Safety professionals should be the “child in the crowd”

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One of Hans Christian Anderson’s most popular tales is The Emperor’s New Clothes.  For those unfamiliar with the story an English translation is available.

But in summary, an emperor hires two swindlers to make him the finest clothes.  The swindlers pretend to create a gown from the best material and tell their client that it happens to be invisible to fools.  The emperor parades through the town in his new outfit an a young child yells out that the emperor is, in fact, naked.  The townsfolk see through the swindle.

It is the job of OHS professionals and advisors to be the ones to point out the obvious to business or to burst the preconceptions that are hampering safety improvements.  Interestingly, there are no repercussions for the child in the tale and, once shown the fallacy of his beliefs, the emperor continues with the parade.

It is also worth bearing the many lessons of the Emperor’s New Clothes in relation to the purchase of personal protective equipment, project briefs, verification of qualifications and the sycophancy of colleagues.

It is helpful to think that once back at the palace, he revoked the contract with the swindling tailors but that is outside the original tale.

National OHS Law Review – First Report released

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The first report of the National OHS Law Review panel was presented to the Australian Government yesterday. The best initial assessment of the report can be found at a safety blog operated by Deacons law firm.  In that report by Michael Tooma and Alena Titterton, the following points are made:

  • there should be a general duty of care for health and safety
  • “worker” is defined more broadly as ‘person who works in a business or undertaking’
  • “the Report recommends that a defined ‘reasonably practicable’ be built into the offence in the model OHS Act which reflects the current approach taken in all jurisdictions except New South Wales and Queensland.”
  • The prosecution will bear the onus of proof beyond reasonable doubt on all elements of an offence”
  • Offences could be indictable and heard in front of a Judge and jury. 
  • Increased penalties in line with those for environmental breaches – Corporation = $3 million,  Individual = $600,000 Imprisonment – up to five years  
  • An appeals process where cases could be taken to the High Court of Australia

“Reasonably practicable” remains a concept with a floating meaning for most business owners and OHS professionals.  For a type of legislation that is intended to be readily understood by a layman, this legalese is disappointing however it is likely that clarification will come from the OHS regulators as it has already in some States.  The review panel supports this type of clarification.

Interestingly, the report says on “the primary duty of care” that it “should not include express reference to control” and that 

‘Control’ should not be included in the definition of reasonably practicable.

The panel says that “control” will be discussed in the second report as will the definition of a “workplace”.

The Deacon’s authors remind us that reports of this type are not automatically implemented by governments and that the review process has several months to run.

The report needs to be read carefully by OHS professionals as the recommendations will set the scene fro OHS law in Australia for, perhaps, decades.  Also, going beyond the list of recommendations allows readers to see which of the issues considered were contentious and which had uniform acceptance.

The trade union movement is yet to release public statements but according to one media report, Geoff Fary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions is

“disappointed that a qualified duty of care would continue to rest with the employer”.

That same report is headed “Prison time for unsafe bosses” raising the spectre of industrial manslaughter.  That does not seem to be case and may say more about the readership of The Australian or the politics of the sub-editors.  However, it will be interesting to see the responses of the employer associations over the coming days.

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Marketing to teenagers and youth

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SafetyAtWorkBlog has mentioned several campaigns recently focusing on promoting safety to young people through graphic ads in Australia and Canada, and enticing websites.  The Queensland Government launched a promotional campaign to the same demographics this week but this one focuses on excessive, or binge, drinking. drink-counts This is timely leading into the Christmas season and Summer in the Southern Hemisphere and it should be successful in its first stage of cinema advertising and social marketing.   The campaign has a similar advertising structure to the graphic OHS ads but depicting a young person undertaking an activity and suddenly switching to an unexpected consequence. A spokesperson for the Every Dr1nk Counts campaign in Queensland’s Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing told SafetyAtWorkBlog that the videos are initially shown only in cinemas on targeted movie sessions as the viewer is unable to avoid the 45 second images as easily as they can a television ad.  Also, cinema ads will be seen by the target audience in a group of their peers which will encourage discussion on the issues raised. The ads are confronting but are well made and subversive in getting one’s attention. Treasurer and Liquor Licensing minister Andrew Fraser said that

“This advertisement highlights the fatal consequences of excessive drinking in the hope that young adults will take notice and make more responsible choices for their futures.”

