New Youth@Work website

The South Australian government has launched a website focusing on young people at work, not surprisingly called Youth@Work.  

South Australia has a habit of marching to a slightly different beat to the dominant Australian States on OHS.  They did not follow WorkSafe Victoria’s “Homecomings” ads and they have been well ahead of anyone in researching and explaining the relevance of wellness as an OHS issue.

Kevin JonesposterA3v6 (2)

“Homecomings” safety ads reach the US

As mentioned last month in SafetyAtWorkBlog, the Victoria-designed “Homecomings” advertisements are to be launched on United States television.  The Department of Labor & Industries for Washington State announced the ads on 19 May 2009.  According to the DL&I media release

“These ads are particularly effective at bringing home the importance of safety in the workplace and the effects it can have on so many people,” said Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business. “When an accident happens at work, it affects everyone – family, friends and co-workers.”

One ad is available for viewing at http://www.lni.wa.gov/main/worksafe/ 

[It looks like parts needed to be re-filmed to show left-hand drive vehicles and obviously the music rights for Dido’s song couldn’t apply in the US]

Kevin Jones

Decency at work

In 2001 the House of Lords was presented with a Dignity At Work Bill.  This seemed a great idea for unifying different elements of the workplace that can contribute to psychosocial hazards.  This would be a similar approach to using “impairment” to cover drugs, alcohol, fatigue and distraction.  However, it never progressed.

Regular readers of SafetyAtWorkBlog would note an undercurrent of humanism in many of the articles but it is heartening to see this in other articles and blogs.  Maud Purcell of Greenwich Times provides an article from early May 2009 on dignity in the workplace in a time of economic turmoil that you may find of interest and use.

Kevin Jones

WorkHealth concerns increase

Victoria’s WorkHealth program is due to roll-out its next stage of worker health assessments.  However, the program has been seriously curtailed by the failure of its funding model.  According to The Age  newspaper on 18 may 2009, employer associations have begun to withdraw their support compounding the embarrassment to the Premier, John Brumby, who lauded the program in March 2008.

The Master Builders Association will not be supporting the program due to WorkHealth’s connection with WorkSafe.  The Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC) thinks likewise.  There are concerns over the privacy of worker health records and that data from health checks may affect worker’s compensation arrangements or future claims.

The VACC is also concerned that employers will be blamed for issues over which they have little control – the health of their workers.

Many of these concerns could have been addressed by locating WorkHealth in the Department of Health, where health promotion already has a strong role and presence.  It is understood that the funding of WorkHealth from workers compensation premium returns on investment caused the program to reside within the Victorian WorkCover Authority.  There has also been the suggestion that WorkHealth was a pet program of the WorkCover board.

The program aims of free health checks for all Victorian workers was admirable and still achievable but the program was poorly introduced, poorly explained, based on a flawed funding model and now seems to be, if not dead, coughing up blood.

Kevin Jones

How many Australians work from home?

SafetyAtWorkBlog is mostly produced from a home office.  This is principally because the type of work undertaken can be done in a domestic setting.  There are thousands of small – and micro-businesses in a similar situation.   Thousands of people choose to run their businesses from home.

 This has often been overlooked in the teleworking movement over the last decade or so. “Working from home” has more often than not been considered an addition to working in an office.  The home workplace is seen as a back-up to a principal place of work.

In early may 2009, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released statistics on working from home, both as a main and second job.  The media statement emphasises those who take work home and does have one paragraph on home-based businesses.

“People who were owner managers in their main job were much more likely to use their own home for their main location of work (27% of the 1.9 million owner managers) than employees(1.4% of the 8.2 million employees*). Women who were owner managers in their main job were more likely to use their own home for their main location of work than male owner managers (45% compared with 18%)”

The media statement went on :

“Around one in every 12 employed persons (764,700 persons or 8%) worked more hours at home than any other single location in their main or second job.  Of these people:

  • The majority (83%) were aged 35 years or older
  • 55% were women
  • 39% were in families that had children aged under 15 years old
  • The main reason for working from home was ‘wanting an office at home/no overheads/no rent’ (37%), followed by ‘operating a farm’ (21%) and ‘flexible working arrangements’ (15%)
  • 31% worked 35 hours or more at home in all jobs”

The OHS profession has never really been able to cope with a workplace that is also a domestic residence.  To help, OHS professionals advise to have a dedicated home office so that the workplace has a defined area.  This allows OHS obligations to fit the concept.

