Gaining Political Mileage Out of “handcuff(ed) psychiatric patients”

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The New South Wales Liberal Party has released an email from the Pialla Mental Health Nursing Staff to WorkCover detailing their “security” concerns. The original email is available HERE.
The Liberals are making as much political mileage out of this issue as they can. 

Many media reports in Australia have said that some patients have been handcuffed to beds. Below is a typical media report:

Psych patients ‘handcuffed’ to beds
Staff at a Sydney hospital have been forced to handcuff psychiatric patients to beds in the emergency department for up to 36 hours because of a lack of space in the mental health ward, the NSW opposition claims. (The full article is available from http://au.news.yahoo.com/080507/2/p/16rjd.html)

The original email from staff makes no mention of handcuffs.  Indeed there is no mention of restraints of any kind.

The NSW Liberal’s media release (available HERE) states

The NSW Opposition has revealed staff at Nepean Hospital have been forced to handcuff and sedate psychiatric patients in the emergency department for up to 36 hours because of a chronic shortage of mental health beds, NSW Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell and Shadow Minister for Health Jillian Skinner said today………..

“When patients are being handcuffed in busy emergency departments and staff express no confidence in the Iemma Government’s ability to respond to their concerns, you know the Minister is asleep at the wheel,” Mr Aplin said.

The disheartening thing about these sorts of statements that receive considerable media attention is that the original, perhaps, legitimate claims by overworked and under-resourced staff get forgotten.  I encourage you to read the original email and ignore the political hyperbole.
It is reported elsewhere that

“A spokesman for WorkCover said inspectors had visited staff at Pialla twice since the letter was sent and they would have continuing involvement with the ward.
Health Minister Reba Meagher said she had been informed WorkCover were satisfied with safety measures at the hospital.”

This is not to say that everything is now allright but it does show that issues raised are being addressed.

Importantly, most of these emails address the frustration at lack of communication and consultation, or that management is not taking staff safety concerns seriously.  This desperate letter from Pialla’s Mental Health Nursing Staff is a classic example.

Workplace Safety Ads

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Twenty years ago WorkCover Victoria won awards for graphic ads depicting workplace incidents.  Canada is now debating the value and worth of such an approach to safety awareness.  (The WSIB ads are widely available on YouTube)  But in the 21st century, Australia is using a gentle approach that is having considerable success.

The latest ad will go to air early in May 2008 and a sneek preview can be viewed HERE

The ad that started WorkSafe’s campaign can be viewed HERE

 

The WorkSafe ads have had a huge impact by focussing on non-workplace motivations for workplace change.  However, the community message needs to be supported by community action from the regulators.  There is extensive branding and sponsorhip happening but WorkSafe, or rather the Victorian Government in coordination, needs to step up the role of advocating safety values at all stages of work and life for long term change to be affected.

Safety Behaviours and Enforcement

One of the main reasons that the Safety Institute of Australia included a single conference stream on CEOs recently was so that OHS professionals could gain an insight into CEO perspective – to hear from the horses’ mouths. In a question and answer session after his presentation, Jerry Ellis said “Regulatory requirements are not the…

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LTIFRs – still the corporate benchmark

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What I and my OHS colleagues found peculiar at Day One of the Safety In Action Conference was that most of the CEO presenters continued to use LTIFRs (Lost Time Injury Frequency Rates) as the primary safety performance indicator.

In Australian OHS fields, LTIFR has been established as an inaccurate indicator of safety performance but, apparently, it is the indicator that Board members like.

At lunch Michael Thompson of the ASSE said that the continuing prevalence of LTIFR is our fault, the fault of OHS advisers.  We have allowed LTIFR to persist far beyond their relevance and use.  I think he is probably right as OHS organisations have not pushed alternatives or educated the MBAs and future directors.

The use of Positive Performance indicators has been the way forward for some time.  It was sad that PPIs weren’t emphasised more in the CEO stream of Day One.

Safety in Action Conference Report – Day One

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The Safety institute of Australia has tried a different approach with their 2008 safety conference on April 29. It’s first day was dominated by a single stream of CEOs and senior executives talking about how they see safety. I expected a day of cliches but these were refreshingly minimal. There were a few mentions of “safety culture” and even more mentions of “leadership” but surprisingly very few speakers spouted the DuPont safety jargon that has dominated corporate safety presentations for many years.

Ziggy Switkowski was a real win for the SIA but sadly he spoke principally about climate change. I found his talk very interesting but it was only when he spoke about his advocation of safety at a board level that the relevance of his presence and experience had the audience sit up.

Switkowski’s presentation has set the agenda for the integration of environmental considerations in safety conferences and the SIA’s planning but the value of his climate change presentation will become obvious in the next few years.

The presentation by Peter McMorrow of Leightons was the stand out presentation of those I saw. His display of the personal commitments and safety pledges that Leighton executives need to sign off set the bar for the other CEO presenters. McMorrow’s links between safety and profitability were particular good.

I am constantly suspicious about corporates who say ” safety before all else” because there are more examples of companies sacrificing safety for profits than good corporate citizens. Peter Sandman, and others, have said in the past that the principal (sometimes the only) obligation on corporations is to the shareholders, and shareholders watch the share price. McMorrow seemed to provide an example that breaks the status quo but it wasn’t convincing.

Also, there was no mention of the recent prosecutions of Leightons by WorkSafe Victoria where the judge was highly critical of the level of operational awareness of the senior managers in the company. It seems that corporate and social goodwill were not the only motivators in providing organisational safety change at Leightons but the omission is telling.