Australian Safety Ambassadors

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Safe Work Australia introduced a program of safety ambassadors in the lead-up to Safe Work Australia Week 2009.  The editor of SafetyAtWorkBlog was chosen as one of this year’s ambassadors.  Kevin Jones was also featured in the authority’s newsletter, the Safe Work Australian, that is available for download.

There were no formal requirements of the title other than promoting Safe Work Australia Week.  From the list of ambassadors on the Safe Work Australia website, most already have a strong record of advocating safe work practices.  Being an ambassador seems to have simply provided a topical focus, or additional motivation, for promoting the week.

Safe_work_Australian Oct 09 kj

EHS workshop report and Australian nanoparticles reports

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In October 2009 a workshop was held on worker safety by the  Worker Education and Training Program (WETP), a part of the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.  Many of the topics raised in the workshop – REACH, Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, and nanotechnology would be issues or hazards familiar to most SafetyAtWorkBlog readers.

EffectivenessReport coverThis report on the workshop, released in November 2009, is highlighted here because it is a very good example of a basic report on a workshop that makes the reader regret that they couldn’t be there.  This respond encourages readers to make the extra effort for the next set of workshops – a major benefit of such reports and, sometimes, the main reason.

The mention 0f nanotechnology is a good link to two new reports on the issue released by Safe Work Australia on 4 November 2009.

Engineered nanomaterials: Evidence on the effectiveness of workplace controls “explores the effectiveness of workplace controls to prevent exposure to engineered nanomaterials.”  According to a media release on the reports this report found:

  • “current control and risk management methods can protect workers from exposure to engineered nanomaterials
  • enclosure of processes involving nanomaterials and correctly designed and installed extraction ventilation can both significantly reduce worker exposure to nanomaterials, and
  • a precautionary approach is recommended for handling nanomaterials in the workplace.”

Pages from ToxicologyReview_Nov09The lack of available health effects data has directly led to the precautionary position in recommendations but it is good to see that the hierarchy of controls (old technology) is being applied to new technology. The report gets to a point of recommending a combination of

“…controls [that] should provide a robust regime through which nanomaterials exposure to workers will be reduced to very low levels.”

The bibliography in this report is also excellent and includes a comparative table of the research reports and papers analysed.

Engineered nanomaterials: A review of toxicology and health hazards was a literature review that  reports:

  • “there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that engineered nanomaterials have a unique toxicity. However, sufficient toxicity tests have not yet been conducted for most engineered nanomaterials
  • nanoparticles tend to be more bio-reactive, and hence potentially more toxic, than larger particles of the same material, and
  • carbon nanotubes are potentially hazardous to health if inhaled in sufficient quantity.”

Nanotechnology is a difficult area of OHS study as there is so much research material coming through that it is (probably more than) a full-time job just to stay current.  The literature review into toxicology makes a point that it is important to remember in this field.

“A wide variety of in vitro and in vivo experimental protocols have been used to assess biological responses to NPs, some of these yield more useful data for occupational risk assessment than others.  Some are potentially misleading.” [emphasis added]

The second of these reports was a good introduction to the general issues of health risks but must be stressed that these reports deal with engineered nanoparticle(s) (ENPs) which are defined as

“A nanoparticle with at least one dimensions between approximately 1 nm and 100 nm and manufactured to have specific properties or composition. “

Increasing research into any issue almost always leads to a fragmentation of the discipline into subsets.  That research into engineered nanoparticles is different from regular nanoparticles needs to be remembered.  As the report itself says

“…the major thrust of the research is in relation to identifying potential hazards for assessment of occupational safety since working with ENPs is likely to be where most exposure occurs. In contrast to ambient particulate air pollution, where health effects have been observed and research has been aimed at discovering the causative agents and mechanisms, the reverse is true for ENPs.”

Tom Phillips AM, chair of the Safe Work Australia Council said , in a media statement,

“Safe Work Australia has requested that the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme undertake a formal assessment of carbon nanotubes for hazard classification to clarify regulation of these nanomaterials.

“We have also requested that CSIRO develop guidance for the safe handling and disposal of carbon nanotubes, which will be a useful resource for OHS managers.”

It is good to see Safe Work Australia (now an independent statutory body) take one of the ACTU recommendations from its 2009 factsheet.

Kevin Jones

New Australian academic OHS journal

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On 4 November 2009, the first edition of the Journal of Health & Safety Research & Practice began appearing in some Australian letter boxes.  This is the long-awaited, and long-promised, journal produced for members of the Safety Institute of Australia.  The three articles in this inaugural edition are very good but the format and the marketing is very odd.

SIA journal cover 001The journal says that “[SIA] members may also access electronic copies of articles via”  Go to the page on the Safety Institute’s website for the Peer Review Journal and the page is blank.

