Young worker research misses the mark 1

On October 7 2016, Victoria’s trade union movement held a Young Worker Conference.  The major public statement from that conference was the launch of a survey report called Young Workers Health and Safety Snapshot.  The report has received some mainstream press which is not unusual for this type of trade union member survey.  Almost twenty years ago a similar type of survey from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) launched the issue of workplace bullying into the Australian consciousness.

cover-of-young_workers_health___safety_snapshotThe media article mentioned above focussed on the sexual harassment elements of the survey report which is unsurprising as sexual harassment cases have been a mainstay of workplace relations reporting but it overpowered some of the other more recognisable occupational health and safety (OHS) issues.

The recent Victorian report found that:

“Young people are beginning their working lives without the education needed to identify workplace bullying and health & safety hazards and their employers’ obligations to address them. Young people are not being equipped with the tools to confidently question unsafe practices in the workplace and confidently raise issue when needed. This has led to a normalisation of unsafe work practices as the status quo.”

Where is a young worker to receive such information?  The school curriculum is already bursting with subjects and there is constant pressure for more.  As has been written elsewhere in this blog, school-based bullying is significantly different from workplace bullying due to the very different power relationships between a student and their teacher and a worker and their employer  different laws, different rules, different environment, different culture…

Students may receive some exposure to work through a placement or “work experience” but whether that person undertakes a full set of safety inductions is unlikely.  The process is usually one of supervision and workplace exposure.  In such situations which, formally, only last five working days students may witness workplace bullying but their attention is on work tasks more than on the complex relationships that underpin work.

Employers have the responsibility for providing a safe and healthy work environment.  What is not overtly stated in safety legislation is that this obligation is to every worker from their first day to the last.  The employer and their managerial system is the principal source of OHS information for young workers.  If the worker is in a unionised workplace, their health and safety representative is likely to play a role in this induction process but that is an increasingly rare situation in Australia.

The body of the Young Worker report offers a different take on the prevalence of workplace bullying.  It asked

“Have you experienced bullying or harassment from any of the following?”

The categories were Customer/Client, Boss/Supervisor, Co-Worker, None of the above, or I’d rather not say.

bullying-chartHarassment

Thirty-nine percent said none of the categories listed.  Does this indicate that bullying is less of an issues than is often made out?  And are workers really getting bullied by clients or are they being harassed?  It is sloppy research to combine harassment and bullying in survey questions as bullying and harassment are two different interactions although the mental health impacts on workers may be similar.

This overlap of harassment and bullying continues to complicate OHS interventions, has existed for some time and is continuing to be ignored. (This blog wrote about the issue in 2011) Safe Work Australia (SWA) defines workplace bullying as

“Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.”

It is difficult to see that this definition applies to the relationships between workers and customers due to the requirement for repetition however it may be possible.  More likely the client/worker relationship may involve harassment but clarity on how workplace harassment is determined is more difficult.  Sexual harassment is discussed in the SWA guide:

“The type of behaviour occurring may need to be determined to develop an appropriate response. For example, if the behaviour involves physical violence or what appears to be unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment, whether it is repeated or not, it will require a different response to workplace bullying.” (page 17)

Given that the issue of “incivility” has been gaining ground as a workplace psychosocial hazard, it may be a useful to consider this in client/worker relationships.  However harassment at work may involve stalking and cyberbullying.  This mess of potential workplace hazards makes it even more important for surveys like the one conducted with young workers to be very clear on what is being asked so that the responses address the intent of the question.  The survey question above on workplace bullying is unhelpful.

Incident Reporting

Another of the findings is

“Health & safety issues and workplace injury or illness are underreported. 1 in 3 young people who sustained workplace injuries or illnesses did not report them to their boss or supervisor. When asked to perform an unsafe task more than half will do it rather than raise it with their boss or supervisor. Young people reported fear of retaliation – such as losing their shifts or not having their contracts renewed – and fear that health & safety issues or workplace injuries or illnesses would not be taken seriously by their employer. Taking action to report an incident is seen as an extraordinary course of action, rather than the commonplace response to hazards.”

