Sandman lecture online

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In November 2009, Peter Sandman delivered the Berreth Lecture at the annual conference of the National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC).  Significantly Sandman was asked not to present on risk communication but about his experiences in risk communication and how he came to prominence in the field.

The NPHIC has made the 65-minute video of his lecture available on-line. Sandman has the audio available through his website. The speech notes are also available but, as is his wont, Sandman diverges from the “script” frequently.

Continue reading “Sandman lecture online”

Why have a SafetyAtWorkBlog?

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Some people have mentioned to me that they find blogs a mysterious thing.  It’s a media that is gaining attention from mainstream media, in fact, most mainstream media have embraced blogging to supplement the “official” media content in newspapers, journals and on television.  Some blogs have become an important source of news and commentary feeding into the mainstream media.

SafetyAtWorkBlog does not provide all the safety news that is happening in Australia or elsewhere.  In fact nobody is.  But what we can do is select those items of news that we think have a broad appeal to safety professionals.

Also, in Australia, there are only a handful of writers and journalists who specialize in writing on OHS issues and there are many events, conferences, seminars, talks, podcasts, books and other information sources that fall under the radar of mainstream media.  It is in this niche that SafetyAtWorkBlog exists.

Commentary

Blogs were original a web-based log or a web diary where people can put down their thoughts of the day.  But they have become so much more and the feature that is most overlooked by readers is the capacity to comment on the articles posted to a blog.

There is some resemblance to “Letters to the Editor” in traditional media where issues can be raised but, more importantly, readers can comment on the news of the day or the thoughts of columnists, and can clarify inaccurate opinions.

The ability to respond to articles is very important to SafetyAtWorkBlog because we do not know everything about our profession.  OHS is a discipline that continues to evolve just as rapidly as new hazards appear.  The expert who says they know everything is a fool, the smart professional learns all the time.  That is one reason why people read SafetyAtWorkBlog but the blog can be so much better when readers provide their own opinions, particularly if what is said in the blog is wrong in some way.

The best example of reader comments in this blog was the response from Peter Sandman to a piece on a book by Cass Sunstein.  Sandman says

“…a few comments in the review, though flattering to me, are misleading about Sunstein.”

He goes on to list the article’s shortcomings.  One comment from Sandman was then disputed by another reader, Thomas Durkin.

This dialogue showed a terrific level of opinion and provides a better understanding of Sunstein and his place in US politics and government regulation than the solitary review that generated the comments.

News

SafetyAtWorkBlog is not an OHS news service, one can get that from hundreds of news aggregators (the bane of Rupert Murdoch) on the web.  SafetyAtWorkBlog provides commentary and opinion on things that are happening in the OHS world.  If the opinion is wrong or the logic has severe shortcomings or the content is inaccurate, blogs provide the opportunity to correct the information or to balance the opinion.

We have ALWAYS encouraged people to comment on articles we post.  If we can start a debate or help clarify an OHS concept, that’s great.  But if you have something to say about what we say, email it in or post a comment.  Unless it is defamatory or nasty or rude, it will be included and any points made will be genuinely considered and pondered on.

Kevin Jones

Evidence, subjectivity and myth

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There is a big push for occupational safety and health decisions to be made on evidence.  OHS academics in Australia are particularly big on this and there is considerable validity in the lobbying but as academics can have a vested interest in research, the calls are often dismissed.

There is also, around the world, a questioning of the value and validity of the risk assessment process related to workplace safety.  In Europe, in particular, the business groups see risk assessment as a major unnecessary business cost (but then again, how many businesses even perform OHS risk assessments?).  Risk assessment has often been criticised because of its subjectivity.  In some circumstances, risk assessment may perpetuate workplace and safety myths.

In the absence of evidence, myths fill the gap.  Sometimes assessments, investigations, estimates and FOAFs (friend of a friend) add to the tenuous credibility of those myths.

Peter Sandman has talked about dispelling myths through risk communication.  One myth he discusses, the risks of flu vaccinations, is also touched on in an interview with Dr Aaron E. Carroll of the Indiana University School of Medicine on the ABC’s Life Matters program.

OHS professionals must seek evidence on workplace hazards so that their advice is sound but equally, myths must be countered.  The links in the paragraph above, along with the excellent website, www.snopes.com, can provide some assistance in how we can reduce the transmission of myths.