Working from a kitchen table with a dog, a hungry child and three baskets of washing to hang out, is not what the legislation anticipated but it can be the reality.

Another reality is that many media and professional people can work out of their car or local cafes almost 100% of their time.  How does the advice from an OHS professional match those scenarios?  Legislation based on the assumption of a fixed work location or site might not meet these particular working environments.

Another thing that is always annoying is the assumption that it is office workers who work from home, so the tasks are necessarily technologically based.  Any OHS advice should apply to the issue of working from home in a broad sense and not just to specific work tasks.

As many professions become portable, OHS laws and legislation need to accommodate the flexibility.  If not more so, so do company policies, job descriptions, claims assessments, workplace safety assessments and others.

Kevin Jones

Working longer means staying healthy longer

It is rare for anything of great relevance to occupational health and safety to come from the annual budget statement of the Australian government.  There is nothing directly relevant from the statement issued earlier this week except for the lifting of the retirement age to 67 in 2023.

Compulsory retirement age does not mean that people stop working.  If that was the case, farming and the Courts would be very different organisations.  The retirement age has more to do with financial independence or the pension eligibility than anything else but the government’s decision has focused the media and commentators on the fact that people will be working beyond traditional retirement age.

The announcement this week also supported the reality that has been increasing for many people for over a year now that the level of retirement income has plummeted because of the global economic recession.  People have a growing financial need to work, not simply a desire.

This will change the way that worker health will be managed by companies and by the individual.  Watch for even more interest in “the best companies to work for” campaigns.  In fact it should not be long before someone starts marketing on the theme of “is your health up to working into your seventies?”

This morning a package of interesting statistics were presented to a breakfast seminar held by Douglas Workplace & Litigation Lawyers.  One of the regular speakers, Ira Galushkin, provided the following Australian statistics

  • High risk employees (5+ Risks) are at work but not productive 32.7% of the time compared to low risk employees (0-2 Risks) who are not productive 14.5% of the time.
  • The productivity difference between health and unhealthy employees is therefore 18.2% or 45 days per annum.
  • High risk employees average 5.1 hours/month absence versus 2.4 hours/month for low risk employees.  This amounts to 32.4 hours (over 4 days) days per annum.
  • Healthy employees average 1-2 sick days per annum versus 18 days for those in the lowest health and wellbeing category.
  • The unhealthiest employees are productive for only about 49 hours out of each month compared to around 140 hours/month for the most healthy.
  • Poor health can account for an average 5% loss in productivity across the entire Australian workforce with the unhealthiest group reporting a 13% drop in productivity. About half [of] this is related to chronic conditions such as headaches, hay fever and neck/back pain,whilst half can be accounted for by lifestyle factors such as inactivity, smoking, obesity etc

All of this information shows the importance of workers maintaining their own fitness in order to live longer, but also to be able to present a case, if necessary, about their own productivity levels and how they have been saving their employer big dollars.

If we need to be able to work till older than previously, we will want to stay in a job we enjoy and that values us.  Some longterm health planning may be required by all of us.

Kevin Jones

Workplace bullying possibly increasing

A United States report draws a parallel between increasingly difficult economic situations and an increase in workplace bullying.   This video report is lightweight but is a recent airing of the issue with a different approach.

The angle taken in the story is that of a “pink elephant” that women are just as likely to bully their workmates as men are.  Some of the speakers in the video try to relate female bullying to issues of female empowerment but bullying is more often a reflection of personal nastiness than a social movement.

Bullying received increased focus when workplace culture emerged but rather than a gender issue, our increasing intolerance for bullying is coming from a broader cultural movement than just through the workplace.

The video report originated through research undertaken by the Workplace Bullying Institute, an organisation that has existed for sometime and has very recently upgraded its website.

Kevin Jones

Big fine for go-kart death

The AAP and others are reporting a big fine over the death of Lydia Carter whilst driving a go-kart at a work function held in Port Melbourne in 2006.  The significance of the $A1.4 million fine is that the company, AAA Auscarts Imports Pty Ltd,  is not a large or multinational corporation.

