LTIFRs – still the corporate benchmark

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

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.

Getting back on the horse

Several weeks ago a long-lost warship, the HMAS Sydney, was discovered off the coast of Western Australia. The Sydney disappeared with over 600 crew. There are many interesting stories that are appearing about the discovery but one resonated with me at the Workers’ Memorial ceremony at the Victorian Trades Hall this morning.

Last Friday was ANZAC Day in Australia, a day when we remember the fallen, particularly, in World War 1. At the dawn service at Geraldton, the closest town to where the HMAS Sydney was found, there was a record number of people, many there because of the Sydney. Some of the Sydney’s sailors’ family have travelled to the site of the wreckage to remember and to say goodbye.
At the Workers’ Memorial today, I met a woman who had been permitted to visit the site of her son’s workplace death. He died almost 10 years ago and she told me that for many years she would not have dreamt of going there but how glad she was that she finally did.
People have an odd need to visit the sites of dead relatives. It is perhaps the last tenuous link we have to our friend’s last conscious memories. As I grow older, I might better understand this need but at the moment those sites remind me of pain, trauma and sadness – emotions that should have no place at work.

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Nurse Rape – Update

According to a report on 24 April 2008, the Queensland OHS authority has issued the health department with an improvement notice over the poor security in its facilities in the Torres Strait Islands.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland will also launch a review of Queensland Health’s security arrangements for remote accommodation across the state.

I realise that the wheels of bureaucracy take sometime to move and the action is to be applauded. But with much OHS activity, it is reactive and comes about because an organisation was deficient in its obligations to prevent injury and illness.

The attacks on employees in remote locations is not a tragedy because it happened but is a tragedy because it was allowed to happen. Foreseeable risks were not prevented.

Remember the personal on World Day for Health and Safety at Work

Today is the World Day for Health and Safety at Work. I will be attending the trade unions’ Workers’ Memorial service in Melbourne this morning as I do every year. The stories of those who have died at work keep my OHS morals grounded in the reality and the humanity of workplace safety. It reminds…

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The absurd “2-metre rule”

Recently a colleague spoke to me about the absurdity of the OHS regulations on falling from heights. Australia has a “default” position that, in reality, establishes a 2 metre benchmark for fall prevention initiatives. In practice, workers take it that any work on a ladder where the “grounded” foot is higher than 2 metres from the surrounding area as requiring a risk assessment and, most likely, some fall protection equipment.
My colleague argued that the benchmark should be where a worker’s head is over 2 metres above the floor when working in an elevated position. This is based on the logic, my colleague says fact, that when someone falls, serious injury and death usually result from the worker’s head hitting the floor.
The advocation of a 2 metre criterion operates contrary to the hierarchy of controls which sets the aim of eliminating the risks associated with working at any height. If Australia is moving to a regime of nationally uniform OHS legislation, these laws should be reviewed so that there is also national consistency in safety advice.
As in many other circumstances the UK’s HSE seems to have its act together on this workplace hazard by emphasising the work tasks rather than getting bogged down on a measurement – a measurement that seems to have little science or logic to support it.

Politicians, Stress and Bulimia

Overnight English MP John Prescott “came out” as a bulimia sufferer. Or so the story goes in the British press. But the real story for the occupational health and safety profession is that Prescott’s doctors suggest the contributory factor – stress.

The Telegraph is a little more precise and says that it is unclear why bulimia occurs, that there may be a genetic trait and it often exists “alongside other mental health problems, for example, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and anxiety”.

The Telegraph also lists potential risk factors as “social and cultural pressures regarding appearance, bullying, low self-esteem and family dysfunction”.

Our reactions to the supposed link between stress and bulimia needs to be carefully considered given there are considerable contrary, or complementary, factors. We should bear this in mind when dubious workplace well-being promoters come knocking on the office doors.

I would suggest that Prescott’s main control measure for bulimia, stress and a range of health issues, including diabetes, was that he left the front bench in 2007.

On the other factors of bulimia, the social and cultural pressures, outside of Britain, Prescott is still only known as that guy who punched someone in a crowd, and that had something to do with food as well – a far more telling manifestation of a stress response, I would have thought.

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Is tripartite consultation still the way to go?

Australia's recently announced review into model OHS laws is firmly bound by the tripartite consultative structure formalised by Lord Robens in the early 1970s and comprising government, uniuons and employers. This is a sensbile structure as it involves all of the major influences in Australian workplaces. But just how relevant is it now, thirty years later?

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Australia’s recently announced review into model OHS laws is firmly bound by the tripartite consultative structure formalised by Lord Robens in the early 1970s and comprising government, uniuons and employers. This is a sensbile structure as it involves all of the major influences in Australian workplaces. But just how relevant is it now, thirty years later?

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Safety, Maintenance and Business Continuity

America and Europe have a huge advantage over Australia – they know how to respond to a broad range of disasters. Australia has had its share of bushfires and cyclones but because the country is so large and the geology so stable, the large metropolitan centres of Sydney and Melbourne have been spared. This stability has led to less emphasis on the fragility of infrastructure by business operators than there should be.

America and Europe have a huge advantage over Australia – they know how to respond to a broad range of disasters. Australia has had its share of bushfires and cyclones but because the country is so large and the geology so stable, the large metropolitan centres of Sydney and Melbourne have been spared. This stability has led to less emphasis on the fragility of infrastructure by business operators than there should be.

In the Herald-Sun newspaper on 12 April 2008, there was a cover story on the organizational neglect of the State’s electrical infrastructure. This was emphasised recently when it took 6 days for many homes to have power restored after a serious storm, a storm that was of the level that Sydney experiences regularly and that the tropical areas of Australia and designed to withstand.

A government inquiry will be held into the delay but this is unnecessary. Privatised corporations are notoriously neglectful of the need to maintain infrastructure services as there is little profit in holding resources in reserve for large-scale disasters. Numerous inquiries into the disasters on the privatised rail networks in England have shown the corporate values of privatised transport companies, some of whom have investments in Australia.

The poor and unsafe conditions of the infrastructure are not the fault of the companies if we take it that their raison d’etre is to make profit. But we cannot extend the same understanding to governments who forsake the public good for the sake of an improved bottom line.

Poor maintenance leads to unsafe conditions which lead to disasters. As safety professionals we need to stress that adequate levels of maintenance are a core part of any preventative strategy. Not only will it reduce the social impact of any disaster but it maintains a robust corporate economy, reduces employees’ exposure to trauma and establishes a company as an important community asset.

Safety Professionals and Social Safety

Many OHS professionals however come from academic, or office or technical backgrounds, who have mostly experienced industrial relations as barriers to the sensible safety control measures they recommend. Frequently union and employee stances don’t make OHS sense but they make perfectly sound IR sense. It is this dichotomy that is behind those safety professionals and employers who accuse unions of “using” OHS to further industrial relations ends.

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Many OHS professionals however come from academic, or office or technical backgrounds, who have mostly experienced industrial relations as barriers to the sensible safety control measures they recommend. Frequently union and employee stances don’t make OHS sense but they make perfectly sound IR sense. It is this dichotomy that is behind those safety professionals and employers who accuse unions of “using” OHS to further industrial relations ends.

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