Sleep disorders and workplace safety – new research grant

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Recently, the Australian Government awarded some research grants of which at least one is relevant to workplace safety.  $2.5 million was given for the establishment of a Centre for Clinical Research Excellence in Interdisciplinary Sleep Health (CRISH).

When the grant was announced Professor Ron Grunstein of the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research said,

“Adequate sleep is as important as exercise and diet. Sleep loss and sleep disorders contribute to mortality, chronic disease, mental health problems and the economic health burden.

“This funding will allow us to establish a network of leading sleep researchers and physicians in different specialties to investigate the biology of sleep, and look at ways to prevent and treat sleep disorders.”

Amongst several social benefits of the research, the issue of shiftwork health was mentioned.  There are many contributory factors to the health of shiftworker and sleep disorders is only one, but an important one.

WakeUpAustralia-CoverThe most recent Australian data on the costs of sleep disorders was from 2004 by Access Economics, an organisation that the government often relies on for data.  Its report, Wake Up Australia, estimates that  sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia underlie 9.1 per cent of work related injuries.

The origin of this statistic needs to be closely examined in the body of the report (page 23) as there is quite a bit of statistical magic applied however the 9.1% figure has been referred to in relation to the potential benefit of the CRISH project.  The statistic is not invalid but it is also not so simple.

Kevin Jones

Safety culture improvements in Spain

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The improved safety status in workplaces that have an active union presence has been verified through research, but what of the efforts on safety management from outside the union research efforts.

Below is the abstract of an article that was published online late-2008 (and is available for purchase).  The research was conducted in a country with a negative safety culture so the improvements may be more marked than from outside Spain.  However, the full study (not accessed by SafetyAtWorkBlog) may provide an interesting before-and-after story.

“Occupational accidents severely deteriorate human capital, and hence negatively affect the productivity and competitiveness of countries. But despite this, we still observe a scarcity of preventive practices, an unsatisfactory management commitment and an absence of safety culture among Spanish firms. The result is evident in firms’ high accident rates.  This situation is a consequence of the general belief among firms that investing in safety is a cost, and hence has negative repercussions for their competitiveness.  The current work aims to identify good practices in safety management, and analyse the effect of these practices on a set of indicators of organisational performance.  For this, we first carry out an exhaustive literature review, and then formulate a series of hypotheses.  We then test the proposed model on a sample of 455 Spanish firms.  Our findings show that safety management has a positive influence on safety performance, competitiveness performance, and economic-financial performance.  Hence they provide evidence of the compatibility between worker protection and corporate competitiveness.”

The full article is available in Safety Science (Volume 47, Issue 7, August 2009, Pages 980-991).

Kevin Jones

B Fernández-Muñiz, J Montes-Peón and C Vázquez-Ordás, ‘Relation between occupational safety management and firm performance’ (2009) Safety Science 47: 980-991.

Evidence, subjectivity and myth

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There is a big push for occupational safety and health decisions to be made on evidence.  OHS academics in Australia are particularly big on this and there is considerable validity in the lobbying but as academics can have a vested interest in research, the calls are often dismissed.

There is also, around the world, a questioning of the value and validity of the risk assessment process related to workplace safety.  In Europe, in particular, the business groups see risk assessment as a major unnecessary business cost (but then again, how many businesses even perform OHS risk assessments?).  Risk assessment has often been criticised because of its subjectivity.  In some circumstances, risk assessment may perpetuate workplace and safety myths.

In the absence of evidence, myths fill the gap.  Sometimes assessments, investigations, estimates and FOAFs (friend of a friend) add to the tenuous credibility of those myths.

Peter Sandman has talked about dispelling myths through risk communication.  One myth he discusses, the risks of flu vaccinations, is also touched on in an interview with Dr Aaron E. Carroll of the Indiana University School of Medicine on the ABC’s Life Matters program.

OHS professionals must seek evidence on workplace hazards so that their advice is sound but equally, myths must be countered.  The links in the paragraph above, along with the excellent website, www.snopes.com, can provide some assistance in how we can reduce the transmission of myths.

I am a big advocate of the “contrary”.  Only by asking questions about established beliefs and tenets can the flaws in our decision-making be illustrated.  Sometimes this is dismissed as being a “Devil’s Advocate” but the process does not advocate bad behaviours, it questions the basis for established behaviours – a process that many people, organisations AND business find enormously threatening.

As we get older or become socialised, we tend to forget the tale most of us heard as a child, The Emperor’s New Clothes.  This tale should be read regularly to remind us of how the contrary position, the quizzical, can be constructive and sometimes, revolutionary (even though in the tale the Emperor ignores the child’s spoken truth) but still provide evidence.

Kevin Jones

UK workplace fatality data

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New UK workplace fatality data was released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) this week.  It provides an interesting comparison to the recent Australian data.

The HSE says that

“The provisional figure for the number of workers fatally injured in 2008/09 is 180, and corresponds to a rate of fatal injury of 0.6 per 100 000 workers.

The figure of 180 worker deaths is 22% lower than the average for the past five years (231). In terms of the rate of fatal injuries, the latest figure of 0.59 per 100 000 workers is 23% lower than the five-year average rate of 0.77.

Comparison with data from other EU countries over a number of years reveals that the fatal injury rate for Great Britain is consistently one of the lowest in Europe.

There were 94 members of the public fatally injured in accidents connected to work in 2008/09 (excluding railways-related incidents).”

The industries with the highest number of fatalities, in descending order, are:

  • Services sector       63
  • Construction           53
  • Manufacturing        32
  • Agriculture              26

Agriculture has the highest rate of death per 100,000 workers at 5.7

Kevin Jones

Nanotechnology safety – literature review

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Earlier in June 2009 The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work released a literature review entitled “Workplace exposure to nanoparticles”

Pages from Workplace exposure to nanoparticles[1]The EU-OSHA says

“Nanomaterials possess various new properties and their industrial use creates new opportunities, but they also present new risks and uncertainties. Growing production and use of nanomaterials result in an increasing number of workers and consumers exposed to nanomaterials. This leads to a greater need for information on possible health and environmental effects of nanomaterials.”

The report is available for download by clicking on the image in this post.

Kevin Jones