The myth of the three-hour sleep

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The Australian media has widely reported that Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, exists on three-hours sleep per night.  He doesn’t and Professor Drew Dawson, a prominent Australian sleep researcher, discusses the exaggeration of high-flying professionals in an article at Crikey.com on 21 July 2009.

More research of  Professor Drew Dawson, Director, Centre for Sleep Research, University of South Australia, is available online.

Absence management data misses the OHS mark

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Managing workplace absenteeism often ignores the OHS issues that are integral to the issue.

4926AbsenceSRWEB2 coverOn 20 July 2009 the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development released its findings on the issue in its annual Absence Management Survey.

The media statement identifies the reasons for short- and long-term absences.

  • “The main causes of short-term absence are minor illnesses such as colds and flu, stress and musculoskeletal conditions
  • The main causes of long-term absence are acute medical conditions, stress and mental health conditions and musculoskeletal conditions and back pain.”

However, the media statement identifies no measures to counter these workplace hazards, preferring to focus on ancillary factors such as job security.

Willmott focuses on a comparison between absenteeism in the public and private sectors.  The difference is statistically interesting, perhaps, but does not address the causes of absenteeism.

Willmot also illustrates the dominant HR position on absenteeism.

“Effective absence management involves finding a balance between providing support to help employees with health problems stay in and return to work and taking consistent and firm action against employees that try and take advantage of organisations’ occupational sick pay schemes.”

This manages the effect of the problem but not the problem itself which CIPD’s own research has identified as musculoskeletal conditions, stress, mental health and, to a lesser extent, colds and flu.

The comments by the Senior Public Policy Adviser for the CIPD, BenWillmott, are a good example of how some human resources or management organisations miss the health and safety element.

The CIPD does acknowledge the importance of workplace health and safety as illustrated by its reply to the Health & Safety Executive’s draft strategy.  It also says in the Absence Management Survey that, in the return-to-work context:

“The involvement of occupational health professionals is identified as the most effective approach for managing long-term absence…”

However even though it sees itself as the “professional and accreditation body for the UK HR profession [which represents] over 130,000 HR professionals at every level of business and in every sector”, it hesitates to take a leadership role in health and safety.  It’s a pity because applying the apparent professionalism of the Institute and its membership strength to OHS could achieve great social and business efficiencies.

For those wanting to look at comparison data, CIPD makes available its previous surveys for download.

Kevin Jones

New approach to risks of nanomaterials

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US research scientists have released a new article about assessing the exposure risk of nanomaterial.  Treye Thomas, Tina Bahadori, Nora Savage and Karluss Thomas have published “Moving toward exposure and risk evaluation of nanomaterials: challenges and future directions“.

Pages from Wiley nano 02Refreshingly they take a whole-of-cycle approach to the materials and, even though, the conclusion is that more research is required, that they are approaching the hazard in this fashion is a very positive move.

They say that nanomaterials will only become an acceptable technology if people understand the risks involved with the products.

“The long-term viability of nanomaterials and public acceptance of this new technology will depend on the ability to assess adequately the potential health risks from nanomaterial exposures throughout their lifecycle.”

This openness by manufacturers has not been evident up to now as the commercial application of the technology is early days.

The researchers advocate two elements to further investigation of nanomaterials.

The first is metrology and
developing tools to characterize and measure relevant
attributes of nanomaterials, including particle
size, number, and surface area. The second is lifecycle
analysis of nanomaterials in consumer goods
and their transformation and degradation in products
throughout the lifecycle of materials.

“The first is metrology and developing tools to characterize and measure relevant attributes of nanomaterials, including particle size, number, and surface area.   The second is lifecycle analysis of nanomaterials in consumer goods and their transformation and degradation in products throughout the lifecycle of materials.”

There are several medical articles included on the Wiley Interscience website that may be of relevance but it is heartening to see some interdisciplinary thinking in this field.

Kevin Jones

Professionalism and academia

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The Australia safety industry is being pushed by OHS regulators to improve its professionalism.  Upgrading of qualifications in any discipline always generates conflict between the educated and the competent.  OHS is no different.

In The Age newspaper on 20 July 2009 was an interesting article that provides a brief overview of postgraduate studies.  The article makes no mention of workplace safety courses but provides an interesting illustration of the dichotomy above.

The full article deserves reading as it illustrates cost and time issues but there were several points made that seem pertinent to recent moves in the OHS profession.

The president of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, Nigel Palmer, is quoted as saying

“It’s clear that we’ve seen a dramatic increase in fees. Whether or not there has been a corresponding increase in the quality of those courses remains an open question”.

Most postgraduates undertake their studies while employed.  This makes it much easier to manage time, if the company provides study leave options, and it provides a ready source of material for business studies, in particular.  Some companies also assist with the payment of fees.  This is not the case for those who are seeking employment or who are self-employed.  The costs in money and time almost makes postgraduate study an impossibility.

The postgraduate courses themselves are often hard to define.  Professor Richard James of the University of Melbourne’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education admits that most institutions would have difficulty defining a master’s degree.

Holly Alexander chose to study outside the universities after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree.  She found the practicality of her course immensely useful and the article identifies a crucial differentiation between academics and practitioners.

“Of critical importance to her was the fact her teachers practised their craft and provided invaluable industry contacts.”

The OHS profession in Australia is developing a “core body of knowledge” which seems to be vital to the profession but noone has explained why, even though hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent on the task.  And still there remains those experienced OHS professionals and practitioners who wonder why after twenty years of successful consulting and advice they need to benchmark themselves to “prove” their professionalism.

Outside the core body of knowledge, Holly Alexander’s point above is very important.  The academics and educators in any profession need to have an industry network that functions in the real world and their professional skills must be able to be applied practically, otherwise the qualification is meaningless.

Kevin Jones

Swine flu – A very odd catastrophe

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Each weekend the readership of one particular swine flu article increases.

It is almost two months since that article was posted and the mood in Australia is remarkably blasé about swine flu even though over that time Australia has experienced its first swine flu deaths.  It seems that for those not directly affected by a swine flu case, the influenza is a non-issue.

This mood is surprising as the initial reports of Australian exposure, when isolation remained a valid option, were alarming, even allowing soem leeway for media hype.   Perhaps the alarms was more from the authorities’ response – isolation – than from the infection.  Perhaps one’s expectations were increased from a teenage diet of disaster movies and novels such as Day of the Triffids.

The issue currently has no specific workplace relevance so there are no plans for further SafetyAtWorkBlog articles on the issue.  Still it feels a very odd catastrophe.

Kevin Jones