European OHS statistics show the way for other regions

On 19 January 2010 EuroFound began the fieldwork necessary for the next in its series of surveys of working conditions in Europe.  According to the media release:

“Eurofound launches the fieldwork for the fifth European Working Conditions Survey, involving face-to-face interviews of workers in 34 European countries. This critical and timely research tracks the current state of working conditions in Europe, highlights the quality of work and employment, and monitors changing trends. The first findings of the survey will be presented at the end of 2010.”

The beginning of fieldwork is far less interesting than the end of the fieldwork but the announcement does remind us of the statistics that the organisation has been able to amass since 1991. Continue reading “European OHS statistics show the way for other regions”

Unpaid overtime is the new danger money

In Australia there is increasing pressure to work more hours than what one is paid for. Many different organisations use this fact to push for various improved benefits, in many circumstances the statistics are used in support of wage improvements.

But working beyond contracted hours will certainly affect one’s work/life balance as there are only so many hours in the day and if work dominates one’s life, family time or rest will be sacrificed. The imbalance leads to a range of negative psychological and social actions. An article in Wikipedia on working time summarises this.

“In contrast, a work week that is too long will result in more material goods at the cost of stress-related health problems as well as a “drought of leisure.”  Furthermore, children are likely to receive less attention from busy parents, and childrearing is likely to be subjectively worse.  The exact ways in which long work weeks affect culture, public health, and education are debated.”

Australia has yet to have the debate on the matter of working hours that has been seen in Europe and England but the issue exists very much in Australia, although it has yet to gain any traction.

According to a media report by the Australian Council of Trade Unions a new research report by the Australia Institute

“… found that each year, the average full-time Australian worker does 266.6 hours of unpaid overtime, or an extra six-and-a-half working weeks…. The think tank estimates that through unpaid overtime, workers are forgoing a total of $72.2 billion in wages or 6% of GDP.”

The Australian Institute report found the following

  • Forty-five per cent of all Australian workers, and more than half of all full-time employees, work more hours than they are paid for during a typical workday.
  • Unpaid overtime is more common among people who work a ‘standard’ business workday (that is, not shift work) and among white-collar workers.
  • Workplace culture is a dominant contributing factor, with 44 per cent of people who work unpaid overtime saying that it is ‘compulsory’ or ‘expected’ and another 43 per cent saying that it is ‘not expected, but also not discouraged’.
  • Across the workforce, the average employee works 49 minutes unpaid during a typical workday.
  • Full-time employees work 70 minutes of unpaid overtime on average, while parttime employees work 23 minutes.
  • Men work more unpaid overtime than women (63 minutes versus 36 minutes a day). Men with young children work a great deal more than women with young children (71 minutes compared with 30 minutes).
  • Unpaid overtime increases with income: people in low-income households work an average of 28 minutes of unpaid overtime a day compared with 61 minutes for people in high-income households.
  • When asked what would happen if they didn’t work unpaid overtime, most say that ‘the work wouldn’t get done’, suggesting that the demands placed on employees are too much for many people.
  • A majority of survey respondents who work additional hours said that if they didn’t work overtime they would spend more time with family, and many said that they would do more exercise.

The report clearly states that allowing “unpaid overtime” has a strong cost in social and individual health but there is an OHS perspective that over gets overlooked due to public health and industrial relations dominating the issue.

In a media statement from October 2009, as an example, Deloittes quoted some scientists, in support of a anti-sleep device, on statistics that have been bandied around for some time:

“…scientists equate fatigue to blood-alcohol levels: if a person has been awake for 18 hours, it’s the equivalent of having a .05 level of alcohol in their body; if they have been awake for 21 hours, it’s equivalent to a.08 level.”

There are several further examples on negative health impacts in the Australia Institute report.

It can be strongly argued that by allowing, or expecting, “unpaid overtime”, employers may be encouraging workers to travel home while impaired and that employers are creating a work/life imbalance by requiring “unpaid overtime”.   Certainly it could be argued that even during unpaid overtime, the cognitive function of the employee is less than expected, or even have the worker unfit for work.

Arguing about unpaid overtime clearly makes the debate one of money not safety or wellness or the social contract, and this is the argument’s inherent weakness.

Arguing for compensation for “unpaid overtime” is arguing for “danger money” – how much money will a worker accept in order to keep working into the unhealthy and dangerous hours beyond their regular contracted hours?  This type of argument disappeared almost twenty years ago in Australia when the Australian awards system was reformed to remove allowances in relation to working at heights, picking up roadkill, or working in excessive heat.   It was agreed that “danger money” was inappropriate and that OHS principles demanded the risks involved with these tasks be reduced rather than “paying workers” to place themselves at risk.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence, in his media statement in support of Go Home on Time Day, and The Australia Institute in its media statement on its report both underplay a major point in the debate on working hours when they argue in economic terms.  Lawrence says

“If the work demands are too much to complete in a normal working day, then employees should be paid for their extra hours, or their employer must hire more staff.”

