Mobile Phones and Driving

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Work tools, such as the company car and the mobile phone, can be fun and functional but when used at the same time, the combination is deadly. 

According to media reports a study by the Federal Department of Transport survey of 1500 drivers has shown that 

[in Victoria] about 61 per cent said they had used a mobile while driving, up from 47 per cent in 2005…. More than one-quarter admitted reading a text message while driving, while 14 per cent said they had sent one.
Yet 42 per cent of drivers nationally supported any law banning the use of hands-free mobiles while driving.
Victoria Police caught more than 1800 drivers for mobile phone offences during the holiday period.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has mentioned previously that road safety research rarely logs whether a vehicle is being used for work purposes.  The full survey report is  not yet available and, to a large extent, the media reports have focused on activities related to the Australian h0liday season – alcohol use as well as texting.  

When it is available, SafetyAtWorkBlog will report on any data that could indicate the use of work vehicles as it is inaccurate to simply use road safety data as an overlay of occupational activities.

The use of company vehicles is a complicated area due to the status of the vehicles changing depending on whether the vehicle is a “pool vehicle” or whether the vehicle is able to be used for private purposes.  The one vehicle could be both a work vehicle and private vehicle at different times of the day.  This is the challenge for OHS professionals – to deal with a workplace and an employee who is neither of these 100% of the time.  Unless this status is clarified, any potential policy on mobile phone use whilst driving remains problematic.  Yet the hazard remains.

safe_driving-coverWorkSafe Victoria released a safe driving guide in November 2008 that acknowledges the hazard but clearly leaves it up to the employer to determine the appropriate policy:

The TAC  (Transport Accident Commission) and WorkSafe recommend that hands free calls be kept to a minimum and reserved for emergency type calls.
Handheld mobile phone use is illegal and should not be considered under any circumstances while driving.  Texting or reading texts or caller ID should not be done at any time whilst driving.

Without definitive advice from regulatory bodies but with mounting evidence of the heightening risk of injury and property damage, it will be a brave company that bans the use of mobile phones whilst driving (the ideal OHS control measure).  However, this is one of the risks faced when evidence of hazards is called for but we don’t like the evidence.

HSE Podcast – December 2008

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England’s Health and Safety Executive monthly podcasts are an interesting variation on the obligation of OHS regulators to communicate with its clients.  These podcasts follow the format of a corporate newsletter

  • Introduction
  • News
  • Special interview/s
  • Further information

Most of the news will be familiar to those who regularly visit the HSE website or subscribe to one of their RRS feeds but the podcast is a good summary of the regulator’s activity.

The feature interview/article is a good mix of talking with regular business operators, visitors to the HSE exhibition stand at Aintree racecourse, and promotion of HSE links.

The secondary article focusses on the use of vehicles at work, such as delivery vans.  The article supports a vehicle-at-work website but, as has happened in some of the Australian States, safety in this sector has often not been seen as an OHS obligation, or at least a difficult one to implement, and has been dominated by transport and road safety legislation. Some of this advice is a diversification of the forklift and transport yard safety practices to a broader audience and application.

As a teaser and a signpost to online resources in the HSE website, the podcast works well.  For those outside of the UK there is probably more to learn from the podcast construction and its existence, than the information content.  

Many safety professionals are so internet-savvy in 2009 that their state-of-knowledge on OHS (or at least the information in their PC that they have yet to get around to) has rarely been higher.

The podcast should be heard for lots of reasons.  A major one for me in Australia was to hear the accents of people in my hometown.  Some listeners who are unfamiliar with scouse may want to read parts of the transcript.

Kevin Jones

OHS Podcast with Andrew Douglas

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One of the services that Workplace Safety Services (the company behind SafetyAtWorkBlog) provides to its clients are podcasts.

The Safety Institute of Australia had a podcast produced principally to promote its Safety In Action Conference, which is in Melbourne Australia on 31 March to 2 April 2009, that includes an interview with Andrew Douglas.  Andrew is speaking at the SIA09 conference and is a director of Douglas Workplace and Litigation Lawyers.

In the podcast he discusses making OHS a core business function, the OHS role in small business and the not-for-profit sector, and how important it was for him personally and professionally to be involved with the Safety In Action conference.

The podcast is a short promotional one but you may find Andrew’s comments of interest and use.

Managing Safety After A Vacation

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On 4 January 2009, the Sunday Age contained a curious article based around some quotes from Eric Windholz, acting executive director of WorkSafe Victoria. The article reports Eric as saying that when workers return to work after a holiday break they can be careless. 

“People come back, they’ve taken their mind off the job, they’ve had a well-earned holiday and sometimes it takes them a little while to do the basics of making sure they’re working safe…..Recommissioning their equipment, starting plant, starting at construction sites again, people may not have their minds on the job and they get hurt.”

