HR management needs to engage with safety management

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Businesses, more often than not, place OHS as a subset of the Human Resources Department.  This gives the HR manager considerable organisational clout but often keeps the importance of OHS constrained.

This structure may be functional but also reinforces that the belief that safety can be addressed in HR terms and that is not necessarily the case.

HR Leader cover 001The limitations can be illustrated through the cover story of the latest edition of Human Resources Leader, a weekly publication from LexisNexis.  “People profit…and how to measure it” * is a very good article for the magazine’s intended readership of HR practitioners and recruiters.  It discusses the need for more research into the links between corporate financial performance and employment engagement, “soft measures” and other “metrics” and several other personnel management concepts.  It even provides a “formula for measuring Employee Lifetime Value (ELTV)”.

One serious safety incident could blow all these metrics out of the water.  The risk of injury or illness doesn’t seem to be calculated anywhere in the article.  The costs associated with not managing safety seem to be well-established and tangible through medical costs + repair costs + rehabilitation costs + business disruption + workers compensation.   Dr Ian Woods of AMP Capital Investors estimates injury costs equal an average 6% of profit.

If safety is an element of human resources management, there should be at least some (passing) mention of it, or its costs, in articles that try to measure people management costs.  Omitting this business cost, or wellbeing threat, or continuity threat, or whatever phrase is fashionable at the time, does both safety management and personnel management a great disservice.

Safety is far more than just “health & wellbeing” – a truism that some in the HR sector, particularly the white-collar professions, tend to forget.

Kevin Jones

* a free login is required to access the magazine online

SafetyAtWorkBlog gets praise for independence

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Today, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) released a four-page document criticising the campaigning techniques and statistical foundation of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).  Nothing unique in that ideological battle, however, what grabbed our attention was that SafetyAtWorkBlog is mentioned specifically.

ACCIBriefing_8Sep2009 coverI contacted the ACCI this morning and thanked them for reading the blog and for describing SafetyAtWorkBlog as a “respected website”.  We’ll accept praise from anyone as our major indicator of success mainly comes from the steady increase in our readership statistics.

The ACCI makes considerable mileage out of a SafetyAtWorkBlog article that discusses the survey results that the ACTU released in support of some of its campaigning for further changes in the national OHS laws that are currently being drafted.

Several comments are useful in relation to the ACCI paper

SafetyAtWorkBlog obtained the survey results by requesting them through the ACTU and being provided them by Essential Media.  We have a policy on any media releases that quote statistics.  If the statistics are not readily available, or at least the relevant OHS parts of survey results, we do not usually report on the issues raised or we make a point of stating that the statistical assertions are not able to be verified.

The ACCI paper echoes many of the points raised in the blog article.  Our main point was to question the wisdom of using statistics as support for a campaign when the statistics do not, necessarily, support the  campaign objectives, or, in the least, may provide alternative interpretations.

The Essential Media report provided to SafetyAtWorkBlog could have been more detailed and the ACCI certainly wants more than we have seen.  Releasing such a paper criticising the ACTU for not sharing research data puts the ACCI in a position now where it cannot deny the public release of its research data, at least, on matters relevant to OHS.  The questions from ACCI have set a precedent for openness and information sharing.

Whether marching in the streets in support of an OHS campaign is effective, or warranted, or not is almost a moot point.  Many of the televisions stations covered the union marches in Australia earlier this week.  The 7.30 Report felt there was enough of a profile raised by the union campaign that it followed up many of the concerns raised with a long article in its show on 8 September 2009.  The media exposure has been able to further raise the profile of OHS as a contentious issue that is being acted upon by government.  It should raise the “seven out of ten” OHS awareness factor, quoted by the ACCI, a few points at least.

Given the criticism of the ACTU, one could genuinely ask, how the ACCI is increasing awareness of OHS matters in the community as well as its membership?  It is not expected out in the streets but the occasional media release or four-page rebuttal does not have the same affect as a march of hundreds of people on the television.

In all of this to-ing and fro-ing, SafetyAtWorkBlog takes pride in its independence and as a forum for expressing views on a social and industrial issue that has only ever before been discussed by political ideologues from fixed perspectives.

Perhaps safety professionals could apply the wisdom of Oscar Wilde to safety

“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

It seems to me that OHS has not been talked about for far too long.

