Australian OHS expert in advisory role on Gulf oil spill

Australian Professor Andrew Hopkins is currently in the United States advising the Chemical Safety Board in its investigation of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Several months ago it was rumoured that Hopkins would be part of the Commission of Inquiry, a rumour quickly denied by Hopkins and others.

According to a media release from FutureMedia, Hopkins will

“…spend several months working at the Board’s office in Denver as well as interviewing company managers in both the US and in London, where BP is headquartered.”

Hopkins has been interviewed by many media outlets in relation to the Gulf Oil Spill and BP’s safety culture due to his investigation of the Texas Oil Refinery explosion at a BP facility in 2005.  Continue reading “Australian OHS expert in advisory role on Gulf oil spill”

Avoiding the OHS training dead-end

[Ed: There has been a terrific response to Col Finie’s post on training and OHS qualifications both on and off the SafetyAtWorkBlog.  Col provides a further article below]
Brett’s point is critical for mine.

[“I reiterate my point that practical experience is the key, because if you do not use that “core body of knowledge” on a regular basis, then you will most likely forget what you have learned, or at a minimum it may become redundant.”]

It goes to the heart of what has to drive the core body of knowledge and accreditation.

Every qualification is no more (or less) than a catalyst for future learning.  I heard someone mention there is a rule of thumb that any qualification, at any level, becomes redundant within 5 years after completing it if it isn’t supplemented with on-going learning.

Clearly the question of a minimum qualification to start the passage of on-going learning has to be informed by the complex thing of describing a core body of knowledge.  A complex project can only be dealt with properly by dividing into discrete bunches of key issues.  And ideally, that division should be done with as few preconceived ideas as possible.

For mine I think there have been some preconceived ideas brought to the project table that look like they are sending the project into a “solutions cul-de-sac”.  Continue reading “Avoiding the OHS training dead-end”

What academic qualifications are needed to be a safety professional?

The Safety Institute of Australia has been investigating the development of a “core body of knowledge” for OHS in Australia for some years.  Recently the institute released a discussion paper on the proposed accreditation idea for OH&S professionals.  There is some similarity to moves in other countries such as the UK and to the situation in Canada.  Regular contributor Col Finnie comments below:

“……after a read of [the SIA document I] got very confused.   As far as I can see the accreditation thing seems to not paying any regard to the VET (vocational education) sector, and all the OH&S related quals.   Before I make any comment on the proposed accreditation paper I thought I should look for some clarification from people who are more aware of the nitty gritty.  To that end I posted a topic on the SIA Educators forum [members only].   But to reach a bigger audience I have provided a reproduction of the SIA member’s forum post here.

It’s part question, part observation of what seems to be an anomaly in the way the accreditation conversation seems to be heading.  I’m keen to see what you people reckon.   Continue reading “What academic qualifications are needed to be a safety professional?”

Major rethink on Australian Standards needed

A recent download of a “free” guide from the Victorian Building Commission on retrofitting a home for bushfire protection raised the ongoing nonsense of Australian Standards costs.  Sure enough, this free guide is only notionally so; if you don’t hand over $100  then the guide has limited use.

The guide I got, “A guide to retrofit your home for better protection from a bushfire”, is packed with useful info, up to the point you need the nitty-gritty.  Time and time again the reader is sent off to AS 3959 – Construction of buildings in bush-fire prone areas.  Being in OH&S-World we get used to that little double-blind.  Happens all the time with regs and codes and all sorts of guidance stuff.  And it is ridiculous. Its gotta change.

As best as I know a massive cost of development of Australian Standards is born by the participating development organizations.  They are the ones that foot the salary bill to have their staff go off to meetings to formulate the Standards.  Sure, there is going to be lots of other costs, but from what I can see this critical contribution to the development of Australian Standards is a cost to the businesses and government agencies taking part (ultimately a community cost) and the double whammy comes when you want to buy a Standard.

The fact that such an important bit of guidance on protecting homes from bushfire is essentially diminished by the need to spend $100 to get the Standard really slams home the point that change has to happen.

