Thoughts on tasers and the hierarchy of controls

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The Braidwood inquiry report into the use of energy weapons (tasers) is readily available on the internet.  Regular readers of SafetyAtWorkBlog would know that I consider tasers to be a item of personal protective equipment (PPE) for enforcement officers.

Phase1Report-2009-06-18 coverDetermining whether PPE is the most appropriate hazard control measure usually involves the application of the Hierarchy of Controls. The hierarchy is not applicable for all workplace hazards, particularly in the control of psychosocial hazards, but it’s a good place to start.

While reading the executive summary of Canada’s Braidwood report, one part in particular reminded me of the hierarchy – page 17.

Although the definitions for “assaultive behaviour” in both use-of-force continuums can be traced back to the Criminal Code’s language for common assault, they also justify use of the weapon when there has been only an attempted common assault, and even when no criminal offence has been committed.  I concluded that the subject behaviour threshold should be met when the subject is causing bodily harm or the officer is satisfied, on reasonable grounds, that the subject’s behaviour will imminently cause bodily harm.  Even then, an officer should not deploy the weapon unless satisfied, on reasonable grounds, that no lesser force option would be effective, and de-escalation and/or crisis intervention techniques would not be effective.

Let’s see if the hierarchy can apply.

Can the subject behaviour be eliminated? – No

Substitution doesn’t seem relevant.

Can we engineer out the threatening behaviour? – Barriers, shields… perhaps but the presence of these items may also inflame the behaviour, increasing the hazard.

Can administrative controls be applied to the hazard? Unlikely, unless the subject was cooperative or able to accept instruction or read signs, in which case, the hazard may not exist.

That leaves PPE, in this case a Taser.

The report places a considerable number of criteria that the enforcement officer must apply prior to using the taser and these should be considered administrative controls but as these apply to the enforcement officer and not the subject, they would not come under the hierarchy of controls.

I welcome readers comments on this rumination on Tasers as PPE, and/or the application of the Hierarchy of Controls to a police situation.

Kevin Jones

Meditation is a proven stress reduction method for workplaces

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Meditation is not on the regular agenda at SafetyAtWorkBlog.  If there was time to meditate, the time would probably be spent losing weight in the gym but there is fascinating research that provides some evidence of meditation’s benefit  in reducing work-related stress.

At the Safety Conference in Sydney at the end of  October 2009, Dr Ramesh Manocha of Sydney’s Royal Hospital for Women will release research that

“found that after eight weeks of mental silence meditation training called sahaja yoga, occupational stress scores improved [decreased?] 26 per cent.  A non-mental silence relaxation program reaped a 13 per cent gain, while a waiting list control group lifted just 1 per cent.”

The language sounds slightly “new-age” but what makes the difference in this circumstance is that the initial research was undertaken with three groups mentioned above and, importantly, with a control group.

Below is a TV interview with Dr Manocha on the first stage of research.

When looking at workplace stress, people reduce stressors but Dr Manocha says this often requires impossible organisation restructuring due to internal political pressures.  These techniques can be applied on a personal level that employees can take with them through their various life-stages.

Dr Manocha then applied the meditation training in real corporate situations.  According to a media release provided in the lead-up to the conference:

“In a later field trial of mental silence meditation by 520 doctors and lawyers, more than half of the participants whose psychological state (K10) scores indicated they were “at risk” were reclassified as “low risk” after two weeks of meditation.”

It’s the application of this meditation in the workplace context that gained the attention of  SafetyAtWorkBlog and what will be presented at the conference.  The gentle skepticism evident in the TV interview above is understandable but in a time when safety professionals demand evidence, we must look seriously at evidence when it is presented.

More information on The Safety Conference is available HERE.

Kevin Jones

Australian survey on attitudes to OHS and laws

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Firstly there is an apology for having statistics dominate SafetyAtWorkBlog this week however everything became available all at once.

An earlier article mentioned some recent OHS statistics that have been released by the Australian Council of Trade Unions.  Below is the SafetyAtWorkBlog interpretation of the survey report.

The survey was undertaken by an independent research firm using a representative sample of the Australian population.  It was not taken, like some previous ACTU surveys, from the trade union membership exclusively.  In some respects the generality makes the survey results more interesting and some more broadly relevant.

67% of respondents were not aware that the governments are coordinating the standardisation of OHS laws.

67% believe that workplace safety is important, but only 40% see it as “very important”.

85% were not aware that workplace deaths (quoted from an unreferenced Government report) are “four times the annual road toll”.

80% think more should be done about OHS.  However, if this question was asked after the previous one that compares workplace death to the road toll, the high response is not unexpected.  Also the report gives no indication  of who is expected to do something about OHS – government? employer? individual? sea urchins?

The issue of “red tape” was specifically asked in the question.  It would have been interesting to have the question remain at just its core so it was a clear agree or disagree response:

“Do you agree or disagree that employers should have to do more to protect the health and safety of their workers (even if it means more costs or red tape for their business)?”