SafetyAtWorkBlog contacted the SIA for information about any launch of the publication or media release.  There is nothing currently available.

The Editor-In-Chief, Dr Stephen Cowley rightly points to the importance of communication.

“Scholarly publication is central to the communication of new work and ideas…and a fundamental tenet of scientific work is that it is subject to critical appraisal.”

But the SafetyAtWorkBlog contention is that “new work and ideas” need to be circulated much more broadly than solely in a scholarly publication limited to the members of the Safety Institute.  The SIA says the content is planned to be “released” online after six months but there is a huge difference between publishing ideas and promoting ideas.  One element of the SIA’s mission statement is to “promote health and safety awareness” and this means actively promote, not just publish something and see what happens.

If the SIA really wants to compete with the only other OHS journal in Australia, The Journal of Occupational Health and Safety – Australia and New Zealand published by CCH Australia, it will really need a strong promotional strategy that makes the SIA journal as indispensible as CCH’s.

The justification for another peer review journal in such a small academic pool as Australia remains unclear but there is speculation that the SIA journal has come about as a result of dissatisfaction with the CCH journal.

The test for the validity of the SIA journal will be to see contributions coming from tertiary institutions from around Australia and not just from VIOSH, a school associated with the University of Ballarat, the employer of both the Editor-In-Chief and one of the two Executive Editors.

In terms of format, it is accepted that this is a first edition and that it is a work-in-progress.  However this first edition has had a gestation of several years and to have only three articles, even though they are very good, seems a little thin.  In the CCH journal, which has existed for decades, there is also the following

  • Notes for Contributors,
  • Index,
  • Book Reviews,
  • Obituaries,
  • Court Cases, and
  • a Noticeboard

Some of this content may be in a sister publication for SIA members that is also currently going to members but, as this journal is dedicated to Dr Eric Wigglesworth, at least an obituary could have been expected.

Being the first edition, the omission of an index is understandable.

The journal is published with the assistance of LexisNexis Media, a major source of  legal and court reports.  Surely some relevant content could have been accessed through LexisNexis although, again, maybe the SIA member publication will carry this.

If the CCH journal is used as the yardstick for OHS journals in Australia, the SIA journal is a good start.  But the CCH journal should not be the benchmark being aimed at.  In the 21st century, the SIA should be looking well beyond its competitors and embracing the new internet and publishing technologies to establish its own benchmark and to lead the pack, rather than follow.

The SIA is well aware of the Cochrane Collaboration and the Cochrane Library which offer a number of extra information and media services on its public health research.  The SIA is not in any way the equivalent of the Cochrane sites but some of the features could be applied to enhance the value of the SIA journal and to establish a greater prominence.

Kevin Jones

The articles in the Journal of Health & Safety Research & Practice are

“Breaking the Barriers of Insider Research in Occupational Health and Safety” by Annabel Galea

“Are health and safety representatives more effective at representing their designated work group having completed a Certificate IV course in OHS?” by Gavin Merriman and Stephen P Cowley

“The fifth age of safety: the adaptive age” by David Borys, Dennis Else & Susan Leggett.

Summer heat, fatigue and UV – a speculative solution

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Let’s pull together several workplace hazards and suggest one control measure that may address all of them at once.  Of course, the control may generate other work hazards or management challenges.

In Summer, work occurs throughout daylight hours.  The long days, and possibly daylight savings, maximise the window of productivity for workers, particularly those who work outside – building construction, housing, rail maintenance, roadworks…..  Such work can lead to the workplace hazards of excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV), fatigue, and heat stress.

Each of these hazards has its own separate advocates for safe practices, as well as the OHS regulator that provides guidance on all hazards.  This complicates the management of OHS because sometimes there are conflicting control measures or at least measures that are incompatible with the needs and desires of the workforce.  If we think of this combination of hazards as a Gordian Knot, we could solve the problem by splitting the working day into two sessions on either side of a sleep break or, as the November 2009 edition of the Harvard Health Letter calls it, a nap.

The Harvard article, “Napping may not be such a no-no”, discusses the good and bad of napping and the tone of the article seems to look at this control measure mainly for office-based or administrative tasks.

“[Robert Stickgold, a Harvard sleep researcher] says his and others’ findings argue for employer policies that actively encourage napping, especially in today’s knowledge-based economy.  Some companies have set up nap rooms, and Google has “nap pods” that block out light and sound.”

The article suggest a couple of suggestions

Keep it short. A 20- to 30-minute nap may be ideal. Even just napping for a few minutes has benefits. Longer naps can lead to grogginess.

Find a dark, quiet, cool place. Reducing light and noise helps most people get to sleep faster. Cool temperatures are helpful, too.

