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”

A radicalised OHS profession may meet future social needs

The Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM) has uploaded to the internet an hour-long discussion of their Position Statement on “Realising the Health Benefits of Work“.

Firstly  AFOEM should be congratulated for sharing such a resource.  Although the paper itself was launched in May 2010, to have access in July 2010 is a great achievement and an indication of the openness of the organisation and the importance the organisation places on the document.

Dr Robin Chase, President of AFOEM, says in his launch introduction that the dominant social perspective is that work is somehow bad for one’s health.  This is a perspective that OHS professionals will struggle to counter as they are always on the look-out for hazard, the potential for harm, risks.  Similarly HR people often are seen as providing services to assist workers in coping with workloads and workplace issues. Continue reading “A radicalised OHS profession may meet future social needs”

ICAP Congress of Applied Psychology is a neglected OHS resource

In July 2010, Melbourne Australia is hosting the 2010 conference of the International Congress of Applied Psychology.  What was an OHS consultant at this conference?  The question should be why wasn’t OHS consultants at this conference?

This conference is not about workplace safety, per se.  It is about how people think and communicate.  It provides research (some would say evidence), often about how people relate to each other at work.  The exciting content of this ICAP Conference makes the Safety In Action Conference look like a history lesson.

The conference has made the full program and the speaker abstracts online, for free.  Both are big PDF files but are excellent resources for those OHS professionals looking for the latest research into bullying, driver safety, health & wellbeing, organisational behaviour, leadership, fatigue, stress and other issues. Continue reading “ICAP Congress of Applied Psychology is a neglected OHS resource”

Social change through worker dignity

The need for food parcels for those on workers’ compensation seems to continue in South Australia according to a 3 July 2010 report in Adelaide Advertiser.  SafetyAtWorkBlog mentioned the service being offered by Rosemary Mackenzie-Ferguson and others in March 2010.

There are many areas of society that are supported by privately provided social services and this situation is likely to persist but just as soup kitchens illustrate a problem of poverty, so the food service mentioned above indicates a problem with workers’ compensation.

As each Australian state reviews its workers’ compensation laws ahead of a national harmonisation, it seems absurd to focus on the laws but not on the social impacts of those laws.  It is common to refer to a “whole-of-government” approach to issues but “whole-of-society” seems to be a slower concept to embrace.

Much is being made in Australia’s OHS harmonisation process of the need to look at the enforcement policies that support new legislation.  There is also a (flawed) reliance on Courts to provide clarity to the legislation rather than producing clear laws in the first place.  But rarely does government look beyond the law, the Courts, or the enforcement policies to assess the potentially negative social impacts of the OHS and workers’ compensation laws. Continue reading “Social change through worker dignity”

New suicide report has something to say about workplace mental health

Work-related suicides have been in the press a lot in Australia over the last six months.  In June 2010, the Australian Government released a report into suicide called The Hidden Toll: Suicide in Australia.  It covers suicide as a social issue broadly but there are some mentions in the report about work-related suicides that are worth noting.

On social costs:

“Ms Dulcie Bird of the Dr Edward Koch Foundation argued that whole communities are often affected when a suicide occurs and described low estimates of the number of people effected by suicide as ‘a load of nonsense’. She gave the example of the suicide of a 16-year-old boy in a small town and noted her organisation had completed ’43 face-to-face interventions for that one suicide’. The Foundation commented that suicide results in the loss of the deceased person’s contribution to society as a whole. Continue reading “New suicide report has something to say about workplace mental health”