Cabbage Salad and Drugs 2

Episode 6 of the Cabbage Salad and Safety podcast is now available with the discussion centring on drugs and alcohol issues at work. For those looking for information on drug and alcohol testing, this episode is not for you.  We thought that the testing issue is dealt with in many workplaces through legislative and regulatory matters and you have to comply with what you have to comply.

For this episode we included a guest, Natasha Jager of the Alcohol and Drug Foundation because we wanted to talk about what businesses of all sizes can do to reduce the risk of alcohol and drug impacts at work. It was important also that this was not a seasonal discussion in relation to naughty and unsafe behaviour at a work’s Christmas Party. (There’ll be plenty of discussion on that issue from others, as there is every year)

We talk about impairment, risks to others, the relation to fitness-for-work and workplace mental health issues.

The podcast audio has been cut to have this as a two part episode with the next part being available in the next week or so.

If you have any comments on the podcast, please email me or include a comment below.

Kevin Jones

Gender, violence, Batty, Hulls and business preparedness 5

Recently the Victorian Women Lawyers conducted a seminar into the outcomes of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence.  SafetyAtWorkBlog attended even though the topic seems, initially, to have a tenuous link to occupational health and safety (OHS).  Family violence is relevant to OHS through its influence on workplace mental ill-health, productivity and the need for cultural change.

vwl-nov-2016-seminarThe guest speakers included Rob HullsRosie Batty, and Antoinette Braybrook (pictured).

Progress needs Trust

Batty stated early in the seminar that we are a “victim-blaming society”where victims do not know who they can trust and therefore hesitate to raise issues of abuse or injustice.  The importance of trust in establishing a functional workplace culture has been discussed elsewhere.  Raising issues with managers or authorities is a crucial element of OHS law based on the assumption that the issues will be taken seriously and be controlled to some degree; an assumption that varies with each workplace.

Batty also said that

“unless we see perpetrators being held accountable, why would you want to come forward and expose yourself, be vulnerable and unsafe?”

Accountability is a crucial element of establishing and maintaining a suitable workplace safety culture as reinforces fairness and justice. More…

Labour Hire Inquiry recommends a licencing scheme 2

Following, ostensibly, the Four Corners exposé of labour hire exploitation in Australia last year, the Victorian Government established an inquiry.  That Inquiry’s final report has been released with lots of recommendations, several pertaining to occupational health and safety (OHS).  The Government’s media release response is HERE.

vic-labour-hire-reportThe main recommendations related to OHS are:

I recommend that the Model Work Health and Safety Act approach to regulating labour hire relationships be adopted in Victoria. In the absence of Victoria adopting wholesale the approach under the model laws, I recommend that Victoria adapt an approach which matches the substantive provisions under the model laws in this regard.

More…

Wearable tech provides data, not decisions 2

People want information about their own health and fitness.  Many are turning to wearable technology and activity trackers for that information, but information requires decisions or actions to gain benefit. The limitations of activity tracking and decisions was reinforced recently with some US research in the area.

Healthcare SystemThe University of Pittsburgh School of Education’s Department of Health and Physical Activity has published research that has found that wearable technology, like Fitbit and others, “…are ineffective at sustaining weight loss”.  This finding is the one that is attracting headlines online because a lot of people want to lose weight and the weight loss industry is large and pervasive.  However in terms of occupational health and safety (OHS), there is a more relevant quote in the University’s media release on the study:

“…researchers concluded that devices that monitor and provide feedback on physical activity do not offer an advantage over standard weight loss approaches that include behavioral counseling on physical activity and diet. Thus, while these devices allow for ease of tracking of physical activity along with feedback and encouragement, they may not enhance adherence to the tenets of a healthy lifestyle, which is the most important aspect of any weight loss regiment.” (emphasis added)

It seems that the reliance on the activity tracker is insufficient to turn thought into action – awareness but no change.

The research also reiterates some findings from 2014 by Endeavor Partners under a chapter called “The Dirty Secret of Wearables” which provides a different but perhaps more accurate perspective on activity trackers:

“In the midst of this frenzy of anticipation, the dirty secret of wearables remains: most of these devices fail to drive long-term sustained engagement for a majority of users. Endeavour Partners’ research reveals that more than half of U.S. consumers who have owned a modern activity tracker no longer use it. A third of U.S. consumers who have owned one stopped using the device within six months of receiving it.” (page 4)

The study reinforces the importance of human interaction and engagement over a technological interaction.  The media statement says:

“Over the course of the subsequent 18 months, both groups showed significant improvements in body composition, fitness, physical activity, and diet, with no significant difference between groups. However, those who received health counseling throughout the study lost nearly twice as much weight as those who used wearable devices for three-quarters of it.”