Underreporting of injuries is a perennial problems at all levels of any workplace.  If you report an injury, you are seen as careless, unthinking and/or untrustworthy and a failure.  You feel like you made a mistake and that it is your fault.  Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t but that should not be a relevant consideration in most OHS circumstances.  The negative shameful feelings are most likely to appear in an organisation that does not understand their workers and their work practices.  The managerial focus is likely to be on production outcomes, or deadlines, rather than on the quality of the work or the safety of their workers.  Yet it is the managers and employers who are in charge of managing those deadlines and resourcing the production process.

It may sound naive but a production urgency in any work process is indicative of poor planning and poor preparation.  Such a situation increases a range of business risks, including the encouragement the sacrifice usual safety practices.  Workers should take responsibility for their actions but that is different from accepting the blame.

Some companies have instigated alternative incident reporting measures where an anonymous report can be sent to a senior supervisor if the incident report is discouraged, or not attended to, at the level of line managers and supervisors.  Such systems are well-intentioned but only operate in industries or companies where there is a level of organisational maturity that can guarantee no repercussions on the reporter.  This situation remains rare.

Incident reports are an important element of OHS but they are seen more as generators of unnecessary work instead of an opportunity to improve.  This fear of being seen as a failure is a powerful emotion with which OHS needs to contend.

Refusing unsafe work

The report shows that almost 56% of young workers asked to perform unsafe work did so and that the remainder raised their safety concerns with a supervisor.  The report gives emphasis to the first of the statistics but the statistics can be read positively as the number of workers raising concerns is considerably higher than one would expect.  It would wonderful if this level of safety awareness was representative of the whole young workforce.  Although the survey is not confined to trade union members as earlier surveys were, the level of safety awareness in the respondents is likely to be higher due to the manner the survey was conducted.

The statistics also do not indicate what the consequences were for those who raised safety concerns.  Two respondents quoted say they were relocated and the issue remained and the other says they were fired (page 8)

Mental Health

Teenage can be a stressful time of transition into adulthood and, in many ways, work is an established path to progressing that maturity.  The move from school to work can be equally disorienting as the daytime rules of one’s life over the last twelve or so years disappear, change or are tweaked.  It is understandable that new work experiences may generate mental health issues and that relationship and family pressures may impinge on the workplace.

However, employers who target young workers are well aware of this transition and should have detailed and strong managerial processes to ensure that the young worker works well in their first job but are also set up for the rest of their working life.  It may feel okay to discuss personal issue with a teacher you have known for over a decade or a parent you have known all your life but how do you talk about personal issues with your boss or manager?  It can be a daunting experience but shouldn’t be.

According the Young Workers’ report

“Mental Health issues related to work are not correctly understood and dealt with as workplace health issues for which employers have responsibilities. Starting work is a significant developmental milestone for young people, but if the experience comes with stressors related to mental health its many benefits are undermined. Young people reported self-censoring the injury as they weren’t sure work-related mental health issues were valid workplace health issues, or they felt their employer would not see their issues as valid. Young people also cited precarious work, either through casual or temporary contract employment, as a trigger for stress and anxiety.” (page 3)

Older OHS professionals should take some responsibility for young workers being unsure of whether mental health is a valid workplace issue.  The OHS profession has neglected workplace psychosocial hazards for decades and still remains unsure about how to incorporate them into their safety management systems.  Unless mental health issues manifest themselves in visible ways, they remain largely invisible to employers, showing a fundamental misunderstanding on the psychology of workers.  (This week is Mental Health Week in Australia which is campaigning on the mental health of youth, so there is likely to be some good advice in the press.)

The other issues raised – precarious work, etc – are likely to get some attention through the Labour Hire report that is currently awaiting release from the Victorian Government and the inquiry into WorkSafe Victoria’s enforcement strategies.  Similar inquiries have occurred in other Australian States and will strengthen the calls for better interventions and additional funding.  And, of course, there is the ongoing broad concerns over pay rates and safety conditions in a broad range of Australian workplaces like 7Eleven and others.

Sexual Harassment

The issue of sexual harassment was touched on above but one of the report’s findings addressed this issue specifically.

“Young people, particularly young women, report sexual harassment in the workplace is commonplace, unaddressed and preventable. Young people and particularly young women receive it from all directions – customers, bosses or supervisors and co-workers. Young women reported a normalisation of sexual harassment in the workplace, citing it as an everyday occurrence that was treated by employers as a ‘non-issue’. They also reported being placed in unsafe work situations which resulted in sexual harassment, such as working alone early in the morning or late in the evening.”