Ms Carter was wearing a seat belt that did not fit properly and safety barriers on the track had been incorrectly installed.  

Judge Duncan Allen said 

“There is no doubt in my mind that (Auscarts) not only was fully aware of the risk, but was fully aware of the ways to reduce them” 

“The company showed a gross disregard concerning the safety of employees and the public.”

For OHS professionals this case, which ended today (12 May 2009) in the Victorian County Court, will generate a fair degree of attention because of the fine’s size.  However, from the information currently available, the case seems one of the go-kart company having a work environment that was unsafe for customers, the company being aware of this and not doing enough to fix it.

SafetyAtWorkBlog is also looking  into how Ms Carter’s death has changed her employer’s organisation, what effect it had on her colleagues, what policy changes have been made, amongst other matters.

The judgement will also be made available as soon as possible.

Kevin Jones

What a good safety management system looks like

I’m a big fan of minimising the rehashing of OH&S guides. In my WorkSafe Victoria days (the latter ones when I was doing guidance material editing) I did what I could to encourage adoption of other people’s good work.

cover indg275[1]And just today I found an example of a British Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guide on what a sexy SMS looks like that I think is about as good as it gets; particularly in the context of giving an OH&S newbie an excellent sense of what it means to deal with OH&S in a systematic way.

Loved the focus on critical questions to ask about key elements of an SMS; as opposed to a common bad habit of doing the thing I call a “knowledge dump” – asking every question you can think of that has any sort of relationship to the topic at hand.

Loved the way the guide related smart SMS evaluation to real-world business decisions. I gotta say (obviously with the benefit of hindsight) that governments are pretty hopeless at “relating” to business in guidance material. It’s a waste of white space to keep telling a reader why it’s awful to hurt workers. It’s a waste because the reader wouldn’t be a reader if they weren’t concerned about that.

The HSE guide takes the approach of comparing SMS decisions to day-to-day business decisions. Take for example these questions from the guide: “How much are you spending on health and safety and are you getting value for money? How much money are you losing by not managing health and safety?”  These are just a couple of examples of business-savvy questions in the guide. They show the author knows full well that crappy OH&S  management costs big bucks and they cut straight to the chase on questions about costs and losses. But, cleverly, the author leaves it at that, and includes other business related questions. A good move.

I’ve found (and I have to say I was surprised to find this out) that my clients – almost all small businesses – are not “consumed” by profitability. They want their businesses to work, they want to be able to pay their bills, but I’ve found that there is lots of angst about hurting workers. (Hmm…rather than go on anymore about this topic of small business motivators for safety, I think I’ll leave it for a separate post.) Back to the guide.

What is a real stand-out in the guide is the minimal use of the lazy adjectives like “suitable” and “appropriate”. We in OH&S-World use those mostly useless adjectives way too much in guidance material. The author of the guide avoids them like the plague. Grab yourself a free copy from ttp://tinyurl.com/obwzrg .

Col Finnie
col@finiohs.com
www.finiohs.com

Varanus Island investigations continue

International safety attention was focused on a tiny island of the northwest Australian cost in mid-June 2008 when a pipeline exploded.  Investigation reports have been presented to government and companies have regained operations after the major gas explosion that disrupted supplies across Western Australia.

In early May 2009, the WA Department of Mines & Petroleum announced a further investigation will be undertaken. WA Mines and Petroleum Minister Norman Moore has said that the department would carry out the final stage of investigations into the  explosion.

Kym Bills and David Agostini have been classified officially as inspectors and will undertake the investigation.

Moore said that the October 2008 report by NOPSA needed additional information which has recently become available.

 “…that investigation was limited by its reporting time frame and the absence of critical evidence, such as the results from destructive and non-destructive testing of the pipeline.”

A ministerial media release identifies the investigation’s scope:

  • the pertinent sequence of events on Varanus Island during the incident
  • the likely cause(s) of the incident
  • any actions and omissions by the operator of the Varanus Island facility, or its contractors, leading up to and during the incident that may have contributed to those events.

The final report will be presented to the department in June 2009.

Background on Varanus Island is available in SafetyAtWorkBlog by searching “Varanus” as a keyword.

Kevin Jones