I am a big advocate of the “contrary”.  Only by asking questions about established beliefs and tenets can the flaws in our decision-making be illustrated.  Sometimes this is dismissed as being a “Devil’s Advocate” but the process does not advocate bad behaviours, it questions the basis for established behaviours – a process that many people, organisations AND business find enormously threatening.

As we get older or become socialised, we tend to forget the tale most of us heard as a child, The Emperor’s New Clothes.  This tale should be read regularly to remind us of how the contrary position, the quizzical, can be constructive and sometimes, revolutionary (even though in the tale the Emperor ignores the child’s spoken truth) but still provide evidence.

Kevin Jones

Worst Case Scenarios and Pandemics – 2005 interview

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In 2005 I had the great opportunity to spend some time with Peter Sandman, a world renowned risk communicator.  We spoke about worst case scenarios and risk communication in those times of avian influenza and smallpox threats.  The interview has gained additional poignancy in this time of swine flu.  

Although the audio is “noisy” as Collins St in Melbourne had more traffic on a Sunday morning than I expected, I think some readers may find this excerpt very useful at the moment.

Click on the magazine’s cover image below to download the interview transcript.

[For Peter Sandman’s current commentary on swine flu, see http://www.psandman.com/index-infec.htm#swineflu1 and especially http://www.psandman.com/col/swinecomm.htm]

or Peter Sandman’s current commentary on swine flu, see
http://www.psandman.com/index-infec.htm#swineflu1 and especially
http://www.psandman.com/col/swinecomm.htm. 

 

Kevin Jones

6i11 cover

Handwashing as a risk control

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Everyone knows that we are cleaner for the washing of our hands.  The childhood fibs of our parents that potatoes will grow behind our ears if we don’t wash there regularly have been pretty much dismissed.  There was little evidence for the benefits of washing behind our ears other than the authority and wisdom of parents but for most of one’s life that’s enough (or at least till we turn and mistrust everything our parents say).

In Australia, OHS has been pushing for evidence-based decision making.  Some have twisted this noble aim into short-term empire building on concepts such as a “body of knowledge” (- the more important question should be why do particular people want to control this knowledge in the first place).  But evidence is important and over the last few years some researchers have been seeking the evidence for the safety benefits of hand-washing in infection control, particularly during times of epidemics or pandemics.

The current swine flu scare (it remains a “scare” in many parts of the world) is generating recommendations on personal hygiene, as reported in SafetyAtWorkBlog on yesterday, but is there evidence or is hand-washing a comforting distraction?

Earlier this year Jody Lanard and Peter Sandman wrote:

The “Cover Your Cough” page on the CDC’s seasonal flu website begins this way:

Serious respiratory illnesses like influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) are spread by: 

  •  
    • Coughing or sneezing
    • Unclean hands….

If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.

We have been unable to find a single study that supports this recommendation with regard to influenza. The World Health Organization Writing Group report on “Nonpharmaceutical Interventions for Pandemic Influenza” makes the same recommendation for flu specifically, but concedes that it has been made “more on the basis of plausible effectiveness than controlled studies.”

As for hand-washing, a Mayo Clinic publication on hand-washing includes flu on a list of infectious diseases “that are commonly spread through hand-to-hand contact.” The Government of Alberta’s “Influenza Self-Care” publication advises: “Wash Your Hands to Prevent Influenza…. Next to immunization, the single most important way to prevent influenza is to wash your hands often.”

But here’s what the World Health Organization Writing Group report says: “Most, but not all, controlled studies show a protective effect of handwashing in reducing upper respiratory infections…. Most of the infections studied were likely viral, but only a small percentage were due to influenza…. No studies appear to address influenza specifically.” 

The Lanard/Sandman article discusses at length the way that hand-washing may be affecting our approaches to other control measures such as vaccination.  It tries to cut through the hyperbole on influenza and if you are a health care worker, the full article is strongly recommended.

At the moment there is no clear evidence of the benefits of hand-washing and if this swine flu scare remains a scare for most people, one of the areas for further research should be the effectiveness, and role, of hand-washing in the control of pandemic infections.  It just may be that “universal precautions” should not be so unquestioningly universal.

Kevin Jones