Is technology the solution to everything?

Free Access

Today, I received a media statement by the Acting Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Mark V. Rosenker.  He said that new technologies have the potential to substantially reduce rail incidents.  Rosenker is quoted as saying

“Just think how far computer and GPS technology has developed in the past 10 years.”

He urged the delegates at the International Railroad Safety Conference in Denver, Colorado on 6 October 2008 to

“… be forward thinking.  Work closely with the highway industry to develop useful, intelligent transportation safety systems that can prevent accidents at grade crossings.” 

In mid-September 2008, the a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train collided in Chatsworth, California, killing 25 people.  The engineer of the Metrolink train was using new technology – he was texting on his mobile phone instead of paying attention.

I can’t see how the new technologies that Mark Rosenker discusses:

electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking, acoustic bearing detectors, wheel impact detectors, … truck performance detectors [and] intelligent transportation systems (ITS)…”

would have stopped the deaths of 25 people in Chatsworth?

I realise that the NTSB investigation into the Chatsworth collision has a way to go but I will be listening for some non-technological control measures to be proposed as well.  The NTSB is going to need to keep up its “qualification, training and oversight of employees” that it has implemented in the last decade or so becasue clearly in the case of the Metrolink engineer, Robert Sanchez, these techniques failed.

Inadequate resources generate workplace stress

Free Access

Survey findings released on 9 October 2008 by recruitment company Talent2 indicate that Australian employees are feeling stressed at work as a result of the effects of redundancies.

John  Banks of Talent2 said 

“… 71.7% say they currently do the job of more than one person, and this makes for a very stressful and unproductive workplace.”

The press release for the study stated

“More than half of Australian employees believe they are operating under extremely low staffing levels and 82.1% say they are expected to do far more work today than they were 5 years ago, according to a survey of 2,703 people.”

Almost 60% of respondents in Western Australia said that their workplaces are understaffed.  Between 48% and 58% of respondents in other Australian States agreed.

Banks said that companies can create a “false bottom line” by minimising staff numbers.  He said 

“Across the board, the sales/marketing sector has been most affected with 74.7% of employees in that industry asked to do additional work. The manufacturing sector is also guilty of asking staff to cover the work of more than one person with 74.2% of those surveyed dobbing in their bosses, and the legal sector is not too far behind at 70.4%.” 

It is acknowledged that the volume of claims for compensation for workplace stress increases during periods of corporate economic hardship and redundancies.

A terrific short article on the costs and impacts of workplace stress in Australia can be found in a newsletter by the law firm, Landers & Rogers.

It is also useful to note that the Talent2 survey results were released in the same week that the ILO has been promoting decent work, Australia is running Mental Health Week and the United Nations has its World Mental Health Day.

Corporate accountability – Lessons from Lehmans

Free Access

Yesterday,the CEO of Lehman Brothers, Richard Fuld Jr, faced an inquisition at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  It was uncomfortable to watch but fascinating.

Video of the hearings shows the questions focused on Fuld’s accumulation of wealth in the good times and the retention of wealth in the bad times. There are parallels with the non-financial accountability of corporate leaders on matters such as workplace safety and corporate social responsibility.

The chair of the committee, Henry Waxman, spoke of company documents that 

“portray a company in which there was no accountability for failure”.

Waxman said he was troubled by the attitude of Fuld where Fuld would not acknowledge any wrongdoing. Fuld did accept responsibility for the failure of the company but would not accept that his behaviour or the behaviour of the company he lead, contributed to the failure.  In other words, Fuld would not accept that his company had a culture that may have contributed to the bankruptcy.

There will be more of this type of inquiry and in many countries other than the United States.  OHS managers should not sit back and watch the chief financial officer squirm with discomfit and anxiety for the way that the financiers handle this crisis, as there are important lessons about their own accountability, responsibility and disaster planning.

Is consultation really a “two-way exchange”?

Free Access

Talking about safety in the workplace is, by far, the best way to introduce and foster a healthy OHS environment.  OHS regulators in Australia have been pushing this for sometime.

A colleague of mine has pointed out an apparent anomaly in relation to consultation posted by WorkSafe Victoria on their website earlier this week.  In relation to Provisional Improvement Notices, WorkSafe says

“Consultation can still be said to have occurred even if:

* the duty holder does not respond to the HSR [Health and Safety Representative] in a reasonable time or at all.  In this case, the HSR can take the failure to respond into account before deciding to issue the PIN.  There does not have to be a two-way exchange – only the opportunity for this to occur;”

This sounds odd to me and I hope that one of the SafetyAtWorkBlog readers may be able to explain.

My colleague posed this question on the issue of consultation:

“If the duty holder generated an OHS issue and the HSR did not respond, would there still only need to be an ‘opportunity for this to occur’?”

It seems a far question when workplace consultation is supposed to be a “two-way exchange”.

Latest Australian farm injury statistics

Free Access

The Victorian Injury Surveillance Unithas released its latest quarterly statistical report, HAZARD.  Number 68 provides a fascinating picture of the farm safety in Victoria, Australia.  I strongly recommend that you get on the mailing list so that you can understand their statistical sources and limitations, as these are important and there is not enough time to discuss them at SafetyAtWorkBlog.HAZARD - Edition 68

Farm injury statistics for the period 2004-06 found 41 unintentional farm injury deaths, 1,765 hospital admissions and 7,259 presentations to hospital emergency departments.  Years ago I remember (vaguely) a ratio of 17 injuries to every farm death.  On my calculations (and remember I am an Arts graduate) the new statistics show a ratio of 43 hospital admissions for every fatality or 177 injuries (ED presentation for every fatality.

The detailed breakdown of agency of injury, age of injured person etc. makes this a fantastic resource for those working in farm safety.

One of the benefits of this type of research is that it allows us to determine the success of safety interventions, usually coordinated by government agencies.  (One could argue that this is one reason for the paucity of research on intervention activities) In the VISU report’s discussion it said that

“No studies have reported that farmers’ or farm workers’ attendance at farm safety courses has reduced injury risk on their farms…. [and]… the authors suggest that safety training is better applied by farmers and farm workers if it is delivered in the context of farm skills-based training rather than stand-alone farm safety sessions.”

This confirms the adage that one can know how to do something safely but one has to see it being done, to be convinced it is the right way.

Part of the report’s conclusion is that

“…. the evidence suggests that education alone is insufficient to affect the adoption of safe behaviours and technologies.”

I strongly recommend you download the report and read it carefully.  There may be only a small amount of evidence and research in this sector but what there is VISU has identified and analysed.