The stress of the wrongly accused

All work is stressful but by educating ourselves and with the support of colleagues and a strong and healthy professional association, it should be possible to function safely.  That is the ideal but reality often seems to fall short.

Recently I was contacted by a person who had heard me speak about workplace bullying and wanted to know what they could do as they have been accused of being a bully.  I contacted the person’s professional association who advised that they have no processes for dealing with those accused of bullying, only victims.  There were few options for the person other than seeking legal advice.

This experience reminded me of how damaging and stressful it can be to be under investigation, regardless of whether the action is justified. Continue reading “The stress of the wrongly accused”

Safety begins to converge to focus on the individual

If further information about the increasing inter-relationships between psychosocial health and physical health, organisational culture and a worker’s mental  health was needed, a new study from Sweden provides convincing evidence.

The research, a study of 81 research projects into the links between psychosocial factors and musculoskeletal disorders, was reported in by Eurofound on 10 September 2010.  It found, among other issues that

“… The link between an unfavourable psychosocial environment and the prevalence of MSDs is well established, with a number of studies demonstrating that high stress at work is connected to increased risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder. Continue reading “Safety begins to converge to focus on the individual”

Clarity of OHS laws in Australia

On 2 September 2010, an interview I undertook with Radio Atticus was broadcast in Australia  (9 minute mark of the podcast)  Radio Atticus is a law program on public radio in Australia.

As well as my comments, the reporter, Nat Cagilaba, interviewed Neil Foster of the  University of Newcastle (referred to as Ian in the podcast I believe).  We discuss the intended role and the current reality of OHS laws.

Comments on the audio are welcome.

Kevin Jones

Pressure grows for the release of oil drilling investigation

The Australian government has indicated that it will release a report into the Montara oil spill after the general election.  However the Australian election result remains in doubt and, therefore, still no report.

The frustration over this stalling has begun to appear in the very conservative Australian newspaper, The Australian Financial Review (AFR). Once the business and financial community start complaining, a government knows something is serious.

In the AFR editorial on 1 September 2010 (not available online),

“The Borthwick report is likely to make some tough recommendations on safety procedures to prevent another spill. The inquiry heard extraordinary evidence that crucial work programs on the rig were sometimes scrawled on a whiteboard. PTTEP has a promised to review its procedures in the light of the deficiencies raised at the inquiry, but the government should look further afield. It is hard to imagine that PTTEP was a totally isolated case.” Continue reading “Pressure grows for the release of oil drilling investigation”

Australian Noise report. Is anyone listening?

Safe Work Australia has released a very important report called “Occupational Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Australia “.

The report confirms many of the challenges faced by OHS professionals. There is, among others,

  • An over-reliance on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Noise is not taken seriously
  • Effective noise control is undervalued
  • Small and medium-sized companies pay less attention to the hazard
  • Noise control is seen as expensive
  • As hearing damage cannot be repaired, it is seen as inevitable

The report provides a detailed profile of NIHL and many will find the report an invaluable to gaining more attention to control measures in workplaces but just as mental health is both an occupational AND public health matter, so noise is affecting our private lives just as much as it is in our work lives.

As with many government safety reports, change is likely to come not from the report itself but how the media, the community and the OHS professions use the information to affect change.

Kevin Jones

A bitter internal dispute at the Safety Institute gets a public airing

A member of the Safety Institute of Australia, Sue Bottrell, has taken offence at some of the content in this SafetyAtWorkBlog article.  She has claimed, in a proposed legal action against me, that my blog article, based on an article written by Gavin Waugh and published in Australian Safety Matters Magazine, has defamed her.

Similar legal action is being taken by her against Gavin Waugh, who has indicated that he will be contesting the accusations.

I regret that any element of the SafetyAtWorkBlog article was able to be misinterpreted and caused offence to Sue Bottrell.

Kevin Jones

Death at work differs from work-related death

Often immediately following an incident, the safety manager receives a brief phone call “There’s been an accident.” Information is scarce and, in my experience, often wrong or more fairly inadequate. in OHS there will always be an assumption that an injury or death is work-related as that is our patch but people die every day and they can die anywhere, even in your workplace. Is this a workplace incident? Yes. Is it an occupational incident? not necessarily.

