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

The myth of the three-hour sleep

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The Australian media has widely reported that Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, exists on three-hours sleep per night.  He doesn’t and Professor Drew Dawson, a prominent Australian sleep researcher, discusses the exaggeration of high-flying professionals in an article at Crikey.com on 21 July 2009.

More research of  Professor Drew Dawson, Director, Centre for Sleep Research, University of South Australia, is available online.

International Women’s Day (of safety)

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The global theme for the 2009 International Women’s Day (8 March 2009) is 

“Women and men united to end violence against women and girls”

The organising committee is at pains to stress that although this is a global theme, individual nations, individual states and organisations are able to set their own themes.  Some themes already chosen include

  • Australia, UNIFEM: Unite to End Violence Against Women 
  • Australia, QLD Office for Women: Our Women, Our State 
  • Australia, WA Department for Communities: Sharing the Caring for the Future 
  • UK, Doncaster Council: Women’s Voices and Influence 
  • UK, Welsh Assembly Government: Bridging the Generational Gap

Given that Australian health care workers suffer occupational violence, amongst many other sectors, and that employers are obliged to assist workers who may be subjected to violence at work or the consequences of non-work-related violence, it seems odd that so often the major advocates of International Women’s Day remain the unions.

It is also regrettable that many of the themes internationally and locally are responding to negatives rather than motivating action from strengths.

As is indicated from the list above, the public sector agencies are keen to develop programs around the international day.  The societal and career disadvantages of women are integral to how safety is managed.  

Stress, violence, adequate leave entitlements, security, work/life balance, chronic illness – all of these issues are dealt with by good safety professionals.  Perhaps a safety organisation or agency in Australia could take up the theme of “Safe work for women” and look at these issues this year using gender as the key to controlling these hazards in a coordinated and cross-gender fashion.

In support of women’s OHS (if there can be such a specific category), readers are reminded of an excellent (and FREE)  resource written by Melody Kemp called Working for Life: Sourcebook on Occupational Health for Women

Kevin Jones