The Interconnectedness Challenge

The solutions to most occupational health and safety (OHS) issues are multidisciplinary meaning that solutions are rarely simple and rarely come from a single source of information or knowledge. Recently I have been challenging my colleagues to spread their voices and experience beyond their own disciplines to illustrate how a worker’s health and safety is affected by a broad range of hazards and environments. I extend that challenge to all organisations including employer and industry groups like the Business Council of Australia (BCA) which has recently released a report on “The state of enterprise bargaining in Australia”.

Many organisations undertake research into different elements of work but rarely take an overall perspective, or one that analyses the interconnection of societal and occupational conditions and pressures. The latest BCA report is one example

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Chinese Whispers on drugs and alcohol at work

Evidence-based policy making needs make sure that the evidence is accurate and valid. Evidence is also the foundation of the state of knowledge of the occupational health and safety (OHS) professional, action and regulations. To achieve and sustain these aims and requirements, evidence needs to be questioned in order to verify it.

On July 17 2019 WorkSafe Victoria distributed an email newsletter which stated that

“… 15% of workplace injuries worldwide are caused by alcohol and drug use”

and referencing Comcare as its source. But that source says something significantly different.

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Fence or Ambulance?

The other week Lucinda Brogden, one of Australia’s Mental Health Commissioners participated in a three day suicide prevention conference, concluding the week as a keynote speaker at an occupational health and safety (OHS) seminar. Her commitment to keep focusing on the prevention of harm made her a comfortable fit for the largely OHS audience. Hopefully her influence is big on the Australian mental health policy makers.

Brogden reminded the audience of an 1895 poem by Joseph Malins which discusses the prevention of harm through the analogy of putting a fence at the cliff edge to stop people falling rather than having an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff to collect the dead and injured. It is unlikely that Malins was thinking of workplace safety with this poem but, as a temperance activist, it is certain he was thinking about health. Regardless, the imagery is a useful and simple illustration of the advantages in the prevention of harm, and not just in relation to mental health.

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Long commute times need to be factored into OHS structures

The mainstream media reported on the release of new demographic statistics from the latest HILDA survey (Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia). Most of the attention is on the increasing commuting times to and from work in the urban centres. Traffic is not usually an occupational health and safety (OHS) issue but traffic congestion reduces the effectiveness of our social recuperation and recovery structures and work/life balance initiatives.

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Safety remains a muddle in Australia’s trucking industry

SafetyAtWorkBlog believes the fact that commercial vehicles are also workplaces remains under-utilised in Australia. There are hints that this position is shared by others and that the analysis of occupational health and safety (OHS) in the transport sector is maturing. An Issues Paper released in May 2019 by the Productivity Commission (PC) as party of the review of the 2009 National Transport Regulatory Reform program looks at potential safety outcomes.

In each of the sectors within the reform program – heavy vehicles, rail and maritime – safety improvements, enhancements and improvements were expected. The PC accepts the multidisciplinary and multi-factorial elements of OHS:

“…. the national laws and regulators are only one influence on safety outcomes. The multiplicity of influences on safety outcomes raises challenges for measurement of the contribution of the national system to any changes in safety outcomes since the system was introduced. The Commission envisages that the direct net benefits from safety related reforms must be assessed by the use of simple methods such as benchmarking (including to other countries) and other descriptive analyses. For example, Hassall (2014) estimates the accident rate (broken down by accident severity) per 100 million kilometres.”

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(Given that the PC has a separate inquiry into mental health, it will be interesting to see if this perspective is consistent across different sectors)

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