The institute mentions wellness in passing but emphasises in its media release

“..the 2.14 billion hours of unpaid overtime worked per year is a $72 billion gift to employers and means that 6% of our economy depends on free labour.”

Employing more staff is preferable but removing the culture of unpaid overtime is far more important.   Arguing on the basis of economics, ie “being paid for their extra hours”, may expose the worker to greater risk of injury or illness at the workplace or on the way home.   Quality of life, work/life balance and personal health and safety are stronger arguments for “going home on time”, arguments supported by The Australia Institute and the Australian Greens.

Kevin Jones

Pure research and applied research on shiftwork

At secondary school there used to be a pure science and applied sciences.  Pure dealt with concepts and applied concerned the application of the concepts.  This dichotomy exists in most disciplines and occupational health and safety is no different.

Both elements are equally important, research should be able to be applied for social benefit and applied sciences constantly needs new information to try.

Some pure research was supplied to SafetyAtWorkBlog last week from the publishers of the Chronobiology International The Journal of Biological and Medical Rhythm Research, a publication not usually on our reading list.  Within this research on shift work was a useful summary of some of the issues shift work and health issues that OHS Managers must deal with.

The article is called “Wearing Blue-Blockers in the Morning Could Improve Sleep of Workers on a Permanent Night Schedule: A Pilot Study” and was published on 12 November 2009. It’s aims are below:

“The circadian clock is most sensitive to the blue portion of the visible spectrum, so our aim was to determine if blocking short wavelengths of light below 540 nm could improve daytime sleep quality and nighttime vigilance of night shiftworkers…..Blue-blockers seem to improve daytime sleep of permanent night-shift workers.”

The role of the circadian rhythm would be familiar to most readers who have had a role in managing shift workers or fatigue but it is difficult to see how the aims and findings of the research can directly assist safety managers.  The article’s introduction gives a great summary of the hazards of shift work and the research references.  It says

“In our modern society, working at night has become unavoidable in many fields. Night work is not only associated with acute (Giebel et al.,2008) and chronic health problems (Haus & Smolensky, 2006), but also with social impairment (Wirtz et al., 2008), lower performance (Rosa et al., 1990), increased risk of error (Gold et al., 1992), and industrial (Frank, 2000; Ong et al., 1987; Smith et al., 1994) and road accidents (Akerstedt et al., 2005; Folkard et al., 2005; Ingre et al., 2006; Novak & Auvil-Novak, 1996). Essentially, the most frequent complaints among shiftworkers are the lack of proper sleep during the day and lower vigilance while working at night (Akerstedt et al., 2008; Shield, 2002).”

The report goes on to explain the research study and how blueblocking helps eye discomfort, visual acuity and other shift-related issues but applying the OHS perspective to the hazards associate with shift work would require one to ask whether the shift work is required in the first place.  The decision-making process would then descend through the hierarchy of controls to possibly, engineering or administrative controls, where the Chronobiology International research may have some application.

The Chronobiology article is a good example of academic research into a particular problem.  It does not provide a particular practical solution but it provides an option that an OHS professional could consider by itself or in conjunction with other measures.  It may be that a major solution could only come through a combination of minor solutions.

The context of the research’s application is understandable even if most of the study is too technical for the usual OHS professional’s mind but along the way the “pure” science has provided a very contemporary summary of shift work safety research as well as a possible control option.

Kevin Jones

Australian Statistics – Part 4 – Shiftwork

Safe Work Australia has released four statistical reports into worker health in Australia.  These are important and useful reports that will assist many companies and safety professionals to better address workplace hazards.

Pages from ShiftworkThe last of the four statistical reports looks at shiftwork.

The impact of shiftwork on work-related injuries in Australia

The main findings of this report are summarised below:

  • In 2005–06, 16% of Australian workers worked under shift arrangements yet they had 27% of the work-related injuries.
  • Shiftworkers had higher rates of work-related injury than non-shiftworkers.
    • Incidence rates
      • Shiftworkers: 114 injuries per 1000 shiftworkers
      • Non-shiftworkers: 60 injuries per 1000 non-shiftworkers
    • Frequency rates
      • Shiftworkers: 69 injuries per million hours worked
      • Non-shiftworkers: 35 injuries per million hours worked
  • Female shiftworkers had higher frequency rates of work-related injury than male shiftworkers. This finding is counter to the rates of work-related injury in male and female non-shiftworkers.
    • Shiftworkers
      • Female: 81 injuries per million hours worked
      • Male: 62 injuries per million hours worked
    • Non-shiftworkers
      • Female: 31 injuries per million hours worked
      • Male: 37 injuries per million hours worked
  • Female shiftworkers were particularly at risk of work-related injuries in Clerical, sales and service occupations, while male shiftworkers were particularly at risk in Labourer and related worker occupations.
  • Both shiftworkers and non-shiftworkers were more likely to incur work-related injuries during their first six months of employment than after their first six months of employment. Furthermore, a greater proportion of injuries that occurred to shiftworkers occurred in the first 6 months of employment than occurred to non-shiftworkers in the same initial period of employment.
  • The frequency rate of work-related injuries that occurred to shiftworkers is negatively related to normal working hours: Shiftworkers that worked only a few shifts per week had considerably higher frequency rates of work-related injury compared to shiftworkers (and non-shiftworkers) whose normal working hours were between 35 and 40 hours per week.
  • Shiftworkers who worked less than 30 hours per week were typically young (less than 25 years old) and large proportions worked in Elementary clerical, sales and service worker, Intermediate clerical, sales and service and Labourer and related worker occupations.
  • High incidence rates of injury were not due to lack of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) training. More shiftworkers received OHS training than not, and a greater proportion of shiftworkers received OHS training than non-shiftworkers.

