We need a revolution in how we think about working hours

If there was only one way available to improve the health and safety of workers in Australia, it would be to limit and enforce working hours to those in the official Awards and job descriptions.

This situation which would really be simply a case of working-to-rule, would need to be supported by other not unreasonable changes, in no particular order:

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Can nightshift be safe?

Is it time that we reassessed night shift work through the occupational health and safety (OHS) lens?

In 2022 Dr Lin Shen and Dr Tracey Sletten of Monash University will be starting a research study, supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council, to

“… examine the role of light in the response to shift work and to help develop more individual recommendations for light exposure to improve the management of shift work”.

Shen and Sletten are looking for companies willing to participate. Contact details are available in the Research Project Proposal.

This article is not a criticism of the research project but uses some comments in the proposal as a catalyst for a discussion about the health and safety of night shift work.

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Norms and culture continue to impede change in Australia’s transport sector

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.

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Beware a resurgence in Danger Money

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.

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A deep look at sleep and mental health in the workplace needed

In September 2018 Australia commenced an inquiry into sleep health awareness.  At the time:

“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.

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Misunderstanding sleep – Part 2

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 ….

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Misunderstanding sleep – Part 1

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. 

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