A top 5 health and safety blog

Proud to be one of ThunderMaps’ “Top 5 health and safety blogs”.

“Direct, holistic, and genuine is what you can expect to find in Kevin Johns (sic) – an award-winning Australian H&S advocate’s blogpost. Kevin has successfully tackled H&S at both macro and micro level. From convincingly arguing workplace safety as a critical part of bigger business environment’s picture and that it “cannot exist outside social, economic and political contexts”, to educating business about specific issues of H&S such as suicide prevention, he has successfully done them all.”

Top 5 health and safety blogs you should follow

Criticism of “safety differently” rebuffed

UCATT (Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians) has been a regular critic of the construction company Laing O’Rourke over safety issues.  Recently UCATT took aim at the “safety differently” approach to occupational health and safety (OHS) of which the Laing O’Rourke’s HSE Director European Hub, John Green, has been a leading advocate.  UCATT has…

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Knowledge remains power, even in the age of robots

A recent safety convention in Australia had as its theme “Disruption”, a fashionable term that can mean many things to many people.  Perhaps why it is a marketer’s dream word.  The initial session of the convention was unnerving because speakers were saying that the current jobs and activities of safety professionals will be undertaken by artificial intelligence in a decade.  This change is not a coordinated strategy but bits and pieces of this change/threat keep appearing, the latest was in The Guardian on 25 September 2016 in an article called “You’d better listen up“.

That article, ostensibly about headphones included this workplace application:

“Bragi has recently announced a partnership with IBM where it hopes to deliver the massive processing power and cognitive capacity of the Watson AI system via its devices. At the moment, it is exploring how these capabilities could be employed in the workplace. For example, maintenance workers could describe an issue, Watson recognises the problem and talks them through the solution – without their having to refer to manuals or computers, keeping their hands free for the repair. Similarly, doctors could get help with recognising rare conditions and their conversation with a patient would be recorded and saved to the cloud for their records.”

Futuristic Engineer in yellow hardhat holding tablet

The safety benefits of this contraption is obvious – a manual on call  and responsive to vocalised questions.  As anyone with a Glaswegian accent trying to set up voicemail in Australia will know, vocal recognition still has a long way to go unless the world is able to be un-Babelled and speak with one accent. (Please not Australian, as artificial intelligences (AI) would struggle with the constant answering of “Yeah – Nah”)  Voice recognition software has needed long hours of training to be functioning at a basic level.

Thankfully that tech challenge can be left to the technologists.  What is more important, and could provide safety professionals with a future, is the back-end of the application of Watson.  Any AI needs knowledge so that the advice it provides to the user/listener/engager is accurate and relevant to the situation, literally, at hand.  AIs will not create their own knowledge, at least in the short term, and so will rely on safety professionals and others to provide the knowledge to the software.

Safety professionals are unlikely to provide knowledge of a specific process but will likely be called on to add value to the mechanical work activity or discussion.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) is likely to be one of the assessment criteria used by the AI.  For instance, in the response to the work activity quoted above the maintenance worker will want to know how to do something.  The OHS contribution to the AI’s response would be to ensure that the task is undertaken safely, in a safe environment or with the suitable protective equipment or the correct tool.

The convention was shown video of an AI that verified that workers were dressed appropriately for the work conditions before allowing access to site.  This would replace those OHS consultants who like to be safety police but the situation described in the video was understandable.  There are rules for specific PPE prior to entering a workplace with hazards that could be reduced by wearing the PPE.  No PPE, no site access.  The argument in favour of AI applications would be that the safety professional could attend to more important activities.  The sad reality is that some safety professionals rely on this type of activity to give their jobs worth.

The reality of AI in OHS cannot be avoided.  Those who advocate for disruption argue that disruption provides opportunities for the creative, the agile and the clear thinkers but it is also the case that many safety professionals will be left behind like Neanderthals to Hom (OHS) Sapiens.

Kevin Jones

NSW Gov’t announces first quad bike safety rebate program

On 10 June 2016, the New South Wales Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello announced a $A2 million rebate program to improve safety associated with the use of quad bikes on farms.  According the media release (curiously released late on the eve of a national long weekend):

“The NSW Government will be offering rebates of up to $500 towards the purchase of compliant helmets, Operator Protective Devices, the purchase of a safer vehicle, such as a side-by-side vehicle, and undertaking training courses tailored to farmers.”

The rebate package seems to tick all the safety boxes and should make a difference. Continue reading “NSW Gov’t announces first quad bike safety rebate program”

Ergonomics conference provides good, free knowledge

The 19thTriennial Congress of the International Ergonomics Association (IEA 2015) is currently running in Melbourne Australia with 900 delegates, of which 600 are from outside Australia.  It offers a fascinating (online) library of ergonomic and occupational health and safety (OHS) research. Below is a sample of the research on offer picked, largely, at random.

It seems unnecessary to state that ergonomics is an essential part of the knowledge base of safety and production but ergonomics still seems to be a “dark art” to many.  This is acknowledged by many in the sector and is summarised well by Ruurd N. Pikaar

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Mixed messages on OHS and productivity

There is a clear link between the modern take on occupational health and safety (which includes psychosocial health) and productivity. However, there are seriously mixed messages coming from the Productivity Commission (PC) in its current inquiry into Australia’s Workplace Relations Framework.

In Senate Estimates on 3 June 2014 (draft Hansard), the Chair of the Productivity Commission, Peter Harris, and Assistant Commissioner, Ralph Lattimore, briefly discussed OHS.  Harris acknowledged that some of the submissions to the current inquiry discussed OHS matters (page 65) but Lattimore stated:

“….we did say that we would quarantine the inquiry away from workforce health and safety issues unless they were directly related to, say, enterprise bargaining or some feature of the relationship between employers and employees. We were aware of the large amount of regulation in that area, and we were not planning to revisit that.”

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Important OHS statements in Australia’s Parliament

On the eve of its 2015 Budget, the Australian Parliament was debating an increase in enforcement powers of the Fair Work Building and Construction inspectorate and the resurrection of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).  Occupational health and safety (OHS) is rarely mentioned in these debates but not so on 11 May 2015.  Excerpts from yesterday’s safety-related comments are worth noting, particularly as no mainstream media has done so or is likely to..

Senator Cory Bernardi (Liberal Party) attacked a recent video from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) saying that

“For too long the unions have falsely cried safety as a lazy defence for their unlawful and unethical industrial conduct. They have cried wolf so often that they can no longer be believed.”

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