This is another research finding that shows that a combination of human and technological engagement is more effective than reliance on technology and is important when one notes the tendency to develop an app for workplace and health solutions that tries to codify interactions rather than valuing the existing available human interaction.

It also reinforces that technology needs context or else new (and expensive) wearable technology becomes little different from the pedometers of several years ago that became so ubiquitous that they were being given away in cereal packets.

There is no doubt that wearable technology provides important health information about the wearer.  Regardless of the commercial technology available in electronics retailers, there is wearable technology that helps OHS professionals in identifying physical hazard controls.  These are usually applied as part of a study of manual handling stressors on the body and can provide excellent levels of detail on body stress.  New devices are also coming to market for fatigue monitoring and some readers may have heard about various sensors included in hard hats or football helmets.

But this is all simply data.  It needs interpretation in order to identify safety improvement or safety as far as is reasonably practicable.  OHS professionals need to know of wearable technology that relates to their own industry or work activities.  The ability to collect measurably physical data makes for better decisions.  However much of the technology is recent and some is being promoted at prototype stages in search of ongoing development funding; so the OHS professional and business owner needs to have sharp bullshit detectors.

Business owners need to accept the limitation of these devices – that they provide data which still requires interpretation.  And this interpretation needs to be tailored to the work tasks being examined and the workplace environment in which the tasks occur.  The wearable technology provides additional data for the workplace state of OHS knowledge and that knowledge may be new and better than previously available but it still requires the employer or business owner to make a decision on how to apply that knowledge.  The OHS process remains the same but from a better base of information, hopefully one that makes the practicable decisions easier. It is important to remember that gathering data is not a decision.

Kevin Jones

Asbestos presents political opportunities for vision and leadership 1

Asbestos is not something this blog writes about often, principally because the risk of asbestos-related diseases is well established and the control measures identified.  Ideally asbestos should be left in the ground as, no matter in what state it is used, it presents a serious hazard to someone wherever it has been mined or used.  But few countries are willing to make this commitment and even if they do asbestos-containing materials (ACM) continue to be imported regardless of any bans in place, as Australia is currently experiencing.

This fundamental occupational health and safety (OHS) and public health issue is not helped when prominent figures utter dangerous misrepresentations.  MotherJones has pointed out that in his co-authored 1997 book, The Art of the Comeback, now United States Presidential-hopeful Donald Trump described asbestos as

“the greatest fire-proofing material ever used.”

That asbestos is

“100 percent safe, once applied,” and  “got a bad rap.”

The quotes are 19 years old so Trump may have achieved a different perspective on asbestos and it would be good to have someone pose the question, perhaps in the next debate, although he may simply deny he ever said that. (He would be technically right, he never said it, he wrote it)

cover-of-asea_annual_operational_plan_2016-17_web_final_accAustralia does not have a Trump but it does have an Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) and only last week the Minister for Employment, Senator Michaelia Cash (great name for a politician giving out money), gave the agency an

“additional $3.4 million over two years in the 2016-17 Budget”.

This was a timely increase, at least politically, to counter the continued importation of a banned substance as mentioned above. However, the allocation of this money to the ASEA misses the target.  ASEA does not control the importation of building products; that is the job of the Australian Border Force.

ASEA released its Annual Operations Plan 2016-17 at the end of September in which it addresses the asbestos importation issue:

“ASEA works with all levels of government to assist in responding to the strategic risks of asbestos in Australia. The agency coordinated the development of a Rapid Response Protocol through the Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA) Imported Materials with Asbestos Working Group. The protocol is the first of its kind, enabling government agencies to work cooperatively and efficiently across jurisdiction and portfolio lines when products have been identified as containing asbestos. This allows agencies to work through the practicalities of concerns that such products may cross, or have crossed, state lines.”

This national and cross-agency cooperation is good and required but “the practicalities of concern” is the major barrier to change.  Government never seems to have sufficient funds to make a ban as effective as possible or it needs to be.  Allowing ACM into Australia, even though the building material contains a government-banned substance, creates costs on public and occupational health but as these costs are further down the supply chain and may not appear for decades, Government considers them to be acceptable.  It is highly unlikely that the cost of preventing ACMs at the border would be more expensive than the long-term health costs that the Government will need to pay through public health and hospitals and that employers may need to pay through lost productivity, business disruption and workers’ compensation. (This is another example of why OHS need economists and financial estimators.)

cover-of-asbestos-importation-reviewIn February 2016, Minister for Border Protection, Peter Dutton, announced an inquiry into the importation of ACMs, to be conducted by KGH Border Services, a company with which the Minister’s Department has been in a partnership since early 2015.  The final report seems to imply that the issue is too difficult to police and that the current process is the best the Government can do, particularly as a large part of the asbestos problem originates in China, Australia’s most lucrative trading partner.

