Australia’s heavy vehicle transport industry has been involved in arguing about workplace health and safety for decades. It is also one of those issues that have been largely dominated by anecdotal evidence, as shown by the recent Australian Senate Committee hearings into the “Importance of a viable, safe, sustainable and efficient road transport industry“, much to the detriment of the occupational health and safety (OHS) of the drivers, the public safety of other road users and the families of those who die in road incidents.
“Danger Money” is an occupational health and safety (OHS) and Industrial Relations (IR) concept that must always be watched out for as it can perpetuate a hazard or risk in apparent contravention of the OHS legislative obligations that each employer and worker carries. The concept is at risk of reappearing as the role, income and wages of essential workers are reassessed in this time of COVID19 pandemic and economic reinstatement.
“The Committee Chair, Mr Trent Zimmerman MP, stated that ‘the Committee will examine the causes, economic and social costs, and treatment of inadequate sleep and sleep disorders.” (link added)
Although there is no timetable for the tabling of this Committee’s final report, many of the issues raised in the submissions relate directly to work and work-related mental health risks. Sadly there are hardly any solutions but this is a challenge to all public inquiries and which is particularly relevant to the current spate of Australian inquiries into OHS and mental health.
Most non-transport industries do not look for the lack of sleep or fatigue as a factor in their investigations. Unless a formal investigation is undertaken, fatigue is rarely mentioned and, if it is, it is categorised as a “contributory factor”, which often means it is given such a low priority that nothing will be done about it. This is partly a legacy of silo thinking that sleep is a non-work personal activity, which it is, but is still one that can affect work and all the relationships and decisions made at work. But it is also partly due to the enormous disruption that could result if the lack of sleep and fatigue were taken seriously and effective control measures were introduced.
The most effective control for fatigue may be human-friendly shifts and “reasonable” working hours but that might not fit the shift rosters which are required to satisfy clients. We know that night shift has higher health and physical risks than day shift so logically, get rid of night shift ….
On the corner of Lygon and Victoria Streets in Melbourne is a monument to the 8 Hour Day. This represents a social structure of work that equates to
- Eight hours of work,
- Eight hours of recreation,
- Eight hours of sleep,
The concept started in Australia in the mid-1800s and was intended to reduce exploitation and abuse of workers, many of whom were children.
The intent was to establish, what we would now call, a work/life balance structure with the recognition that work is required to earn a living, sleep is required to rejuvenate the body, preparing it for work, and recreation was social time, time with one’s family, exercise, all sorts of personal and social activities.
Today that structure is an “ideal” rather than a reality.
“A new strategy to produce low-cost sensors that allow ultrasensitive detection of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) by the naked-eye is described in Nature Communications this week. The sensors, which are paper-based and wearable, could enable users to manage the impact of UVR on their daily lives.”
The workplace relevance of such a device should be obvious – far more obvious than the wording of the
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) often sets the occupational health and safety (OHS) agenda, as it did on workplace stress and bullying. On 21 May 2018 the ACTU released a research report entitled “Australia’s insecure work crisis: Fixing it for the future“. The opening paragraph provides a clear indication of the report’s tone:
“The incidence of non-standard work in Australia is alarming. The fact that our national government and some employer groups seek to deny this reality and refuse to support reforms to better protect workers in insecure non-standard employment is a disgrace.”
There is a lot of useful information in this report but there is also a lot missing, a lot that could affect workplace safety.