One is never too young to learn about safety but we may be too old to change

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Recently a colleague of mine expressed regret that occupational health and safety in Australia is no longer occupational. Occupational health and safety (OHS) established its parameters in its title but now most of Australia is bound to Work Health and Safety laws. Work is more than a workplace and so the discipline, the OHS profession, became more complex. Some would say that it has always been complex and that many OHS professionals failed to see the bigger picture, the broad social context of workplace health and safety.

Children 6582I was reminded of my colleague’s regrets when someone on a construction site recently asked for my opinion on some pictures of her son, at a childcare centre, hitting some nails into a block of wood. The boy (pictured right, at home) was wearing safety glasses, albeit a little large; the “work area” was separated from the rest of the children and the boy was supervised at all times by a child care worker. I was told that some of the parents had expressed concern that such an activity should not be happening in a childcare centre due to the potential risk to other children.

Continue reading “One is never too young to learn about safety but we may be too old to change”

Working longer means staying healthy longer

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It is rare for anything of great relevance to occupational health and safety to come from the annual budget statement of the Australian government.  There is nothing directly relevant from the statement issued earlier this week except for the lifting of the retirement age to 67 in 2023.

Compulsory retirement age does not mean that people stop working.  If that was the case, farming and the Courts would be very different organisations.  The retirement age has more to do with financial independence or the pension eligibility than anything else but the government’s decision has focused the media and commentators on the fact that people will be working beyond traditional retirement age.

The announcement this week also supported the reality that has been increasing for many people for over a year now that the level of retirement income has plummeted because of the global economic recession.  People have a growing financial need to work, not simply a desire.

This will change the way that worker health will be managed by companies and by the individual.  Watch for even more interest in “the best companies to work for” campaigns.  In fact it should not be long before someone starts marketing on the theme of “is your health up to working into your seventies?”

This morning a package of interesting statistics were presented to a breakfast seminar held by Douglas Workplace & Litigation Lawyers.  One of the regular speakers, Ira Galushkin, provided the following Australian statistics

  • High risk employees (5+ Risks) are at work but not productive 32.7% of the time compared to low risk employees (0-2 Risks) who are not productive 14.5% of the time.
  • The productivity difference between health and unhealthy employees is therefore 18.2% or 45 days per annum.
  • High risk employees average 5.1 hours/month absence versus 2.4 hours/month for low risk employees.  This amounts to 32.4 hours (over 4 days) days per annum.
  • Healthy employees average 1-2 sick days per annum versus 18 days for those in the lowest health and wellbeing category.
  • The unhealthiest employees are productive for only about 49 hours out of each month compared to around 140 hours/month for the most healthy.
  • Poor health can account for an average 5% loss in productivity across the entire Australian workforce with the unhealthiest group reporting a 13% drop in productivity. About half [of] this is related to chronic conditions such as headaches, hay fever and neck/back pain,whilst half can be accounted for by lifestyle factors such as inactivity, smoking, obesity etc

All of this information shows the importance of workers maintaining their own fitness in order to live longer, but also to be able to present a case, if necessary, about their own productivity levels and how they have been saving their employer big dollars.

If we need to be able to work till older than previously, we will want to stay in a job we enjoy and that values us.  Some longterm health planning may be required by all of us.

Kevin Jones

Sex trafficking and brothels

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Every employee has the right to a safe and healthy work environment.  It was this statement and belief that pushed me to providing OHS advice to the legal brothel industry in Victoria.  The industry is frowned upon by most but used by many, and yet the OHS support for the industry is far less than that provided for many other legal businesses.

Over the years sex trafficking, or slavery, has gained a lot of attention, more so, in my opinion, than other examples of illegal migration and worker  exploitation.  Articles in The Age newspaper today report on approaches to brothel owners and managers from people who have women for sale.  Regardless of the industry in which this occurs, this practice is abhorrent and the full weight of the law should be focused on these slave traders.

But a point that is getting lost in the wilderness is that not all women working in brothels are illegal.  Almost all choose to work there for the same reasons anyone works anywhere.  Many academics, and Australia has some of the most rabid, see all sex work as exploitation, as slavery and degrading to women.

The question for safety professionals and advocates is whether the nature of the work discounts the workers’, and employers’, access to legitimate safety advice?  Can the moral switch be flicked off, even for a short time, in order to provide workers in this industry with the same level of occupational health and safety as any other worker can rightfully demand?  Does the switch need turning off?

The statement at the start of this blog, that is reflected in OHS legislation around the world, is not selective, it applies to all.

The legal brothel industry has a long way to go in achieving the levels of OHS compliance that other small businesses have already gained.  The established hazards of manual handling, ergonomics, noise, etc are largely dealt with but consider those issues that have entered the occupational area over the last decade or so.  

Ask yourselves how would the owner of a legal brothel, a business where (predominantly) women have sex with multiple partners over their shift, deal with these contemporary hazards:

  • Stress
  • Bullying
  • Fatigue
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Security

And then ask yourselves how the OHS profession and discipline would deal with these workplace issues?

  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Sprains and strains
  • Hygiene
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Working in isolation

I judge the success of safety management systems in companies by the level of knowledge the most isolated worker has about safety in that workplace.   I ask the teleworkers, the night-shift workers, the security guards, the cleaners, the maintenance staff…  These employees, if a safety management system is working properly, should have the same level of safety knowledge, and the same level of access to OHS support, as those workers on day shift in a  head office.

I also judge the safety profession and the regulators on the success of their safety initiatives, the level of their safety commitment, by looking at how OHS is accepted and implemented at those industries on the fringes of society, like the brothel industry.  If the workers in these industries and the owners of these businesses are treated differently because of the nature of the work, we need to reassess our commitment to safety and the professional vows many of us took to ensure everyone has a safe and healthy work environment.

Kevin Jones

A March 2008 podcast on the issue of sex trafficking in Australia is available HERE 

 

 

A “Fortean” Approach to Safety Management

The open mind approach to the investigation of anything is a core element in accident investigation, brainstorming, “what-if” analysis, and ultimately occupational health and safety. OHS has been saddled for decades by expert investigation from isolated silos. And I am not sure that being an expert in one discipline requires one to be ignorant of other disciplines, or even disparaging of other disciplines. Experts in engineering must acknowledge that there are things that happen that are unexpected, that a machine was not designed for.

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The open mind approach to the investigation of anything is a core element in accident investigation, brainstorming, “what-if” analysis, and ultimately occupational health and safety. OHS has been saddled for decades by expert investigation from isolated silos. And I am not sure that being an expert in one discipline requires one to be ignorant of other disciplines, or even disparaging of other disciplines. Experts in engineering must acknowledge that there are things that happen that are unexpected, that a machine was not designed for.

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