Sexual harassment, dignity, respect, objectification and discrimination are broad social issues that are being addressed in many ways.  The workplace is part of society so there is some degree of overlap but the solutions to these concerns will not come through occupational health and safety but OHS can stop these social issues becoming worse through safety culture and organisational improvements.

OHS already has form in addressing the hazards identified in the last sentence in the quote above. No worker should be placed in a position of risk whether that is in the context of being alone or unsupervised.  OHS regulators have long had Guidances and Codes about these risks but they have often been ignored as soon as the control measure includes additional cost or disruption, such as is likely to occur when buddying up or adjusting a roster to give safety equal or higher priority to productivity.

Recommendations

The Young Workers Centre has called on an improved high school curriculum on workplace hazards.  Such calls have been made repeatedly by a range of OHS advocates for decades and they have rarely been taken up for several reasons including that the curriculum is already full. Curricula, in Government Schools at least, are determined by the various Departments of Education so this is where the major lobbying should be aimed.  Schools are unlikely to give workplace bullying much attention when they need to address school- and cyber-bullying and school bullying programs are entrenched in many educational areas.

The Centre recommends

“Sexual harassment in the workplace must be specifically defined and recognised as a workplace health & safety issue by WorkSafe and other government bodies.”

This recommendation illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of sexual harassment.  As mentioned above sexual harassment is a consequence of a broad range of social and workplace factors that have existed for decades and will require a broad social movement.  Trade unions have a tendency to believe that regulations can solve all the problems but regulation can only go so far, particularly on issues that may require generational change.

The trade union agenda may be more obvious when the rest of the recommendation is considered:

“State and federal governments must collect data on sexual harassment and gender-based violence in the
workplace so that resources for prevention are correctly allocated. The introduction of recognised Women’s Advocates in the workplace will raise the profile of sexual harassment as a workplace issue at the workplace level. Advocates would be entitled to training on gendered workplace health & safety issues and recognised as participants in consultation processes alongside other representatives.” (page 13)

Governments are already collecting what data is available but as with all workplace data, particularly if it is self-reporting, it is unreliable.  The call for sexual harassment data collection will face the same under-reporting problem of more traditional injuries that the survey identified.  There are also some lessons to be learnt by the Fair Work Commission’s bullying data which indicates that workplace bullying may not be as big an issue as some advocate or expected.

The call for “recognised Women’s Advocates” seems like a clear call for a different type of health and safety representative (HSR) with regulated training requirements.  And why “recognised”?  Recognised by whom?  If sexual harassment is such a workplace issue, cannot this be handled with the cooperation of the current HSRs?  If not, then the training of HSRs needs a substantial revision to accommodate this new generation of psychosocial workplace hazards.

Other recommendations include the introduction of

“…. a bullying code to improve employer [OHS] compliance …”

This is a surprising recommendation in some ways as trade unions know that Codes of Practice are just codes almost like the Pirates’ Code – “more a set of guidelines”.  The Victorian trade union movement has been grumbling about the lack of a bullying code of practice ever since the employer advocates demanded that what was intended to be the first bullying code earlier this century was “downgraded” to guidelines and has remained that way ever since.

The Young Workers Centre also calls for an incident reporting system that supports anonymity.  How is one expected to report a workplace bullying incident without identifying the bullied party?  Is a WorkSafe inspector really expected to enter a workplace to investigate a bullying accusation from an anonymous report?

The only information that has been made available about this research to date is a fifteen page report which is not available publicly at the time of writing.  It is hoped that the Young Workers Health & Safety Snapshot is just that, a snapshot, and that a more detailed body of research work and analysis is available and that this will be publicly available.  This detail should be able to provide clarity on young worker perspectives and the realities in which they work, that is, the legitimacy of the perceptions.

The research should also provide justification for the recommendations which at the moment are under developed and seem to relate more to broader trade union safety campaigns than to the young worker survey responses.

As a contribution to the safety discussions in National Safety Month and Mental Health Week, it is useful but could have been so much more.