For mine, all PDF downloads of Australian Standards should be free.  A cost recovery cost for a hard copy seems fair enough. I don’t know about the experience of others, but it borders on embarrassing to be giving a punter help on this or that OH&S issue and then have to add “Oh and I think you have no choice but to fork out $XXX for this Standard.”  I hate that, and where I can I avoid it.  But clearly there’s times when it’s impossible.

Perhaps it’s time to get fair dinkum about improved standards of safety, and fair dinkum in way that truly cuts the bullshit?  And that means nationally developed Standards become the nation’s product; PDF copies free to anyone who needs to use ‘em.

Col Finnie

Mental health research broadens the workplace context

Professor Tony LaMontagne is an Australian researcher and academic whose work always deserves careful consideration.  LaMontagne has been mentioned several times in SafetyAtWorkBlog.  The significance of his work is that it is not centred on occupational health and safety but has a major relevance nevertheless.

On the eve of Victoria’s Mental Health Week, LaMontagne has released a report, co-authored with Dr Kristy Sanderson, entitled “Estimating the economic benefits of eliminating job strain as a risk factor for depression”.  A more detailed article on the report will be on this blog in the next few days but there are a couple of notable points in the research.  Firstly, the study places job strain in the broader social context and not limited to the workplace, workers’ compensation, wellness or OHS. In this way, he is promoting a social agenda that has great potential. Continue reading “Mental health research broadens the workplace context”

Small business OHS seems to be stalled

OHS research into why the small business sector does not “get” safety has been occurring in Australia for over ten years with some of the most useful being undertaken by Dr Claire Mayhew.  But the challenge, or problem, persists.

On 4 October 2010, WorkSafe Victoria released some information about an OHS blitz by inspectors on small businesses in Mildura, a rural town in the extreme northwest of Victoria.  In some ways, the tone of the media statement is a little defeatist or, at least, exasperated.

“Although we wrote to the businesses and told them we would be visiting, we still had to pull them up on a high number of health and safety issues,” Manufacturing and Logistics Director Ross Pilkington said.  “In many cases, the safety solutions were straightforward.” Continue reading “Small business OHS seems to be stalled”

Suicide research and cultural change

I often have my “western” assumptions punctured by evidence from the non-western or majority world.  Recently SafetyAtWorkBlog has reported on workplace suicide statistics but a report made available through the World Health Organisation says

“Low-income countries in Asia and the Pacific have the highest burden of suicide in the world.   These countries are among the poorest globally, and face many social and political challenges.”

This report reminds me that although the westerners may claim to be short of resources, most countries have much less yet  are still morally obliged to provide social support.  It also speaks about cultural change and the application of new strategies. Continue reading “Suicide research and cultural change”

Australian suicide research expands understanding of workplace factors

Research is intended to provide answers but sometimes it can only provide clues. But clues allow progress and flag peripheral issues that could possibly become mainstream.  Social research into the possible workplace influences on suicide is one area of clues and, again, the Creative Ministries Network (CMN) has undertaken solid research into the worst-case scenario of workplace mental health advocates.

Recently CMN released “Suicide and Work“, it’s March 2010 research report. The accompanying media release said:

“Of eleven suicides where the deceased person had at least one prior WorkCover claim prior to their death, the length of time on workers’ compensation was positively correlated with increased probability of suicide. The data is not able to indicate what it is about the length of time on compensation that may be critical to whether an injured worker commits suicide. Continue reading “Australian suicide research expands understanding of workplace factors”

Sticking to the big picture

I had cause to give some students an idea of how well OH&S is doing in Oz.  The aim was to give these people some big picture numbers that might help them counter the general view that OH&S is over-done, crippled with nanny state perspectives etc etc.

Initially I slipped into the mode we tend to use in OH&S-World of fiddling about with comparisons: looking at innumerable qualifiers to get a tight comparison, massaging the numbers endlessly.  Eventually I realised it just didn’t cut it.  Statistics over-worked just end up producing a mushy result. And if there is one thing people don’t need from OH&S it’s mushy results.

So faced with this I decided to step back and think of a Big big Picture bunch of numbers. Continue reading “Sticking to the big picture”

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”