Inadequate resources generate workplace stress

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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

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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”?

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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

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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.

New Work Safety Ads from Australia

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Twenty years ago, I was at a FutureSafe conference in Sydney, Australia, where Eileen McMahon of WorkSafe Victoria showed a series of graphic ads.  The audience were impressed and roundly supported the use of such ads in their own States.

At the time confronting ads were de rigueur as road safety campaigns had been using the same technique for a while.  Ads from both government authorities won critical acclaim and many awards.

Confronting workplace safety ads recently ran on Canadian television to a mixed receptionWorkSafe Victoria has clearly adapted these ads and their concepts to the Australian circumstance in its campaign that was launched on Australian television on 5 October 2008.

 

WorkSafe Young Workers Campaign
WorkSafe Young Workers Campaign

The Australian ads have emphasised the  lack of information and induction provided to young workers.  Rather than having the incident victim talk to the camera, WorkSafe emphasises the confused thought processes of a young person in a bakery being unsure of how to operate a machine safely, a young man experiments with a nailgun, and a young person scalded in a commercial kitchen.

In The Sunday Age, WorkSafe CEO, John Merritt, said that the graphic content was to gain the attention of young workers:

“It’s confronting, it’s not pleasant, but young workers have challenged us to confront them with the reality of what happens…”

“The guts of this campaign is to say to young workers: for goodness sake, if you’re not sure about something, speak up.”

“”It was clear from the research that nothing else would have impact.”

Media reports make no acknowledgement of the Canadian campaign which seems a little odd given the similarities of the kitchen-based ad, in particular.

The challenge of this type of ad is to run it for just long enough to make an impact but not so long that viewers get “graphic fatigue” – particularly important for appealing to young workers.  This is also a lesson that should have been learnt from the original WorkSafe ads a couple of decades ago.  The combination of both a workplace safety campaign and road safety campaign using the same techniques limited the effectiveness of both.

There is no doubt about the validity of the safety risks in WorkSafe’s target market but it is vital that these ads be balanced with the more gentle and parent-friendly “homecoming” ads and the workplace inspector ads aimed at business operators.  All three should be broadcast over the same period in order to provide the broadest context and the one that reflects the reality.

 

WorkSafe Young Workers Campaign
WorkSafe Young Workers Campaign

Clearly, the WorkSafe ad campaign is intended to maximise the retirn on the advertising budget by generating media debate.  This was vrtually acknowedlged by John Merritt when he said

“There will undoubtedly be a conversation and a debate about that message.”

A danger with this tactic is that the ads become the story rather than people discussing the safety of young workers.  Let’s watch who supports the ads and who criticises.