Unions question the targeting and success of graphic WorkSafe ads

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One of the most popular recent postings at SafetyAtWorkBlog has concerned the graphic ads aimed at young workers by WorkSafe Victoria. Last week a safety group meeting was told that WorkSafe focus groups of teenagers had said that to get the attention of young people on workplace safety, advertisements needed to be graphic and confrontational.

However, other young workers tell a different story.  According to the Victorian Trades Hall,

“Feedback from young workers taken recently indicates the message they are taking from the ads is that if you get injured at work it is your fault. They paint a very negative stereotype of young workers.”

Trades Hall also reveals that WorkSafe’s own research does not necessarily fit with some of the current WorkSafe language:

“Research conducted for WorkSafe by Sweeneys in April this year does not demonstrate that young workers are ‘apathetic’. Rather it advises that young workers:

  • lack knowledge of their rights at work, what to do if they got injured, and of IR and OH&S issues;
  • mimic the behaviour and attitudes they observe around them from older workers and supervisors;
  • had a general reluctance to speak up or ask question because they are intimidated and worried about losing their job or think their boss will think they’re stupid;
  • are perceived as apathetic or arrogant by employers, which the research noted was due to young workers being too intimidated and worried about looking stupid to speak up.”
UPDATE: ads are now available through Youtube – nailgun, bakery,    kitchen  
It seems that the WorkSafe Victoria ads are not available on Youtube but the Canadian WSIB ads are.  It is worth reading some of the comments posted under the videos to see what a small section of Youtube viewers, presumably the “Youtube generation” the ads are aimed at, think of the ads.
Given that next week is Safe Work Australia Week and WorkSafe Victoria is likely to promote the young worker ads as a cornerstone of its safety promotions campaign, it is worth trying to listen behind, or between, the good news to determine if the campaign will, in reality, achieve the aims of reducing young worker deaths and injuries.
Recent satirical television shows, such as The Hollowmen, have shown a possible manipulation of focus groups in a similar way that the production of departmental reviews were shown to be politically influenced in Yes Prime Minister.  Focus groups and market research may be the best techniques we have but that doesn’t mean that the findings should be uncritically accepted.

Federal IR Minister speaks on OHS laws

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Julia Gillard, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Workplace Relations, received a dorothy-dix question on 16 October 2008 (pages 52-53) concerning OHS harmonisation and the creation of SafeWork Australia.  Sadly, the good points the Minister made were overshadowed by political point-scoring at the Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull.  It is still early days for the Labor Government in Parliament and Minister Gillard is one of the top parliamentary performers.  It is disappointing she did not use her full six minutes to give the issue the prominence it deserved or needed.

The nuggets of information she provided, prior to party politics interfering, were

  • harmonisation will help “39,000 businesses that operate across state boundaries”;
  • “300 Australians are killed at work each year”;
  • “over 140,000 Australians are injured at work each year”;
  • these deaths and injuries are “costing the economy $34 billion”  (presumably) each year.

The report of the inquiry into model OHS laws is due to release its interim report in October 2008 with the final report being presented to government in late-January or early-February 2009.

Insurance for OHS penalties

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OHS law is generally structured in a positive way and based on the logic that people will act appropriately if there is a deterrent for doing the wrong thing.  This logic applies to many levels of public administration, commerce and psychology.

Some years ago, this logic was challenged during some consultation I undertook for a prison workshop.  It was necessary to assess the guarding of a machine not just for the “accidental” injuries but for malicious and purposeful injuries.  This established a lower common denominator than in the majority of workplaces. 

In this work environment to some inmates, the penalty for harming oneself and others was worth the risk.  It did not deter everyone.

Recently, an allegation has come to the attention of SafetyAtWorkBlog that a company providing OHS compliance advice to small businesses in Australia is also offering insurance coverage for OHS penalties.  Should a business proprietor be financially penalized by the OHS regulator for a breach of the legislation, the business proprietor would pay an excess of around $2000 and the (unnamed) insurance company would pay the balance.

Such a service places a $2,000 cap on OHS penalties and would remove a major reason behind penalties for unsafe practices and workplaces.

This is of concern to OHS professionals as we “trade” on the importance of OHS having a strong business case as well as a social benefit.

SafetyAtWorkBlog would be interested to hear from anyone who may have come across such insurance options elsewhere or have an opinion on such an option.

Longford explosion anniversary, Andrew Hopkins and a new book

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October 2008 was the tenth anniversary of the explosion at Longford gas plant in Australia that resulted in many injuries, two fatalities and almost two weeks of severely interrupted gas supply to the State of Victoria.

The Longford explosion at an Exxon-Mobil site resulted in a Royal Commission, an OHS prosecution and a record fine.  Recently it was often invoked in comparison to the Varanus Island pipeline explosion in Western Australia.

Professor Andrew Hopkins, sociologist with the Australian National University, was studying safety management systems well before the Esso Longford explosion but it was that major disaster that added international prominence, and a substantial extra workload, to Andrew.  Other than domestic acclaim, in July 2008, the European Process Safety Centre declared Andrew winner of the EPSC Award for 2008.  He is the first person outside of Europe to win this award.  It is believed that Andrew was formally presented with the award at the EPSC conference earlier this month.

Andrew has a refreshing perspective on safety management systems, partly because he has brought a sociologist’s eye to management decisions; his vision is not clouded by the OHS baggage through which many other analysts struggle.

Andrew’s next book due out this month through CCH Australia is Failure to Learn The BP Texas City refinery disaster and could have him travelling frequently the United States to offer his wisdom.

SafetyAtWorkBlog is working on a new interview with Andrew when he returns to Australia but in the meantime, a 2000 interview with Andrew is available as a page on this blog.  The interview was conducted at a book launch in September 2000 for Lessons From Longford.

Professor Andrew Hopkins (right) receiving the award from Christian Jochum, Director of the European Process Safety Centre
Professor Andrew Hopkins (right) receiving the award from Christian Jochum, Director of the European Process Safety Centre