Kevin Jones

Does accessing government assistance need to be so hard? Reply

Nothing is ever easy in farming.  Several Australian States have introduced a rebate scheme to help farmers improve the safety of the quad bikes so the vehicles, also inaccurately called All Terrain Vehicles (ATV), should be made safer. The argument over safety has persisted for many years and has resulted, most recently, in rebates for safety improvements provided by the government.  However, two States – Victoria and New South Wales – have different processes to accessing these rebates and the NSW process seems to deter farmers from applying for the rebates.

caution ATV signThe Victorian Government’s rebate scheme is administered through WorkSafe who provides a Frequently Asked Questions which is simple and clear.  The dates of activity are listed and, primarily, proof of purchase is the main document for eligibility. Victorian farmers can obtain a rebate for:

“$1200 for the purchase of an alternate vehicle such as a side-by-side vehicle (SSV) or a small utility vehicle (SUV). The alternate vehicle must be designed for use in agriculture and at point of sale have rollover protection and a fitted seatbelt. Sport vehicles and small commercial vehicles, such as utes, are excluded.

Up to $600 for the purchase of up to two operator protection devices (OPD). The OPD must have been designed and manufactured in accordance with approved engineering standards and independently tested to be eligible for the rebate. There are currently two OPD devices that meet this criteria and are eligible for the rebate. They are the Quadbar™ and the ATV Lifeguard.”

The NSW process is funded by SafeWork NSW with a complex set of terms and conditions.  The purchase options seem narrower but the major difference in the two rebates schemes is New South Wales’ insistence that farmers must attend an “educative interaction”.  According to a SafeWork NSW FAQ farmers are required to:

  • “get along to a Farm Safety Day run by SafeWork NSW or one of its program partners
  • visit the SafeWork NSW stand at an Agricultural Field Days
  • request a free on-farm Workplace Advisory Visit and we will come to you
  • attend one of the 100 training events being offered by Tocal College.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog has been told that farmers find this to be condescending and are suspicious of SafeWork NSW’s intentions, particularly in relation to the “free on-farm Workplace Advisory Visit”. Such visits are likely to be SafeWork NSW’s preferred option as there are only a limited number of Field Days available every year. WorkSafe Victoria does not insist on educative interactions as part of the rebate scheme which increases NSW framers’ suspicions.

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) recently a new video to support its claims that Operator Protection Devices (OPD) or Crush Protection Devices (CPD) “are not the answer“.  The FCAI has been out of step with the issue of quad bike safety for many years and it is difficult to sympathise with its position when governments are “endorsing” OPDs through rebate schemes.

The FCAI’s position seems to be shortsighted as the rebates are encouraging farmers to apply a Gordian Knot solution to the bickering over quad bike safety.   Both the NSW and Victorian rebate schemes encourage farmers to purchase side-by-side vehicles (SSV) which, due to the framework over the driver, have no need for the OPDs on offer.  SSVs are more expensive than quadbikes but can be seen as endorsed safer options by the regulators of safety in each of the States.

Having dug in to a contrary position of additional safety measures on quad bikes, the FCAI is getting more out of step with the regulators’ positions and the safe desires of farmers and farming families.  But perhaps criticising the FCAI is unfair, after all, it is a body representing the interests of automotive manufacturers.  Generations have grown up equating motor vehicle manufacturing with safety, ever since “Unsafe at Any Speed” was published in the 1960s, but the FCAI seems different.  It has its own definition of workplace safety that is not in step with government or safety regulators.

Farmers, like all business operators, need to decide for themselves who they trust more for their own safety – regulators or salespeople.

Kevin Jones

 

Citi’s 2015 Safety Spotlight shines light on some OHS areas Reply

[This article from 2015 was previously password-protected and is now available to all]

Recently a couple of media outlets referred to a report produced by Citi into workplace safety issues related to the top 100 companies on the Australian stock exchange.  The report, “Safety Spotlight: ASX100 Companies & More” (not available online), provides a useful insight to the ASX100 companies’ safety performance but Citi also undertook several thematic analyses which are curious but not always as helpful as expected. (A blog article on a previous Citi report is HERE)

In support of some of the statements at a recent seminar after the Australasian Reporting Awards, Citi found that shareholders and investors now expect to read about occupational health and safety performance in company reports and that the omission of OHS mentions seems suspicious.  Safety can be an indication of the quality of a company’s management and these findings could be a major boost for the issue of OHS accountability and transparency.

