CSR and public health

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The recent conference of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) gave considerable attention to corporate social responsibility (CSR).  It could be argued that this shows the ASSE is years behind many others but it could also be argued that CSR has a practical longevity in workplace safety that may have faded in other CSR areas.

A recent article in Health Education, “Workplace health promotion within small and medium-sized enterprises” may provide some clues for forward planning on mental health, wellbeing and OHS.  The authors* write:

“There needs to be a clear distinction between activities focused purely on internal business management and those with a wider public health impact.  Consideration needs to be given to human resource policies and procedures, as these are beyond employees’ personal control, yet have a direct and indirect effect on their working life and the smooth running of the business they work for.”

This should give greater confidence to HR practitioners that the “soft sciences” of human resources are an important element of corporate wellbeing and profitability but there is also a clear indication from the article that various organisational elements need to “play well” with each other in order to achieve the potential benefits; Continue reading “CSR and public health”

Do budget cuts equal cuts in safety enforcement?

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There are several issues in the United Kingdom at the moment that could affect workplace safety, not including Lord Young’s OHS review.

Great Britain is to undergo enormous funding cuts to most of the civil service.  The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) is to have its budget cut by 35% according to the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Another issue is that a TUC survey has found:

“Almost half (49%) of safety representatives said that as far as they know, a health and safety inspector has never inspected their workplace…”

The TUC says that the same survey indicates that the threat of inspection is a major motivator to OHS improvements.  In a media release on 1 November 2010 TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:
“Knowing that an inspector is likely to visit is one of the key drivers to changing employers’ behaviour and making the workplace safer and healthier.  It is a scandal that nearly half of workplaces in the UK have never been visited by a health and safety inspector.”
And those inspectors are most likely to come from the HSE .  Data from the HSE shows that the number of enforcement notices has hovered around 10,000 each year for the last decade.  The number of prosecutions over that time have steadily declined.
What is really required is the number of the inspections undertaken by the HSE but this information is not included in the latest annual statistics.
If safety improvements are made in businesses due to the threat of an OHS inspection by a regulators, how does the HSE plan to keep the pressure on when it will lose over a third of its budget? Continue reading “Do budget cuts equal cuts in safety enforcement?”

The asbestos Triffid goes national

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The union campaign on the eradication of asbestos from the island of Tasmania has entered the national political arena in Australia.  On 29 October 2010, the Australian Minister for Workplace Relations, Chris Evans, announced that Geoff Fary, Assistant Secretary of the Australian Council for Trade Unions, will chair the newly established “Asbestos Management Review” (AMR).

The appointment and chairmanship are an acknowledgement that the trade union movement is the major advocate for occupational, public and environmental safety concerning asbestos in Australia.

Fary will be leaving his ACTU role in November 2010 to take up the new position.

One concern with the AMR, even in its early development is the task of raising awareness.  Chris Evans stated that:

“It is critical that we develop a comprehensive understanding of the scope of the problem and set clear targets as to how we address issues relating to awareness, management and removal of asbestos.”

There is the risk of inactivity on any issue that seeks to raise awareness.  As I wrote twelve months ago:

“The asbestos safety advocates should drop “awareness” from the week’s title because awareness equates to “aspirational targets”, former Prime Minister John Howard’s way of promising much and delivering nothing.  Just as everyone accepts that smoking causes lung cancer and climate change exists, people know that asbestos can kill.  Move away from awareness-raising to action.” Continue reading “The asbestos Triffid goes national”

Asbestos prosecution highlights community risks

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A recent asbestos-related prosecution by WorkSafe Victoria illustrates the prevalence of asbestos as an environmental, public and occupational problem.

According to a media statement on 5 November 2010,

“Joshua Luke Marshall, operating as Affordable Demolitions and Asbestos Removals, told two separate homeowners he was licensed by WorkSafe to carry out asbestos removal work, although he didn’t hold a licence….”

“…The first incident was in January 2009, when Mr Marshall was hired to remove asbestos cement sheeting from a house in Corio.

Mr Marshall was halfway through the job when a WorkSafe inspector arrived at the property in response to an anonymous complaint.

“What our inspector found when he walked onto the property was unbelievable,” Continue reading “Asbestos prosecution highlights community risks”

Lord Young OHS review welcomed by UK’s HSE

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The latest podcast by the Health & Safety Executive includes an interesting interview with the chair of the HSE, Judith Hackitt.

Hackitt admits that any review of occupational health and safety needed

“someone who could look beyond the remit of the Health and Safety Executive and look at what the other factors are out there that create the problems that we all know only too well that create all the nonsense and the myths.”

Lord Young certainly looks at other factors such as over-enthusiastic legal firms but it is hard to not think that someone other than Lord Young could have undertaken the review and come out with a more constructive plan of attack.  In many ways his report confirms the misperceptions of OHS.  Lord Young says, in his report:

“…the standing of health and safety in the eyes of the public has never been lower, and there is a growing fear among business owners of having to pay out for even the most unreasonable claims. Press articles recounting stories where health and safety rules have been applied in the most absurd manner, or disproportionate compensation claims have been awarded for trivial reasons, are a daily feature of our newspapers.”

This says more about the UK media than it does about the OHS laws themselves.  Lord young is very light on his recommendations to curb or counter the inaccurate reporting by the media.  He recommends combining food safety and OHS:

“Promote usage of the scheme by consumers by harnessing the power and influence of local and national media.”

He should have gone further but that would require looking at issues such as accuracy in reporting and the UK media is notorious for beat-ups and entrapment.  UK newspapers feed on the “Yes Minister” absurdities of bureaucracy and when health and safety relates to children, in particular, they go all out. Continue reading “Lord Young OHS review welcomed by UK’s HSE”