Increasing risk of silicosis in the majority world

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Australian safety expert and activist Melody Kemp reported from the annual meeting of the Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational Accident Victims (ANROAV) that was held in late September 2009 in Phnom Penh.

The meeting featured many stories about the increasing risk of silicosis in Asia.  Melody writes in the 27 September edition of the blog “In These Times”:

“Silicosis afflicts workers working with gems, ceramics, rock blasting, drilling and crushing, and mining. It haunts unprotected workers in glassworks, mines and foundries, as well as those who live within reach of the dust. It’s usually fatal by the time it is diagnosed.

Largely eradicated in the economic North, silicosis is now the scourge of the Global South. Millions die from the illness each year.”

The size of the growing occupational and community threat is frightening.

“China alone reports over 100,000 new cases of industrial lung disease per year, and has more than 4 million existing cases. And those are just the official figures. Even industrially advanced South Korea sees over 1,000 new cases of occupational chest disease each year, reported Dr. Domyung Paek, a pulmonary specialist from Seoul National University.”

Melody has contacted SafetyAtWorkBlog asking for assistance in attracting occupational medical experts to Cambodia and other countries undergoing rapid industrialisation.  She can be contacted by clicking HERE.

Kevin Jones

Fatigue, impairment and industrial relations

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Many of the employees in the health sector in Australia have recently been negotiating new employment conditions.  It is rare for the workplace hazards of fatigue and impairment to be given such prominence in industrial relations negotiations.

A major cause of fatigue is the lack of adequate resources for relieving staff.  This issue has been identified for doctors, ambulance officers and firefighters over the last 12 months.

Many important OHS issues are identified in a recent ABC Radio interview with Dr David Fraenkel, the Treasurer of Salaried Doctors Queensland (SDQ).  Dr Fraenkel mentions the following issues, amongst others:

  • Queensland Health‘s duty of care to the public
  • Queensland Health’s duty of care to its employees
  • “wrong site surgery” due to judgement impaired by fatigue

Dr Fraenkel also shows the institutional pressures on individual doctors to not discuss the implications of fatigue.  He mentions that there is a code of conduct that impedes the discussion of issues by health care professionals.

He admits that should a young doctor leave their station to relieve their fatigue they would most likely be “called to account” for their action and their career may be jeopardised for what OHS professionals would admit is an individual taking responsibility for looking after their own safety and health.

Salaried Doctors Queensland has established a website in support of its campaign which includes some factsheets.    The print media also picked up on the SDQ media statements.

Kevin Jones

OHS and workload – follow-up

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SafetyAtWorkBlog has had a tremendous response to the article concerning Working Hours and Political Scandal.  Below are some of the issues raised in some of the correspondence I have received from readers and OHS colleagues.

The Trade Union Congress Risk e-bulletin has a similar public service/mental health case which has been resolved through the Courts.   The site includes links through to other media statements and reports.

Australia’s Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations has launched its work/life balance awards for 2009.  The information available on the awards is strongly slanted to a work/family balance which is very different from work/life and excludes employees making decisions for the benefit of their own mental health – a proper work/life balance which is the philosophical basis underpinning OHS legislation.  SafetyAtWorkBlog is investigating these awards with DEEWR.

SafeWork in South Australia is working on a code of practice on working hours and has been providing OHS advice on this matter since 2000.

The WA government has had a draft code on working hours for some time.

A legal reader has pointed out that  “the 38 hour week issue is not set in stone …[and]  is not a maximum for non-award employees.”  So expect more industrial relations discussion on that issue over the next two years.

One reader generalised from the Grech case about decision-making at senior levels, a concern echoed by many others.

“The Grech case illustrates the gradual disintegration of effectiveness, and the employee’s own inability to recognise that it is not a personal failing of efficiency, rather an unrecognised systemic risk.

When the employee is at senior level, there is more likelihood there will be poor attention to the warning signs. Any ‘underperformance’ would be seen as a personal failing. For those of us in the safety business, it is obvious that the system itself is in need of urgent risk management.”

There were congratulations from many readers for raising a significant and hidden OHS issue.

“Many people in industry work more than 70 hour a week. This affects their health and personal relationships.”

“Overwork and under-resourcing lead to poor decision making, adverse business outcomes, and in the long term psychological and physical ill health. Both the government and corporate sectors are paying little attention to this issue.”