The Spotlight report records fatalities for the ASX100 companies since the 2005 financial year and over that time the annual fatality rate has declined however the report acknowledges that recent issues may indicate past statistical deficiencies when one considers the increased attention on work-related suicides and work-related vehicle incidents.

The benefit of having fatality figures, brief descriptions and trend data for each company in this report shows the amount of attention to detail Citi has applied for this report.  This data  is likely to be useful in deciding about investments but the use for safety professionals is limited, however OHS professionals are not the target audience.

Frequency Rates

It is useful to note that 94 of the 127 companies (Yes, it’s still called the ASX 100) reported LTIFR and/or TRIFR as indicators of safety performance. Citi acknowledges that TRIFR “may be a better measure of harm.”

The need for a consistent metric is shown in the report’s footnotes by the plethora of frequency rates.  A sample includes

  • All Injury Frequency Rate
  • Recordable Case Rate
  • Recordable Injury Frequency Rate
  • Recordable Case Injury Frequency Rate
  • Lost Workday Case Frequency Rate

Some of the titles may be exactly the same metric but even when looking at Annual Reports it is difficult to tell. Frequency rates are, largely, a lag indicator but even consistency in these measures would greatly help the comparison of OHS performance.

Thematic Research

The thematic research report areas for this year included

  • Developing vs Developed Country Injury Statistics,
  • Process Safety and Major Hazard Risk,
  • Safety and Executive Remuneration,
  • Workplace Impacts of Obesity, and
  • Western Australian Inquiry into FIFO (Fly-In, Fly-Out) Mental Health.

Some companies operate globally and safety data varies from country to country. Citi suggests that this may be due to differences in risk perception, the presence of workers compensation schemes, reporting consistency and different workforce demographics and fitness, amongst other factors. This variability affects the interpretation of global OHS performance statistics.

Major Hazards

On the issue of major hazards, Citi found that major companies are increasing their focus on process safety and major hazard risk but wondered whether investors could ask why these companies are acting now rather than years earlier when the risk levels were similar. This type of reaction after major incidents is common and is one of the major frustrations of the OHS profession.  Tragedy motivates change much quicker than leadership.

Recently a colleague mentioned their own frustration with safety professionals and academics who continue to use disasters such as Piper Alpha, Challenger and Three Mile Island, as illustrations of systemic failure.  The theoretical relevance is obvious but to most of the OHS students and graduates such events are of historical interest mainly as these occurred before many were even born.  It is useful to remember that even those children now in their teenage may be unaware of the events of 9/11 even though they may be aware of the consequences of that event.

Citi also makes the point that the measurement of personal safety in this industry sector can provide a false sense of security as it misses the major process disaster risk, a perspective borne out by others in the oil and gas sector.

Someone in Citi has been reading some of the recent work of Andrew Hopkins and others when it writes:

“Executive remuneration schemes may act against management of major hazard risk.”

Executive Remuneration

One section of this report that has generated a lot of attention concerns executive remunerations and how these are linked to safety. Most companies continue to rely on personal safety figures but Citi noted that at least four companies are incorporating safety leadership in this area.

The criteria used with safety as a remuneration factor, as with the safety performance metrics mentioned above, are messy and contradictory.  Some of the criteria used by Australian companies include:

  • injury rates,
  • reportable spills,
  • risk reduction actions on time,
  • personal initiatives and leadership, and
  • occupational health exposures.

Four companies made no mention of safety influencing CEO remuneration!

Obesity

One of the more curious analytical themes was Workplace Impacts of Obesity.  The Citi report highlights this through references to solid data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian Bureau of Statistics and others but suggest no OHS solutions other than noting the increase in wellness  and healthy lifestyle programs.

This section is an odd inclusion as it is difficult to see how these statistics could affect the decision making on investments.  The issue is more a quality of life issue that has curiosity value rather than any corporate indicator.

