Politicians, Stress and Bulimia

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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.

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

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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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The Blind at Work and in the Street

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At the moment I am reviewing a draft OHS compliance code for amenities at the workplace. I am also working a morning shift for a communications company from 3am each morning. I have a blind father. My office faces a truck route.

These elements of my life combined when I received a wire story this morning about an initiative to increase the level of pedestrian safety. I found the National Federation for the Blind media release that the article was based on and decided that the request for “a two-year study to determine the best means to provide the blind and other pedestrians with information about the location, motion, speed, and direction of vehicles” fairly reasonable and I look forward to the findings in 2010.

At the moment I am reviewing a draft OHS compliance code for amenities at the workplace. I am also working a morning shift for a communications company from 3am each morning. I have a blind father. My office faces a truck route.

These elements of my life combined when I received a wire story this morning about an initiative to increase the level of pedestrian safety. I found the National Federation for the Blind media release that the article was based on and decided that the request for “a two-year study to determine the best means to provide the blind and other pedestrians with information about the location, motion, speed, and direction of vehicles” fairly reasonable and I look forward to the findings in 2010.

It will be interesting to watch the response that this US Bill will generate from those who see our world changing to accommodate minorities, those driving enthusiasts that give pedestrians and bikes little attention anyway, those advocates who say that pedestrian lights don’t remain on long enough and the right-wing critics of political correctness who are usually fully-sighted ( in the vision sense at least) and able-bodied.

Some of the issues the Secretary of Transportation should consider are:

  • How did blind people in China cope when that country depended almost 100% on bicycle transport? Bikes aren’t silent.
  • Aren’t cars being designed now specifically to minimise the damage to a pedestrian from a front-on collision? Let’s not go near the issue of bull-bars and car protection bars.
  • I know that the blind want to be independent but if I am elderly or disabled, I would not reject assistance in crossing a road. Don’t pedestrians offer assistance any more?
  • All age groups should be considered in the study as able-bodied pedestrians may be distracted or otherwise inattentive.

Basic ergonomic theory is that we don’t try to fit the person to the work environment. Perhaps urban planners and car manufacturers should consider how they can change what they do to ensure that the vehicles are compatible with pedestrian zones and interaction. I for one would ride my bicycle more if the streets were more friendly and drivers more aware.

How do workplace amenities and morning shift affect my perspective? I am not sure that the draft compliance code accommodates disabled workers so I will need to review the document through my father’s eyes, ineffective as they are.

Toilets in many office buildings have Braille labels below the male and female toilet signs. I often wonder how a blind person locates a 6cm Braille label on a 18 square metre wall when they are bursting for a pee and are new to that area. And from experience most people develop blindness after middle age and have little chance of learning Braille so just how many blind people are we serving by Braille toilet signs?