New Work/Life Research

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

Occupational violence in fast food restaurants and petrol stations

The Australian media has been abuzz over the last couple of days on several issues concerning violence.  Attention increases whenever there is video involved and the latest film of a bashing in Melbourne in a Hungry Jack’s store in the early hours of 13 July 2009 is getting a considerable run.

Most commentators are taking the bashing of 19-year-old Luke Adams as an example of “street violence”.  SafetyAtWorkBlog believes that the fact that this event occurred between customers in a workplace, raises questions about the obligations of retail store owners towards health and safety.

The case of Luke Adams again illustrates the reality that surveillance cameras can assist in the apprehension of criminals but does little to reduce the harm to employees and customers.  This seems to be contrary to the OHS principles in Australian OHS legislation.

SafetyAtWorkBlog would ask any retailers who choose to operate, particularly, during nighttime

  • Are the stores designed to reduce (hopefully eliminate) the risk of violent contact between customers and staff?
  • Are there restrictions on the age or gender of staff who work nightshift?
  • Is the first aid training provided to staff designed to accommodate the emergency treatment of severely injured customers?
  • Has the presence of a security guard been tried during nightshifts?
  • Would the company consider closing a store if the risks to staff and customers became unacceptable?

SafetyAtWorkBlog knows of at least one fast food restaurant in Melbourne that removed its public toilets because of the number of drug overdoses that occurred in the cubicles.  This store eventually closed its 24-hour store, partly, because of the unacceptable risk that developed.

The unfortunate linking of fast food restaurants with violent attacks is an issue of all-night trading as much as any other reason.  It was just over two weeks ago that a fight in the grounds of a Hungry Jacks restaurant in suburban Melbourne was reported and wrapped into the current topic of supposedly racist-based attacks against Indian students.

The attacks are not limited to Melbourne though.  A 19-year-old Korean student, Lee Joonyub, was killed in Sydney in 2008 after being stabbed at a fast-food restaurant

AIC Service Station Violence coverThe risk of occupational violence, as it is more traditionally understood, is increasing according to findings released on 16 July 2009 by the Australian Institute of Criminology.  Its report, which also received some media attention from radio, finds that

“The incidence of service station armed robbery has steadily increased over the past decade. ….. This opportunistic targeting of service stations has been attributed to their extended opening hours, their sale of cigarettes and other exchangeable goods, their high volume of cash transactions and their isolation from other businesses. Widespread adoption of crime prevention measures by service stations, such as transfer trays, could help reduce their risk of being robbed…..”

The full report is worth reading closely from an OHS perspective as it identifies the characteristics of services stations (and maybe other all-night retail outlets) that are attractive to the opportunistic robber.  We should not dismiss armed robberies as only involving monetary loss to retailers as the study showed that “one-third of armed robbery victims…were individual”.

The AIC report also states that

“…minimal staffing on night shift is seen to increase the risk of armed robbery victimization for service stations.”

This brings in all the OHS advice and research concerning working alone or in isolation.  However there must be some sympathy for employers trying to recruit night shift workers for industries where violence is an increasing risk.

The mention of the hazard control measure of transfer trays is gratifying as it fits with a higher order of control measure in OHS parlance by providing an engineering control.  However this needs to be backed up by specific training for employees on what to do when required to render assistance outside the enclosed booth.

The application of transfer trays may be valid for fast food stores at nighttime by only offering a drive-thru service and further reducing the risk of customer violence against employees.

Pages from VWAHotspots_retail_10_10Regardless of the physical harm from work tasks arising from working in retail, WorkSafe Victoria advises of four control measures for what it describes as the psychological system of stress, bullying and harassment:

  • Your workplace culture and management should encourage open and effective communication.
  • Develop, implement and enforce clear policies and procedures that address bullying, occupational violence, harassment and work pressure in consultation with workers (including young workers) and management.
  • Where money is handled, put in place security measures to reduce the risk of occupational violence.
  • Training and procedures should include all staff at risk, including any casual or on hire workers.

Kevin Jones

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