“For most businesses involved in international trade, a rational cost/benefit analysis of investment in compliance is not justified by the incentives that government offer to promote voluntary compliance. Despite the critical effect of asbestos exposure to public health and safety, it remains a cheap and effective material for use in a wide range of goods. Asbestos continues to be widely used internationally, and is incorporated in goods manufactured by Australia’s largest trading partners, such as China.”

This paragraph from the KGH report illustrates the tone of the report.  Asbestos is cheap and effective and used widely, however it is also deadly.  As mentioned above, asbestos and ACM is only cheap to purchase but can have decades long costs that would/should render the cheap purchase a nonsense.  That asbestos is effective echoes Trump’s position.

The report also states:

“Due to the differing standards applied to asbestos regulation internationally, it may be inefficient for suppliers that sell to a range of markets, to ensure compliance with the Australia’s strict import prohibition. The Australian prohibition relates to all forms of asbestos, but chrysotile is not internationally recognised as a dangerous form of asbestos. Countries that mine chrysotile maintain that it is safe, and continue to export it to a number of other countries, where it is still widely used in products that supply a range of industries.”

Regardless of what other countries do, Australia’s Department of Health identified the hazard of chrysotile asbestos as early as 1999 and has stated for some time that:

“There may be no safe exposure level for chrysotile, so all exposure should be avoided” and

“If a safer product or process can be substituted for one involving chrysotile, this should be done.”

According to KGH Border Services chrysotile is not internationally recognised as a dangerous form of asbestos.  So what?  The government that commissioned the KGH report has stated it is dangerous!!??

The KGH report also outlines what is already known and the reason for the existence of the ASEA:

“There is also confusion about policy and regulatory responsibilities across Government in Australia and some ambiguity in the overarching legal framework that establishes Australia’s strict prohibition. The Department of Employment (DoE) has policy responsibility for the legal framework that establishes the border control. The DIBP administers the import and export prohibitions at the border. The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) is responsible for administering the import and export permission regime on behalf of the Minister for Employment. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and state and territory work, health and safety (WHS) regulators have a role in enforcement of the asbestos prohibition domestically. This cross-over between various Commonwealth and state and territory authorities can confuse the public’s perception of the DIBP’s role in asbestos regulation, and its ability to affect changes to the legal and policy frameworks that establish the prohibition. Clarification of the responsibilities and coordination efforts across Government would reduce this confusion and increase the effectiveness of the Government’s response to asbestos issues.”

If asbestos was not killing Australian workers and their families, it would be funny that overlapping and conflicting responsibilities (a responsibility managed by the Government) “can confuse the public’s perception of the DIBP’s role in asbestos regulation”.  The public may not understand the role of the DIBP but it certainly understands the fatal risks associated with asbestos.  The calls from the public and the unions for stronger policing of banned substances is less a criticism of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) that it is a criticism of the Government for inaction.

The report also suggests that other levels of Government should be pulling their weight on asbestos management.  They should, and they are, but how much easier, cheaper and more productivity their jobs would be if the Federal agencies prevented ACMs entering the country.  It just may be possible to eliminate the established asbestos hazards if new asbestos was stopped being imported.

It may also be useful to note that Minister Dutton seems to see the call for controlling asbestos imports as a trade union conspiracy.  One could just as well claim that safe asbestos is a Trump conspiracy.

The Australian Government is mismanaging the latest controversies around the importation of asbestos-containing material but to manage it appropriately requires hard questions that this government chooses not face.  The deaths associated with asbestos exposures are increasing and are likely to for some decades yet.  How many decades, is the choice of this Government.  Act now and seriously and fewer people will die, businesses will be more sustainable, health and compensation costs will be less.  In fact there may even be more jobs and growth.

Politicians are regularly called on to provide vision.  Asbestos seems to be one of those issues where the vision can be readily understood and easily explained.  Addressing the issue in a serious way could also be seen as an example of leadership and the basis for a political legacy.  And it is not as if asbestos is irreplaceable.  Trump may see it as a miracle building material but the combination of new products with safety in design principles should be able to achieve a comparable fire protection level.

Vision and leadership.  Where have we heard those words  before?  Oh yes, EVERYWHERE.

Kevin Jones