Business silos extend to, and are supported by, the soft professions

Most managers complain about “silos” even though they often operate comfortably in one.  Having an organisational structure that operates without narrow parameters of professional turf is very difficult and sustainable change takes time.  Similarly many professions operate in silos and the safety profession is a good example.  Rarely does it “play well with others”.  A recent workplace relations survey report from the Australian law firm, Madgwicks, illustrates the silo of the professions and its impediment to change.

Most law firms that have occupational health and safety professionals sit the unit with the Workplace Relations portfolio, for good reasons mostly.  Workplace Relations, or Industrial Relations in other jurisdictions, deals with the pay and conditions of workers and the negotiation of these issues with employers and business owners.  “Pay” is mostly wages and the remuneration received for effort but “conditions’ is more inclusive with OHS a major, but often underplayed, component.

Madgwicks asked two significant questions:

“Currently which workplace relations issues are the most challenging for your business?” and

“Which workplace relations issues do you believe will be the most significant for your business?”

None of the responses (pictured below) to these questions included any occupational health and safety issues.  There was no stress.  Nothing on workloads or working hours.  Nothing on workplace bullying.

Continue reading “Business silos extend to, and are supported by, the soft professions”

Bullying Code of Practice illustrates the huge challenges of OHS in Australia

Australia has released a draft Code of Practice on “preventing and responding to workplace bullying“.  As it is the latest publication on this issue by an OHS authority, it deserves some analysis.

The draft code has applied the established definition of workplace bullying as:

“repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety.”

It covers direct and indirect bullying and includes the new communications technologies through which stalking and cyberbullying can occur.

Unintentional bullying

Curiously the draft Code also includes “unintentional bullying”:

“Bullying can also be unintentional, where actions which, although not intended to humiliate, offend, intimidate or distress, cause and should reasonably have been expected to cause that effect.  Sometimes people do not realise that their behaviour can be harmful to others.  In some situations, behaviours may unintentionally cause distress and be perceived as bullying.”

This section has generated some discussion already.  Professional colleagues today explained to me how inappropriate acts may be construed by the recipient as bullying even through the proponent does not see the actions as such.  The quote above importantly emphasises the role of perception, a concept that is not traditionally associated with OHS, where facts, figures and engineering solutions are more comfortable.  Perceived bullying, injustices and abuse have been more often dealt with through human resources networks.  It is difficult to see any way of investigating workplace bullying without substantial support from an HR professional.  It is similarly difficult to see any way of preventing bullying without access to this resource. Continue reading “Bullying Code of Practice illustrates the huge challenges of OHS in Australia”

Religious wisdom on workplace safety

It is rare to visit the Bible when thinking about occupational health and safety but this week Australia’s Uniting Church, its Creative Ministries Network and the United Voices trade union released a report on the working condition of shopping centre cleaners.  In the report “Cutting Corners” there are many references to the Bible’s and the Church’s thoughts and actions on labour issues.

For instance, according to the report:

“…God is ‘against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan’ (Malachi 3:5).”


“…the Prophet Muhammad underlined the importance of the just wage by saying, ‘give the employee his wages before his sweat has had time to dry’.”

The Uniting Church has strong arguments to justify its involvement in social equity matters.

“Cutting Corners” was a broad report based on hundreds of telephone interviews with cleaners.  The major safety-related findings of the survey were:

“The key violations borne by shopping centre cleaners constitute a litany of injustices, from low rates of pay, pay that is not commensurate with their Continue reading “Religious wisdom on workplace safety”

Free October 2001 safetyATWORK magazine

SafetyAtWorkBlog evolved out of an online publication, safetyATWORK.  In 2001, safetyATWORK published a special edition of the magazine focussing on the OHS issues related to the collapse of the World Trade Centre (WTC) in September 2011.  That special edition is now available as a free download through the cover image on the right.

The magazine contains:

  • an article by Lee Clarke on planning for the worst-case scenarios;
  • an interview with Peter Sandman,
  • an article by me, Kevin Jones,

and other articles concerning

Is the trickling down of safety information sufficient?

A recent article in the Journal of Health Safety Research & Practice (JHSRP) quoted the findings of some research into construction and safe design by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).  One of the NIOSH recommendations listed was that “… the trickle-down concept is appealing.”  The “trickle-down concept” may be appealing in many areas of policy, practice and the advocacy of leadership but its effectiveness is questionable.

It has become a mantra of some areas of the safety professional that safety can only be improved when introduced from the top.  A whole sector of safety leadership sellers has been created on this belief and an important element of the salesmanship is that good safety practices will trickle-down.  This sounds logical but it is necessary to analyse this concept, a concept that originated well outside of safety management.

Trickle-down has been described as a marketing concept, which seems based, partly, on envy.  Wikipedia says that, when applied to fashion,

“…this theory states that when the lowest social class, or simply a perceived lower social class, adopts the fashion, it is no longer desirable to the leaders in the highest social class.”

If this can be applied to safety leadership, it may be that by the time the leadership values reach the shopfloor workers, the leadership advocates, the executives, may be no longer interested.  The transience of trickle-down should be considered when leadership is applied.  How can safety change be sustained through leadership?  What can keep leadership fresh and relevant? Continue reading “Is the trickling down of safety information sufficient?”

Academic clarifies objections to sex work

Caroline Norma of RMIT University responded to some questions about sex work and brothel safety put to her by SafetyAtWorkBlog in response to her recently published opinion piece.  This article is a companion piece to an earlier SafetyAtWorkBlog article on sex work and safety.

SAWB: What action do you recommend that brothel owners should take, beyond the current legislative and licensing requirements, to ensure that only safe sex occurs on their premises?

CN: “Brothel owners are currently commissioning violence against women by operating prostitution businesses.  Prostitution is inherently a practice of violence against women, and can’t be made ‘safe’ for women by any action by pimps.  In fact, brothel owners have a financial conflict of interest with regards to ensuring the safety of women in their venues, because clients will pay more for unprotected sex acts, violent sex, body punishing sex acts like anal penetration, sex with younger women, etc.” Continue reading “Academic clarifies objections to sex work”

Managers being closer

The following are some of the processes supposedly used in workplaces to control/eliminate hazards:   hazard identification, risk assessment and risk management.  These should address the implicit questions of: ‘What?’, ‘How bad?’ and ‘What to do?’

The language then turns to words and concepts like ‘OHS culture’, ‘behaviour-based safety’… and all within some over-arching package referred to as an ‘OHS management system’.  These are shown in the diagram below.

But that’s one representation, there are many others.  Now ask some simple questions:  Given that some 80% of workers work in small to medium workplaces, just how much interest will there be from managers in these approaches?

The single most obvious change I’ve seen in OHS in the last 20 years has been the dramatic increase in the amount and volume of talking about it.  It’s clearly not the only change, but the most wide-spread and obvious one. Continue reading “Managers being closer”

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