WorkSafe has advised SafetyAtWorkBlog (and provided the original media statement) that

“JANUARY is one of the most dangerous months with 3.8 deaths/year over the past decade.  There were three January deaths last year and 5 in 2007.”

However, this general data does not necessarily indicate injuries by those returning to work after a vacation and is likely to include seasonal activities in the high-risk Summer industries, such as farming.

Employer Obligations

The Sunday Age article makes no mention of the obligations that are also placed on the employer in a “restart” situation.  Often workplaces in January in Australia operate on a skeleton staffing level and the lack of adequate resources, or unreasonable expectations, can lead to an unnecessary risk of increased injury.  OHS systems must be able to operate throughout all levels of management and through the annual chronology of production.

A suitable management system should operate regardless of the number of staff working in that organisation.  After all, OHS legislation refers to a “system of work” not “the way we work when the boss is away” or “the way we work when away from the main office”.

“Blaming The Worker”

The omission of employer obligations in the article skews it dangerously to “blaming the worker” – an issue that recently came up in relation to WorkSafe’s young worker campaign but extends back, at least, to the 1980’s and 1990’s.  The issue is best illustrated in the chapter “The myth of the careless worker” in John Mathews’ book (now understood to be out-of-print) HEALTH AND SAFETY AT WORK (Pluto Press).

More recent information on this issue, and the rebadging of it as Behavioural-based Safety, can be found at the Victorian Trades Hall site where a BBS kit has been drafted based on a Trades Hall seminar that SafetyAtWorkBlog attended in 2005.

book-cover012                                  book-cover013

The media statement provided to SafetyAtWorkBlog shows that WorkSafe did not specify workers or employers in its cautionary statement for those restarting their work and businesses after the Summer break.  It is, however, very interesting that The Sunday Age chose to focus on the obligations of workers, showing just how pervasive the concept of “blaming the worker” really is.

For the record WorkSafe makes the following suggestions, amongst others: 

  • Most people killed or hurt are doing routine tasks. 
  • OHS is a shared responsibility, BUT directors whether of large or small companies have clear responsibilities because they set the agenda – you might refer to the [WorkSafe] campaign where people were asked to do silly things by supervisors. 
  • Many people return to work next week – It’s easy to get swamped when you first go back – take some time before it gets too busy to identify known or potential hazards and fix them! 
  • Conduct regular reviews – get everyone involved – from the board room/main office to the newest person.

 


Mental support research

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In SafetyAtWorkBlog in 2008 there have been several posts concerning suicide.  There is a growing research base on the matter and The Lancet adds to this through an article published in December 2008.

Researchers have found that the type of mental health services provided to the community can affect the rate of suicide.  This is important research even though SafetyAtWorkBlog regularly questions the applicability of research undertaken in Scandinavian countries to the rest of the world.  Bearing the cultural differences in mind, the research will stir debate and, hopefully, localised research along the same lines.

Below is the text of the press release about the research:

WELL-DEVELOPED COMMUNITY MENTAL-HEALTH SERVICES ARE ASSOCIATED WITH LOWER SUICIDE RATES

Well-developed community mental-health services are associated with lower suicide rates than are services oriented towards inpatient treatment provision in hospitals. Thus population mental health can be improved by the use of multi-faceted, community-based, specialised mental-health services. These are the conclusions of authors of an Article published Online first and in an upcoming edition of The Lancet, written by Dr Sami Pirkola, Department of Psychiatry, Helsinki University, Finland, and colleagues.

Worldwide, the organisation of mental-health services varies considerably, only partly because of available resources. In most developed countries, mental-health services have been transformed from hospital-centred to integrated community-based services. However, there is no decisive evidence either way to support or challenge this change.

The authors did a nationwide comprehensive survey of Finnish adult mental-health service units between September 2004 and March 2005. From health-care or social-care officers of 428 regions, information was obtained about adult mental-health services, and for each of the regions the authors measured age-adjusted and sex-adjusted suicide risk, pooled between 2000 and 2004 – and then adjusted for socioeconomic factors.

They found that, in Finland, the widest variety of outpatient services and the highest outpatient to inpatient service ratio were associated with a significantly reduced risk of death by suicide compared to the national average. Emergency services operating 24 hours were associated with a risk reduction of 16%. After adjustment for socioeconomic factors, the prominence of outpatient mental-health services was still associated with a generally lower suicide rate.

The authors conclude: “We have shown that different types of mental-health services are associated with variation in population mental health, even when adjusting for local socioeconomic and demographic factors. We propose that the provision of multifaceted community-based services is important to develop modern, effective mental-health services.”

In an accompanying Comment, Dr Keith Hawton and Dr Kate Saunders, University of Oxford Department of Psychiatry, UK, say: “The message to take from these findings must be that while well thought out and carefully planned new developments that increase access to secondary care services for mental-health patients are to be encouraged, measured progress towards flexible community care, not rapid ongoing change, should be the order of the day.”