Plan on it. Waiting till sleepiness gets so bad that you have to take a nap can be dangerous if you’re driving. A regular nap time may also help you get to sleep faster and wake up quicker.

Don’t feel guilty! A nap can make you more productive at work and at home.”

But sometimes SafetyAtWorkBlog likes to extend a solution to the bigger picture.

In Australia, the peak period for extreme levels of UV is between the daylight savings hours of 10.00am and 1.00pm, or 3.00pm in some instances.  If an outside work site suspended work for three hours, the employees could have lunch and rest, or sleep, in the shade.  Depending on the location of the work site, some could even go home for that period.

The work day could still be as productive by starting early and finishing late, basically inserting a rest break of several hours into the middle of the daytime shift.  There is evidence in the Harvard article that productivity could be increased as a result of the rest break.

iStock_000004187454 construction siestal

On quick reflection, this scenario is a fantasy because the ramifications of such a change are huge, and OHS is unlikely to achieve any structural cultural change of this magnitude, but it remains an attractive fantasy.  The attraction is the logical simplicity but, of course, logic is often bashed around by reality and below are some of those realities:

  • Expanded work hours for a construction adjacent to a residential area working on the 9 to 5
  • Deliveries of supplies to be rescheduled to the two work periods
  • Would the split shift continue on cloudy and cool days or during Winter?
  • Would the portable/temporary lunch sheds now need to include a bunk room for all employees on a work site?
  • In a bunk room, would one person’s snoring becoming an occupational hazard for everyone?
  • Can plant be “paused” for the lunch break?
  • Can a concrete pour be interrupted for a lunch?

Lists of other problems or challenges are welcome through the blog’s comments field below.

Such a structural or societal control option (or fantasy) should be discussed, debated or workshopped as what may not work in the grand scheme may allow for changes, or tweaks, on a smaller scale.  Often the best OHS solutions come from speculation which can lead to the epiphany of “why do we do it that way?”

Of course, some countries are way ahead of the rest of the world in managing these workplace hazards by already having a culture that embraces the “siesta“.

Kevin Jones

ng may not be such a no-no


Good corporate advice tainted by poisonous product

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In Matt Peacock’s book, “Killer Company“, an entire chapter is devoted to the legacy of the James Hardie chairman, John B Reid.  In Peacock’s talk at Trades Hall in October 2009, he mentioned that Reid had once published a book called “Commonsense Corporate Governance”.  The apparent hypocrisy of an executive of a company that knowingly sells toxic material while advising others on how to manage their corporation responsibly generated chuckles of disbelief in the Trade Hall audience.

Reid book cover 001SafetyAtWorkBlog obtained a copy of John Reid’s book to see first-hand that someone could do such a thing.  A sad part of all this is that the advice in the book is sensible but Reid’s “legacy” now taints all he does and all he says.

One random example of the advice he provides concerns dealing with consultants:

“Where, as with solicitors and auditors, it is imperative for the company to retain them, company staff need to be reminded that the professional advisers are paid for on the basis of the time that they spend on the company’s business. This is not predetermined by the nature of the task. In large measure it is affected by the decisions made and by the homework done within the company. What does this mean?

First, the imposition of new and more demanding, and frequently less precise, legislation on all manner of subjects has made management and, as a result, directors, nervous about things that directors 50 years ago would have dealt with very quickly-and inexpensively. Further, the increasing number of specialists necessary within a company’s own payroll is a result of this legislative epidemic, and has produced a reinforcement of this culture of caution and, occasionally, of fear.”

Safety professionals may want to take particular note of this corporate imperative.

Peacock points to the strict confidentiality clauses that Hardie included in any settlements in the 1970s.  Peacock writes (p 156)

“Secrecy indeed was Hardie’s byword, one endorsed by the chairman, who would later advise aspiring directors to ‘remain silent where there is criticism’.”

Reid recommended this in a bulleted list of ways to handle the media.

John B Reid, whose personal wealth was estimated at $A181 million in 2004, is not unique in advising companies while also having a tarnished corporate reputation.  Some argue that the adjective “good businessman” is a tautology.

There is no doubt that Reid was an active philanthropist and corporate citizen.  He was awarded an Order of Australia for “service to industry” – no citation is available to explain the decision.  In 2006, he received the Goldman Sachs JBWere Philanthropy Leadership Award.

Greek tragedies were full of hubris and examples of the single flaw that made good men do bad things.  If the plays of Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles have yet to be analysed for their advice to corporate executives, they should be, for not only do they show human flaws but human corporate flaws.

John B Reid’s book on corporate governance is an easy read and has valuable lessons but it is now a book that makes the reader feel dirty.

Kevin Jones