Kevin Jones

NZ proposes new exposure levels on formaldehyde

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The New Zealand of Department of Labour is continuing its negotiations on new exposure levels for formaldehyde.

The latest proposed exposure levels for formaldehyde are 0.3 ppm (8 hour TWA) and 0.6 ppm (STEL).  Currently the levels in New Zealand are 1ppm (ceiling).

According to US OSHA, it’s exposure standard is

1910.1048(c)(1)

TWA: The employer shall assure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of formaldehyde which exceeds 0.75 parts formaldehyde per million parts of air (0.75 ppm) as an 8-hour TWA.

1910.1048(c)(2)

Short Term Exposure Limit (STEL): The employer shall assure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of formaldehyde which exceeds two parts formaldehyde per million parts of air (2 ppm) as a 15-minute STEL.

WorkSafe BC says

BC‘s current 8-hour TWA of 0.3 ppm is well below levels capable of causing adverse health effects and protects the worker from the pungent, unpleasant odour of formaldehyde.

NZ DoL is also discussing dropping there exposure levels for soft wood dust from 5mg/m3 to 1mg/m3.

The cancer risks of formaldehyde have been investigated over some time and the weight of evidence shows that this chemical is a probable human carcinogen.

Kevin Jones

Australian stun gun review report

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Coincidentally after the SafetyAtWorkBlog article on the Braidwood Inquiry, the Queensland government investigation into the use of stun guns by police officers has been leaked to an Australian newspaper a day before the official release.

According to a media story in The Australian on 4 September 2009:

The joint Crime and Misconduct Commission-police review, launched after the June heart-attack death of north Queensland man Antonio Galeano, has ordered an overhaul of police training and operational policy, requiring the stun guns to be used only when there is a “risk of serious injury”.

The review, to be released today and obtained exclusively by The Australian, marks the first time an Australian authority has recognised the possibility the stun guns can injure or kill, especially when fired repeatedly at a person.

Within eight hours of the story above being released, a report, again in The Australian, but by a different writer, says:

“A CMC spokeswoman said the contents of the report were yet to be released but claims the weapons would be banned were untrue.”

The confusing reports may say more about journalism than stun guns but it also indicates the extreme sensitivity about the use of these items by emergency and security officers.

SafetyAtWorkBlog will include a link to the Queensland report once it has been publicly released.

Kevin Jones

UPDATE – Report released

The Queensland report into stun gun use has been released and is now available for download.

Pages from 16225001252029372054 qld taser report cmc

Meditation is a proven stress reduction method for workplaces

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Meditation is not on the regular agenda at SafetyAtWorkBlog.  If there was time to meditate, the time would probably be spent losing weight in the gym but there is fascinating research that provides some evidence of meditation’s benefit  in reducing work-related stress.

At the Safety Conference in Sydney at the end of  October 2009, Dr Ramesh Manocha of Sydney’s Royal Hospital for Women will release research that

“found that after eight weeks of mental silence meditation training called sahaja yoga, occupational stress scores improved [decreased?] 26 per cent.  A non-mental silence relaxation program reaped a 13 per cent gain, while a waiting list control group lifted just 1 per cent.”

The language sounds slightly “new-age” but what makes the difference in this circumstance is that the initial research was undertaken with three groups mentioned above and, importantly, with a control group.

Below is a TV interview with Dr Manocha on the first stage of research.

When looking at workplace stress, people reduce stressors but Dr Manocha says this often requires impossible organisation restructuring due to internal political pressures.  These techniques can be applied on a personal level that employees can take with them through their various life-stages.

Dr Manocha then applied the meditation training in real corporate situations.  According to a media release provided in the lead-up to the conference:

“In a later field trial of mental silence meditation by 520 doctors and lawyers, more than half of the participants whose psychological state (K10) scores indicated they were “at risk” were reclassified as “low risk” after two weeks of meditation.”

It’s the application of this meditation in the workplace context that gained the attention of  SafetyAtWorkBlog and what will be presented at the conference.  The gentle skepticism evident in the TV interview above is understandable but in a time when safety professionals demand evidence, we must look seriously at evidence when it is presented.

More information on The Safety Conference is available HERE.

Kevin Jones