69% said that if they are injured at work, they should be able to take court action under OHS laws against an employer.

One would have to ask the purpose of  this question.  Don’t people trust that OHS regulators would take legal action on the part of the injured workers?

Not all the questions in the survey report are mentioned above but lets take away the trade union context of the survey results for the moment.

OHS regulators claim that their extensive and expensive advertising campaigns are generating an increased awareness of OHS in the community. Two thirds of a population believing OHS is important is a good result but how much of this awareness has been generated by government advertising, increased media reporting of incidents, union activism or some other reason?  An analysis or further research would be useful.

Workplace deaths occur more often than road fatalities.  Is this a fair comparison?  Driving a car on a country road is a very different activity to driving a forklift in a cold store, for instance.

More should be done about workplace safety but would the respondent take on the responsibility themselves?  A clarification of this response would have occurred by comparing it with the employer question above, without the red tape distraction.  But what would the union movement had said to a response that may indicate an overall happiness with how employers manage safety?

The Australian trade union movement has continued its campaign against the operation of harmonised OHS laws by marches on 1 September.  The first draft of the harmonised OHS laws will be available in a couple of weeks.  Around a month after that is Safe Work Australia Week.  The next two months promise to be a busy period of heightened debate (or lobbying and spin) on OHS laws.

Kevin Jones

SafetyAtWorkBlog would like to thank the ACTU for making the survey report available and we look forward to many more surveys from unions and employer groups that hopefully clarify people’s attitudes and approaches to safety.

I’m left handed. Am I safe?

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Recently a New Zealand OHS discussion forum carried a request for people to participate in research to determine whether “handedness” – whether one was left- or right-handed – could be a contributory factor in being injured at work.

The survey period has closed. Robyn Parkin, the researcher, and SafetyAtWorkBlog agreed not to post about the research until now, as Robyn wanted to survey New Zealanders.  Robyn describes her research project as looking at

“…whether New Zealand companies consider handedness as a potential contributing factor for accidents, and if so, what size companies are more likely to consider this factor”

Robyn is concerned that the design of workplaces, workstations and plant may not have considered the way a left-handed person, for instance, may operate a machine, or whether the emergency stop can only be reached with one’s right hand.

Left-handedness exists in around 10% of the population and there are many OHS or community designs that accommodate the needs a similar small minority.  As with many other reseacrh projects, Robyn’s investigation into the potential role of handedness at work causes all of us to look at our own workplaces from a fresh perspective.  And that has got to be good.

Robyn is happy to discuss her research with others by email.

Kevin Jones

Australian Statistics – Part 4 – Shiftwork

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Safe Work Australia has released four statistical reports into worker health in Australia.  These are important and useful reports that will assist many companies and safety professionals to better address workplace hazards.

Pages from ShiftworkThe last of the four statistical reports looks at shiftwork.

The impact of shiftwork on work-related injuries in Australia

The main findings of this report are summarised below:

  • In 2005–06, 16% of Australian workers worked under shift arrangements yet they had 27% of the work-related injuries.
  • Shiftworkers had higher rates of work-related injury than non-shiftworkers.
    • Incidence rates
      • Shiftworkers: 114 injuries per 1000 shiftworkers
      • Non-shiftworkers: 60 injuries per 1000 non-shiftworkers
    • Frequency rates
      • Shiftworkers: 69 injuries per million hours worked
      • Non-shiftworkers: 35 injuries per million hours worked
  • Female shiftworkers had higher frequency rates of work-related injury than male shiftworkers. This finding is counter to the rates of work-related injury in male and female non-shiftworkers.
    • Shiftworkers
      • Female: 81 injuries per million hours worked
      • Male: 62 injuries per million hours worked
    • Non-shiftworkers
      • Female: 31 injuries per million hours worked
      • Male: 37 injuries per million hours worked
  • Female shiftworkers were particularly at risk of work-related injuries in Clerical, sales and service occupations, while male shiftworkers were particularly at risk in Labourer and related worker occupations.
  • Both shiftworkers and non-shiftworkers were more likely to incur work-related injuries during their first six months of employment than after their first six months of employment. Furthermore, a greater proportion of injuries that occurred to shiftworkers occurred in the first 6 months of employment than occurred to non-shiftworkers in the same initial period of employment.
  • The frequency rate of work-related injuries that occurred to shiftworkers is negatively related to normal working hours: Shiftworkers that worked only a few shifts per week had considerably higher frequency rates of work-related injury compared to shiftworkers (and non-shiftworkers) whose normal working hours were between 35 and 40 hours per week.
  • Shiftworkers who worked less than 30 hours per week were typically young (less than 25 years old) and large proportions worked in Elementary clerical, sales and service worker, Intermediate clerical, sales and service and Labourer and related worker occupations.
  • High incidence rates of injury were not due to lack of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) training. More shiftworkers received OHS training than not, and a greater proportion of shiftworkers received OHS training than non-shiftworkers.