SafetyAtWorkBlog’s Christmas reading list

wss-book-pix004The media is full of lists of Christmas reading, usually in order to sell books.  Below is a selection of the safety-related books that are in my Summer reading pile. (No, I am not going to list the Batman comics or Star Trek books.  That would be embarrassing.)

Social Sensemaking

I first met Robert Sams at a book launch of one of the Rob Long’s books.  Sams’ approach to risk has some similarity to Long’s, which is acknowledged in the Forewards, but those who develop or apply a theory are often more interesting than those who created the theory. The the format of the book is a “reflective journal” also makes this nook more intriguing.  It is part diary, part blog, part journal but above all it is a journey of learning with the occasional epiphany. Continue reading “SafetyAtWorkBlog’s Christmas reading list”

Drug and alcohol testing amendments may weaken safety

Last week the former Workplace Relations Minister, Eric Abetz, informed Australians that amendments had been introduced into the Building Code 2013 concerning drugs and alcohol testing.  However an analysis of those amendments shows that the amendments may not achieve what Abetz promised.

Siobhan Flores-Walsh, a Partner with the Australian law firm, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, has provided the following table that summarises a couple of those amendments. Continue reading “Drug and alcohol testing amendments may weaken safety”

OHS is in sports but by another name

After writing a recent article about the relevance of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws to sporting clubs, I attended a sports medicine seminar to access a different perspective on workplace safety.

2015-09-21 18.43.15Having never played sports outside the obligatory high school activities, which in my high school also included snooker?!, the world of locker rooms and team sports is foreign.  But earlier this week I learnt that where OHS professionals talk about productivity, sportspeople speak of performance, and where factories address line speed, sports physicians talk of load management.  I also learnt that professional sportspeople are exempt from workers’ compensation.

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OHS and the politics of fear

Occupational health and safety (OHS) cannot exist outside social, economic and political contexts. Some OHS professionals try to convince themselves that OHS is a special case but to do so ignores the components of change that need to be addressed in order to improve workplace safety. There are parallels between OHS and contemporary political thought.

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The evolution of Broken Windows

One year ago, this blog included an article about possibly applying “broken windows” theory to occupational health and safety (OHS) as both involve the enforcement of rules. The article said:

“The principal OHS lessons from Broken Windows Theory are that one needs to scratch the surface of any new OHS approach, that these theories need time to mature and to be verified or questioned and that it remains an important exercise to look beyond our own experiences, but to look with an analytical eye.”

The theory is evolving according to the architect of the theory, William J Bratton in an audio report in  NPR’s All Things Considered for 4 May 2015.  According to that article:

“Bratton says he’s open to some revisions of the city’s broken windows philosophy, including more warnings for first-time offenders. But his larger message seems to be: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

All theories require adjustment to make sure they remain practical and relevant.

OHS professionals who correct the workplace hazards, particularly worker behaviours, that are the “low hanging fruit” seem to be following Broken Windows, theory to some extent. But to continue to do this, without addressing hazards higher up the hierarchy of controls,  the organisational structure and the managerial prerogatives will devalue the original intention of enforcing worker behaviours and improving the work environment.

Mark Griffith illustrates the risk of devaluing the enforcement effort when he says, in the NPR article:

“We all want a better quality of life…. What we’re saying is the approach to it — the tactics that are used to arrive at that — are overly aggressive, and are ultimately on some level counterproductive to the very goals you’re trying to achieve.”

This seems equally valid to workplace safety management.

Kevin Jones

Political statements on OHS need to be tested

Today Australia’s Employment Minister, Senator Eric Abetz, released a statement concerning a change to the renewal of Comcare licences in the spirit of reducing business red tape but there are two mentions of workplace safety that are curious.

In the statement entitled “Comcare self-insurance licence change“, Senator Abetz has welcomed:

“…a reform that will see businesses save more than $1 million a year which can be reinvested in Work Health and Safety and jobs.”

and states

“This reform will reduce the regulatory burden, remove the cost of licence extensions in years two and four, and push back the costs of audit until year eight as well as ensure safer workplaces.”

The argument on reducing OHS red tape is that the cost savings can be reinvested into occupational health and safety measures but there seems to be no independent evidence to support this belief.

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Workplace Safety finally gets a mention in the Victorian election campaign (sort of)

On 25 November 2014 the Federal Minister for Employment, Eric Abetz, attacked the Victorian Labor Party over its pledge to revoke the Construction Compliance Code which, primarily, deals with industrial relations but also has some occupational health and safety (OHS) requirements.

Abetz states that

“the Victorian Shadow Industrial Relations Minister [Natalie Hutchins] falsely claimed that the Code would not improve workplace safety, despite the numerous improved safety standards that it contains.”

The claim, apparently in the Herald-Sun newspaper, cannot be verified except through a reference in a news.com.au article. The original quote seems unavailable.

It is curious that this OHS criticism has come from a Federal Parliamentarian instead of from Victoria’s own Industrial Relations Minister and Attorney-General,

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Important safety perspectives from outside the OHS establishment

Real Risk - CoverWhen people mention safety, they are often really talking about risk.  In a similar way, people talk about the absurdity of ‘elf ‘n’ safety when they actually mean public liability or food safety or HACCP.  And when some professionals talk about risk management they mean minimising the cost to the employer or controlling reputational damage.

Recently two books were released that illustrate the limitations of the current Western/patriarchal society’s approach to workplace safety. Dr Dean Laplonge has written about gender and its role in making decisions and Dr Rob Long has written his third book on risk “Real Risk – Human Discerning and Risk“.  Both deserve close reading and that reading should be used to analyse how safety professionals conduct their work, the organisational environment in which they work and the cultural restrictions imposed in their technical education.

Laplonge has written a book out of the extensive research and training on gender issues in the mining industry.  “

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Ministerial responsibility in finance but not in workplace safety

Ministerial responsibility seems to be advantageous in financial policies but irrelevant to workplace safety going by actions by Australia’s political leaders.  This week former senior (Labor) parliamentarians, Mark Arbib, Peter Garrett, Greg Combet and Kevin Rudd, will be fronting the Royal Commission into Home Insulation to explain their lack of due diligence on workplace safety matters.  This is only a week after the Federal (Liberal) Government released a Commission of Audit report that promoted ministerial responsibility.

The popular perspective is that these ministerial decision-makers will be held to account for the deaths of four young workers but this is unlikely to occur because State occupational health and safety (OHS) laws establish a direct OHS relationship between employers and employees and the senior politicians did not employ anyone who was installing home insulation.  The argument at the Royal Commission mirrors the chain of responsibility concept except that in work health and safety (WHS) legislation, government ministers are not covered by the definition of ‘officer’ and therefore have less OHS/WHS responsibility that anyone heading up a company or organisation.

Labour lawyer

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Well-being programs have their place

Many Australian newspapers include articles about workplace health in their job ad or professionals sections.  On May 3 2014 the Weekend Australia included an article called “Working harder for health“.  The article touches on most of the usual elements of such articles

  • individual responsibility;
  • increased productivity;
  • medical screenings; and
  • vaccinations and fruit bowls.

But (finally) the interviewee acknowledges the importance of looking beyond corporate well-being programs to  larger organisational issues.

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