Shiftwork risks

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For fixed periods over the last two years I have been working morning or night shift for a multi-national business information company.  I know shiftwork fairly well although I have never worked rotating shifts and the longest shift worked is around nine hours.  That may well categorise me as a wimp to those oil-rig workers, firefighters, bakers and miners out there, but…..

being an OHS professional I have been very watchful of my own health when working shiftwork.  On full night shift it took my digestion weeks to break the routine of over forty years.  My weight has increased but no chronic illnesses yet.  My biggest risk comes from fatigue in the drive to and from work though I have to admit that at 2.30 in the morning in Melbourne, I could use my cruise control on the suburban streets as the traffic is so light.

I have also been more keenly aware of the studies and reports on shiftwork and the health risks associated with it.  Often these reports garner considerable media coverage and, as is the way with media, some contrary articles never get a run.  Below is a selection of links to articles that highlight increased risk or the reduction of risk in relation to shiftwork:

Epidemiological Diagnosis of Occupational Fatigue in a Fly-In–Fly-Out Operation of the Mineral Industry

Simple Schedule Changes Could Improve Shift Worker Health

U of T research finds shift work linked to organ disease

This is a selection of the most recent and show the difficulties posed to OHS professionals and managers in handling this emerging risk.

For the moment, I am taking the issue of shiftwork out of my personal concerns.  I will focus instead on the health, fitness and fatigue issues applying the logic that the hazard variable over which I have the most control is myself.

Varanus Island and Worker Safety

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The safety of workers at the Varanus Island pipeline has been questioned through emailed photos of the explosion site and the accompanying email.  The images have not been confirmed by Apache Energy.

The email, reported by The Age and perthnow, says the “big bang” had occurred because the pipe had corroded “to the thickness of a match stick”.

It was also reported to include the following comments from a worker

“We ran for our lives, really really really scary. Does not feel good to be back here so soon (5 days later) The place is quiet, no noise, nothing. Just us hitting spanners ect (sic). Not sure if I really wanna be here when it’s up and running, which will be months away, a lot of damage.”

Minimising stress hazards by managing better

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Wendy MacDonald, from Latrobe University’s Centre for Ergonomics and Human Factors, discussed the possible breach of OHS legislation by the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s dismissal of the risk of working excessive hours by public servants, recently on ABC radio.

The podcast can be accessed HERE

By identifying the links between excessive working hours and the increase in cardiovascular problems due to stress, the report echoes other posts in safetyatworkblog but also adds a new dimension to the Victorian government’s WorkHealth strategy.  If the link of excessive working hours to stress-related conditions is proven, and I think the evidence is already there, then there is an obligation under OHS law to control the hazard at the source, to eliminate the hazard. 

I wait to see the WorkHealth publications that advise managers to reduce workload to “healthy” levels, to ensure that adequate leave is taken to ensure people are “fit for work” and that they cap working hours to a safe level.

The need for broad and open consultation on OHS law

Bill Calcutt makes some excellent points about the consultative strategy used by the Australian government in its recent 2020 summit.  The summit showed that this government had differentiated itself from the previous conservative one through “transparent evidence-based decision making” and a wide consultative base, even though the guests were selected. Sadly, I am not sure…

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The Crucial OHS Review Role of John Della Bosca

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The New South Wales Industrial Relations Minister, John Della Bosca is a linchpin in the move for harmonisation of OHS law in Australia.

All attention is on New South Wales as it is said to have OHS laws that are the most onerous on employers.  Employer groups are calling for a greater preventative focus and more cooperation on improving workplace safety, specifically those areas of conflict that employer groups have in New South Wales.

Della Bosca supports the New South Wales OHS regime, at least lately he does, in reaction to the employer groups wanting, according to the Minister, a “version of harmonisation…aimed at reducing safety standards and eliminating the strong NSW laws.”

The NSW Minerals Council, reported in the Australian Financial Review on 13 June 2008 (page 19 sorry, there is no online reference), has concerns over the New South Wales operation of duty of care, double jeopardy, and appeal rights. 

The wobbly element in the NSW argy-bargy is the political future of John Della Bosca.  He has been stood down from his portfolio due to events relating to an alleged altercation in a restaurant that involves his wife, Belinda Neal, who is a member of the Federal Parliament. (Any internet search on “Della Bosca” is sure to turn up articles on this as the story has been running for almost two weeks).  Della Bosca is one of the strongest performers in New South Wales politics and has held the IR portfolio for a long time.  Political analysts are saying he will weather the storm but that his wife has little parliamentary future. 

In the mean time, Della Bosca’s strong position on OHS is absent in the political discussion and this will have ramifications in the harmonisation process.  The Treasurer, Michael Costa, the only other strong NSW performer, could take on the role but the longer Della Bosca’s absent, the more ground the government and its strong trade union support loses to the employers.

In a roundabout fashion, this also puts pressure on the recently-appointed Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Jeff Lawrence.  Some unions are less than impressed with his political performance.  In Della Bosca’s absence, Lawrence needs to step up his lobbying and maybe continue it even when the Minister returns.