Mental Health FIFO

This topic is a more logical fit to the Citi report as many of the resource companies that use FIFO labour are also part of the ASX100.  More specific OHS information is available from the recent Western Australian inquiry report and through watching the current Queensland inquiry but, as Citi notes, the crucial factor in this sector will be the governments’ responses to the inquiries.  One of these is due in mid-September 2015 and will be a good gauge of the Federal Government’s attitude to the prevention of harm from a psychosocial matter.

In Citi’s advice to investors it mentions potential changes in the following areas:

  • Rosters, Construction and Contractors,
  • Reporting of Suicides, and Inclusion of Mental Health in WHS Requirements, and
  • Accommodation Facilities.

The OHS challenge of this labour practice in this industry sector is to apply a core OHS principle – to eliminate harm, at the source – companies may need to restructure their operations, and change fundamental perspectives on the use of labour. Given that many suggest that the recent mining boom in Australia has ended, the issue of FIFO mental health has diminished except that as the mining labour force has entered other industry sectors, the consequences of FIFO may manifest in the new occupations or, at least, affect a worker’s productivity.

The latest Safety Spotlight is a fascinating document, particularly as the data covers a decade from 2005 and is not limited to Australian safety events but includes global incidents under the “control” of Australian companies.

It is hoped that Citi avoids the temptation of rolling this decade across the next Spotlights (if there are any) as anchoring the data in 2005 allows for trend data across a range of economic fluctuations such as booms and the Global Financial Crisis.  This will be doubly important as, as Citi mentions several times during the report, safety may be directly affected by the varying fortunes of the ASX100 companies.

Kevin Jones

 

The youth and gender agenda 1

The Safety Institute’s National Convention was given a youthful injection this morning by the presentation of Dr Jason Fox (pictured below, with beard). He challenged our thinking and our occupational health and safety (OHS) future, even though the sound quality was not as good as it could be leading to some of his words being missed.

20160907_101018One of the most visible changes in this conference is the presence of women on the speaker panels.  Each of these panels has illustrated and reinforced the need to change from the usually safety conference speakers, who are experts and important to listen to, away from the male-based (but changing) stereotype of the safety profession to which many speakers have referred. The SIA is trying to provide gender diversity but it, like so many other organisations, is not there yet in its transition from old to new and from past to future.

Panel member Jen Jackson (pictured) was not included as a speaker but she showed enough thoughtful contribution and personality that a presentation on safety communication would have been useful. She complemented the speakers and panel well and her response to her exposure to the safety profession would have generated a fresh external perspective.

I have written before that I think some speakers, experts and academics should be read rather than heard. Dr Fox is a vibrant speaker but twenty minutes, as Drew Rae has pointed out in a comments sections of this blog, does not allow nuance, discussion or debate. I have read some of Dr Fox’s GameChanger book and that media format allows for reflection and thought but try to see Dr Fox present on change first. He is a terrific multimedia knowledge package..

I can’t blog about the content of the second conference session as I need to listen back to it so as not to simply reiterate the talking points and audio grabs. But this session was lively and benefited from the mix of expertise from Andrew Hopkins, Jason Fox, Peter Baines, Siobhan Flores-Walsh and Jen Jackson.

Kevin Jones

Andrew Hopkins supports the abandonment of safety culture 11

Culture and safety culture are misunderstood and abused terms, according to Professor Andrew Hopkins speaking at the SIA Safety Convention in Sydney today. His perspective as a social scientist reinforces many of the speakers on disruption at yesterday’s sessions.

hopkins-sia-conf-2016If culture is the characteristic of individuals, culture is transferable or portable outside the workplace but if culture is group-based workers move from social group to social group taken on the cultural characteristic of that group.

Hopkins briefly discussed national cultures where companies seem to struggle to impose their corporate culture on a foreign country but Hopkins says the corporate culture can replace a national culture if the company allows it to. My question would be whether the company should impose a culture or whether their aims could be equally achieved by blending the cultures. Should corporate cultures be allowed to colonies?

Cultural change often has wildly varied time estimates. Hopkins says as soon as a company or the executives decide to change culture the culture starts to change. People often talk about end points yet cultural change has no clear end point as it is a process of continuous improvement and change.

Hopkins concluded his presentation by quoting an SIA publication and concluded that

“The concept of safety culture is so disruptive that we should abandon it”

Kevin Jones