Minister Fraser also said

“our focus group research also revealed that many young people don’t realise that one stubby or one alco-pop is usually more than one drink. We are not asking young people to stop drinking, we are just asking them to recognise that there are worse consequences than a hangover.”

The correlation to youth marketing is clearly evident but excessive drinking and the associated culture of alcohol consumption is a problem that many workplaces are facing also.  It is common in some industries to have a worker be unfit for work after a heavy night and for alcohol and drug policies to be introduced and enforced.  There are bound to be some OHS Managers and workplaces who will see the benefit of obtaining some of the Every Dr1nk Counts resources in an workplace context.

Young Worker Safety – Part 3

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Several colleagues have pointed to a young worker safety website that was established in Canada several years ago, http://www.notworthit.ca/ .   The site, part of the WCB’s Young Worker campaign, won an award from American Association of State Compensation Insurance Funds in their annual Communications Awards in 2007.

There are remarkable similarities to The Pain Factory, even to the point of encoruaging young workers to tell their own stories.  The similarity is, perhaps, justified when considering the safety message is aimed at the same demographics, however it shows that originality is rare in occupational health and safety promotions.  Certainly the use of internet videos is a marked difference between the sites but the success of NotWorthIt should be remembered if The Pain Factory is also put forward for advertising or communications awards.

WorkSafe CEO, John Merrit is a strong advocate of his organisation’s young worker campaign.

Physical activity, mental health, alcohol consumption and productivity

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The Victorian Government’s workplace health strategy may be “coughing up blood” but health promotion continues.  Last week, Australian health insurer, Medibank Private, released some statistics and cost estimates related to physical inactivity.

According to the media release, physical inactivity costing the Australian economy $13.8 billion a year. The findings are based on research conducted in conjunction with KPMG-Econtech which builds on Medibank’s 2007 research and “captures the healthcare costs, economy wide productivity costs, and the mortality costs of individuals passing away prematurely as a result of physical inactivity.”

Craig Bosworth of Medibank Private says, 

“Most Australians are aware of the benefits of physical activity but this latest round of Medibank research has revealed some alarming effects of physical inactivity. An estimated 16,179 people die prematurely each year due to conditions and diseases attributable to physical inactivity and that is frightening. And whilst the majority of these are from the older population there is also a large number of people dying under 74 years of age due to physical inactivity, particularly in the male population.”

Bosworth goes on to say:

“Like other health risk factors, physical inactivity can have an adverse effect on organisations as well as individuals. Specifically, physical inactivity can impact on employee productivity by causing increased absenteeism and presenteeism, which impose direct economic costs on employers. The Medibank research has found that productivity loss due to physical inactivity equates to 1.8 working days per worker per year.”

Three audio statements on this research are available – physical-inactivity-telephone-grabs-edit

The SuperFriend Industry Funds Forum Mental Health Foundation has also released statistics on mental health in the workplace. The survey also found that 50 per cent of Australians admit to often feeling stressed and a quarter often feel depressed. 

John Mendoza, Chair of SuperFriend’s Mental Health Reference Group, said, “There is increasing evidence of a link between stress in the workplace and mental illness. The cost of workplace stress to Australian business is potentially crippling.” Listen – workplace-mental-health-edit

The Superfriends survey found

StreetWise
StreetWise
  • One in two Australians believe that having a few drinks is a good way to maintain or improve their mental health;
  • 80 per cent of Australians believe watching TV has a positive impact on their mental health;
  • Australians are putting their bodies ahead of their brains, with three-quarters of Australians engaged in activity to maintain or improve their physical health, while only 50 per cent are actively engaging in activity to maintain or improve their mental health.
  • Older Australians are more likely to heed the call ‘use it or lose it’. While 57 per cent of all Australians feel they take good care of their mental health, 68 per cent of those over 50 feel they are looking after themselves emotionally.
  • Australians aged 40 to 49 are the unhappiest and unhealthiest. Those in this age group are more likely to feel stressed and depressed and less likely to look after their physical and mental health.

A good starting point in planning to manage stress is the StressWise publication by WorkSafe Victoria.

For many decades, perhaps centuries, unhappiness at work was countered, to varying degrees, through the consumption of alcohol.  According to the latest Australian Unity Wellbeing Index people who drink everyday are the happiest, whereas non-drinkers have a lower sense of wellbeing.

Amanda Hagan of Australian Unity summarises some of the research findings and supports the link between physical activity and positive wellbeing. Listen – australian-unity-wellbeing-index-aap-medianet-edit