The workplace hazards resulting from fatigue are being addressed in several industries such as transport, mining and forestry, where attentiveness is hugely important because of the catastrophic consequences of poor judgement.

One of the issues from the Grech case is that the quality of judgement in non-critical, or administrative, occupations can be severely affected by fatigue, mental health and other psychosocial issues.  These may not affect the health and well-being of others but can have a significant effect on the individual.  OHS does not only deal with systemic or workplace cultural elements but is equally relevant to the individual worker.

Kevin Jones

[Thanks to all those who have written to me and continue to do so. KJ]

Does a new mobile telephone equal productivity increases?

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The largest Australian telecommunications company, Telstra, announced the release today of  a new service for mobile telephones aimed at the business sector.  Below are some excerpts from the media release:

Telstra-HTC-Snap-Front-hires“Telstra launches new smartphone to power workforce productivity

August 3, 2009 – Business professionals have a powerful new productivity tool at their disposal with the launch of the new HTC Snap on the Telstra Next G™ network.

Available from 11 August, the Snap is a Windows Mobile®-powered smartphone that helps users get the most out of every hour by connecting them with email, their office calendar and the mobile internet in real-time….

Telstra Business Executive Director, Cathy Aston, said the HTC snap was the ideal productivity device for busy business people who need to respond to clients and manage their email on the go.”

The email-ready HTC Snap lets users steal back otherwise lost work time by keeping them
connected to email on the commute to work, on the way to the airport or when waiting to attend a
meeting.

“The email-ready HTC Snap lets users steal back otherwise lost work time by keeping them connected to email on the commute to work, on the way to the airport or when waiting to attend a meeting.”

“Telstra Product Management Executive Director, Ross Fielding, said this remarkably slim smartphone set a new benchmark for productivity device affordability and would appeal to business people who demand always-on email, as well as consumers who are increasingly interested in messaging capabilities on the go.”

The words emphasised above indicate a dominant thought that business people are obliged to be contactable at all times of the week.  Research is beginning to show that this is becoming an unsafe practice, if it is not already (see below).  The “steal back otherwise lost work time” is of concern.  What time is being referred to going to the toilet, spending time with one’s family, countering fatigue and stress through sleep?

In December 2008, Telstra undertook a survey of small business operators.  The survey showed that many would be working over the Christmas break.  Telstra Business Group Managing Director, Deena Shiff said

“In 2008, Australian SMEs have been world leaders in the take up of mobile technology based on the Telstra Next G™ network – in fact businesses are now using mobile technology more than fixed line phones and data….

The key is to use technology not to intrude on personal time, but to manage the ongoing needs of the business in a more efficient way that doesn’t keep people away from family.” [my emphasis]

In 2006, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Developmetn (CIPD) undertook research that said

“The phenomenon of “teleworking” has been overexaggerated, is unlikely ever to be a prospect for the majority of workers, and may be overshadowing far more effective means of improving work-life balance…”

The most important feature of modern mobile phones is the OFF button.

Kevin Jones

New Work/Life Research

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There seems to be new institutes and academic schools popping up regularly over research into the issue of work/life balance.  Recently one of the oldest and most prominent of the institutes, the Centre for Work + Life at the University of South Australia, released new research data.AWALI--full cover

The latest Australian Work and Life Index (AWALI) was released in late July 2009.  The executive summary identifies several important issues relevant to OHS:

“Three years of data about work-life interference in Australia tell us that many employees experience frequent interference from work in their personal, home and community lives, many feel overloaded at work and feelings of time pressure are also common and growing.”

“Work hours are central to work-life interference….. Many Australians are a long way from their preferred working hours and the 2008/09 economic downturn has not made any difference to the incidence of this mismatch.”

The work by Barbara Pocock and others at the Centre is characterised by recommendations for improvements rather than simply describing a situation.  In this data the researchers say

“Our AWALI reports over the past three years suggest that employers and public policy makers can help workers deal with work-life pressures.  This involves improving the quality of supervision and workplace culture, controlling workloads, designing ‘do-able’ jobs, reducing long working hours and work-related commuting, increasing employee-centered flexibility and options for permanent part-time work, improving the fit between actual and preferred hours and increasing care supports.”

It is obvious from these comments that OHS professionals need to work hard on these matters to create, or maintain, their workplace safety cultures.

Kevin Jones