The latest in our series of profiles on researchers who are involved with occupational health and safety research is Dr Tim White. He holds the degrees of Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). His most recent appointment was as Lecturer and Researcher in Mechanical Design at UNSW.
After 10 years of working casually as a consultant while also holding salaried positions, Dr White founded Forensic Mechanical Engineers in 2013 and now works full time as a forensic engineer and expert witness. He is based in Bathurst, NSW but travels extensively for work, often flying himself to regional locations.
What attracted you to looking at workplace health and safety? Did you fall into it or always have an interest?
I feel like I just fell into it, although now that I look back, I suppose that my career progression was reasonably intuitive. A farming background prior to my first engineering degree (and subsequent time in industry) meant that I was never going to be content doing the same thing as most of my peers. Although it was not a main consideration at the time, the PhD and progression into academia was what ultimately equipped me with the ability to now work flexibly in a role where I feel as though I am – clichés aside – doing something interesting as well as making a difference.
There has been a lot of discussion recently about occupational health and safety (OHS) data. This article is another because the issue is critical for understanding OHS, for planning for the future and managing productivity.
On May 1 2017, the University of South Australia issued a media release about research by Amy Zadow. It opened with the following
“Accidents leading to work injuries cost an estimated $57 billion in Australia and new research from the University of South Australia shows workplaces are unlikely to be adequately addressing injury prevention because management decisions are informed by inaccurate data.”
The Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) indirectly acknowledged the ILO theme for World Day for Safety and Health at Work in its media release for International Workers Memorial Day 2017. The ILO was calling for more, and better, data on workplace injuries and illnesses. VTHC questioned the official workplace fatality numbers issued by the government. It stated:
“A VTHC analysis shows that in 2016-17 over 200 Victorians died as a direct result of Workplace injury or illness, although the government’s official tally for the year is just 26.”
This disparity needs to be discussed across jurisdictions because occupational health and safety (OHS) data has always been incomplete, a fact acknowledged by many government inquiries in Australia for many years.
Almost every occupational health and safety (OHS) inquiry by the Australian Government has acknowledged the inadequacies of data on workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths. The 1995 Inquiry into Occupational Health and Safety (Volume 2) (pages 377-378) by the (then) Industry Commission acknowledged the lack of empirical evidence and made up its own. The situation has barely improved.
However a new project by West Australian academic,
As a companion piece to SafetyAtWorkBlog’s recent article on quad bike safety it is worth looking at the latest hardcopy edition of The Weekly Times, an influential agricultural newspaper in Australia. It is useful to look at how quad bikes are being depicted in the advertising and some of the content, as online versions have different adverts. The content will vary, of course, from edition to edition but a snapshot sample is interesting.
New Australian research into work-related driving shows how organisations mishandle the risks. The first paragraph of the research clearly shows the significance of the hazard:
“Road traffic injury is the leading cause of work-related death in Australia. It has been estimated that one-third of all work-related deaths occur while driving for work purposes. This emerging public health issue is not unique to Australia, with work-related traffic deaths estimated to account for 22% of work fatalities in the United States and 16% in New Zealand. Despite this, many organisations employing individuals to drive a vehicle as part of their work are unaware of the factors that may act to reduce work-related traffic injury and deaths.”
This research illustrates the need to integrate the functions of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) professionals, Risk Managers and Fleet Managers within organisations and across government agencies to address a significant public health issues in a more effective manner.
The United States media continues to scrutinise the Department of Labor (DoL). On March 13 2017, The New York Times (NYT) expressed concerns about the lack of official media releases from the department, comparing the actions under a Trump administration against the Obama occupational health and safety (OHS) strategy. Some are claiming this to be a deliberate strategy but, until the Labor Secretary is confirmed, it may simply be caution. Such an apparently simple action can have broader effects on OHS management, as Australia learnt. Continue reading “US says “nothing to see here, move along””
Australia Post features regularly in the mainstream press. Recently, the media and Government discussed the pay packet of its Chief Executive Officer, Ahmed Fahour, but a safety management issue has been bubbling along for some time and reappeared this morning in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) “Australia post investigated over alleged manipulation of injury rate for bonuses” ($paywall).
The AFR writes that
“Comcare is investigating Australia Post over allegations that some senior managers manipulated data on injured employees’ absences from work to meet key performance indicators and secure hefty bonuses.”
This is allegedly done by
- “delaying injury claims,
- recording workers on sick leave when they are really absent on injury, and
- paying for medical expenses in lieu of workers lodging compensation claims.”
Continue reading “Can Australia Post’s executives survive the most recent allegations?”
Recently the Victorian Women Lawyers conducted a seminar into the outcomes of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence. SafetyAtWorkBlog attended even though the topic seems, initially, to have a tenuous link to occupational health and safety (OHS). Family violence is relevant to OHS through its influence on workplace mental ill-health, productivity and the need for cultural…
On March 4, 2016 WorkSafe Victoria released a media statement with the headline:
“WorkSafe announces new safety record in half-year results”
The headline was reinforced (or the other way round) in the body of the statement with
“The rate of injuries in Victorian workplaces has reached a new record low, according to the half-yearly results released yesterday by WorkSafe Victoria.”
But then states that
“As of 31 December 2015 there were 7 claims per million hours worked (MHW) in Victorian workplaces, compared to 7.34 claims recorded at the end of 2014/15 – a fall of 4.6 per cent.”
So what is it – a record low number of injuries or a record low number of workers’ compensation claims?