It is vital in those first moments of confusion and panic, not to jump to conclusions and rush out to the incident site. If it is your responsibility you will become involved but often, by asking a few simple questions, you are able to avoid this confusion and avoid worsening the situation by “butting in” where you are not needed.

I was reminded of this when reading about a coronial inquest into two suicides that occurred at an Australian shooting range in October 2008. These two incidents occurred at a workplace but not from work-related activities. There may have been some workplace management issues that, in hindsight, relate to supervision or security but these are the type of issues that the Coroner will investigate.

The deaths are reportable to the OHS regulators as they occurred on a workplace but it is unlikely that the regulator will put a lot of resources into the investigation given the Police and Coroner are investigating.

Only vampires work nightshift

For several years now evidence has been growing that nightshift is unhealthy.  Nightshift and other shiftwork can produce digestive problems, fatigue and impairment, increased breast cancer risks…….  OHS and workplace experts seem to avoid the question “should nightshift be allowed?”

Recently, a senior executive met with nightshift staff in a remote branch office.  The nightshift work was office- and computer-based.  The executive described nightshift as a “lifestyle choice”.  This comment infuriated some of the more placid employees to speak up and take the executive to task.  Their point was that the job has deadline constraints that have existed for well over twenty years but this does not mean that any of the employees would not jump at the chance of undertaking the same tasks in daylight.  Could the nightshift tasks be undertaken in daylight, in a new shift arrangement and still meet the client’s information needs?  The question had not been asked and, as a result, nightshift became the unquestioned status quo.  Status quo meant that any health hazards associated with the work were similarly seen as unchangeable and therefore not worth assessing. Continue reading “Only vampires work nightshift”

I felt the job was driving me nuts: Stressors and Stress

For two decades now the occupational stressors/stress regulatory debate in Australia has limped along with the same arguments, same objections, same type of discussions.  The same largely impractical documents mentioning psychological effects, physical effects, ‘good stress’ and what is or isn’t a disease and, of course, finger-wagging advice about risk assessments.

Exactly how has all this benefited workers?  So far as I can see across many industries very little indeed.  I can actually identify individual workplaces where 20 year old stressors have still not been eliminated nor controlled, others are worse even though managers have come and gone.

There was a period in this debate when the bio-medical models were prominent (The Fluid Phase) with a focus on the ‘stress hormones’ – adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol and dopamine.  Melatonin and serotonin were also discussed, but not nearly as much.  Result?  No benefit to workers.  There was a period of debate about words (The Semantic Phase): what exactly did ‘stress’ mean?  What about ‘strain’?  Or ‘eustress’ (euphoric stress)?  What about ‘distress’?  Or the more insidious ‘good’ or ‘positive stress’ and ‘hardiness’, remember them?  Result?  No benefit to workers at the job.  Then there was forensic interest in ‘which exactly contributes more to occupational stress: life generally, genetics, personality or things at work’ (The Multiplex Phase)?

Changes in organisation, in numbers of workers, in rosters, in workloads (vis a vis process and machinery changes) have resulted in improvements, but these have been rare.  The matters of shorter shifts, longer breaks (say, at 3 am), genuine reductions in levels of fatigue and fear of job loss have generally become worse. Continue reading “I felt the job was driving me nuts: Stressors and Stress”

OHS law reform should not rely on Courts for clarification

Since the early 1970’s OHS law has been “de-lawyer-fied”.  The intention of the law is to empower workers and employers to manage safety in the workplace to meet basic human rights – the right not to be injured at work, the obligation not to hurt others.  Good law allows for the basic legislative tenets to be readily understood.  Poor law is difficult to understand and leads to increased business and personal costs in order to determine compliance.

I would argue that Australia’s recent aim of the national harmonisation of OHS laws will lead to complexity and cost – the opposite of what was intended – and a disempowerment of the workforce as the legal imperative overrides the safety management obligation.  The major weakness in the law is its seeming reliance on the Courts to clarify the laws, their application and their relevance.

Legal commentators on the laws have stated publicly that the impact of the law will not be clear for several years and that many questions about the laws will only be answered when prosecutions are brought and the Courts hand down decisions.  This process is sloppy, should not be accepted unquestionably by OHS professionals and does almost nothing to help the vast majority of Australian businesses to comply. Continue reading “OHS law reform should not rely on Courts for clarification”