built the place himself and with all the family history it has, it’s a place that has to be retained, and protected from bushfire as much as we reasonably can manage.

My partner and I, plus Dah (and a coupla friends) spent a few weeks there around Christmas and New Year doing lots of scrub clearing, garden things and general tidying up in readiness for the predicted return to hot dry summers after that naughty La Nina begins to fade.   These sort of work trips have been going on over quite a few summers.

The big range of jobs on these tidying-up trips range from trimming large branches, working up on roofs, scrub clearing, lots of load shifting, burn-offs, using lots of different powered equipment (chainsaw, scrub-cutters) and dragging out cut scrub with the ute etc etc.

Doing this work has me often giving lots of thought to doing the job efficiently and safely, and observing my own safety stuff-ups.  It gives me a chance to reflect on the safety system stuff we spend lots of time lecturing punters on and how practical it all is when there is limited time to get the job done, it’s 30 degrees Celsius, and the humidity is at a zillion; in other words, in work conditions lots of people have to deal with all the time. Continue reading “Rolling the sleeves up – a good OHS technique.”

All exposure standards must consider hours of work

The last sixty years’ of research into the effects of hours of work, shiftwork, associated workload, fatigue and affects on social life and families has produced many findings, but no general detailed agreements.  There are interesting debates about who and what to research, what methods to use, what to measure and how to interpret results.  In the meantime workers and managers continue to work in difficult circumstances that research suggests has an impact on hormone secretion patterns, and, for example, on cardiac health, gastrointestinal health and breast cancer.

Here are a number of specific statements about hours of work, fatigue and fitness for work.  Total agreement on these statements can’t be achieved but they would generally be supported.   Continue reading “All exposure standards must consider hours of work”

Small OHS issues may be controlled by big picture action

The continuing risks of asbestos are not nearly as noticeable on the radar of OHS professionals in the Western (or Minority) world as it used to be.  In many people’s minds, a ban on asbestos has removed the risk.  That is not the case, even if much of our attention is given to cleaning up the chemical’s dangerous legacy.

Asbestos is as big an issue in the majority world as it ever was in the West and, for those few who want to look at the global impact of asbestos, the risks are not hard to find.

Every so often, the reality of asbestos pricks the minds of the complacent West and a recent safety alert issued by one of Australia’s smallest OHS regulators is an example.  Northern Territory’s WorkSafe has echoed actions by WorkSafe WA and issued a safety alert on

“plant … recently imported into Western Australia and found to contain bonded asbestos gaskets.  The plant was imported from New Zealand and Thailand for installation at a major industrial site in that state.  Workers at the site were unaware that any gaskets contained asbestos.”

Risks associated with imported machinery and plant will increase for Australia as its own manufacturing capacity declines.  This economic reality and inevitability sets some challenges for OHS professionals who operate, principally, in only one jurisdiction. Continue reading “Small OHS issues may be controlled by big picture action”

Does being fat equate to being unsafe at work?

There are several initiatives throughout the world under the banner of workplace health that have little relation to work.  They are public health initiatives administered through the workplace with, often, a cursory reference to the health benefits also having a productivity benefit.

So is a fat worker less safe than a thin worker?  Such a general question cannot be answered but it illustrates an assumption that is underpinning many of the workplace health initiatives.  There is little doubt that workers with chronic health conditions take more leave but, in most circumstances, this leave is already accounted for in the business plan.

Sick leave is estimated at a certain level for all workers across a workplace and, sometimes, a nation.  There is an entitlement for a certain amount of sick leave for all workers, fat and thin, “healthy” or “unhealthy”.  It certainly does not mean that the entitlement will be taken every year but the capacity is there and businesses accommodate this in their planning and costs.

Remove this generic entitlement so that only working hours remain.  Is a fat worker less productive than a thin worker?  Is a worker without any ailments more productive than a person with a chronic ailment?  Is a smoker more productive than a non-smoker or a diabetic or a paraplegic? Continue reading “Does being fat equate to being unsafe at work?”