Information Digest – September 2023

This months focus is on health and safety issues. We look at shift work, stress, safety in hospitals, construction standards, and engineered stone, the stigma regarding jobs in aged care affecting workers and putting off potential workers; nanomaterials, air quality, harassment, roles of safety reps, and where there needs to be more focus on healthy workers.

Resources

Comparing shift work tolerance across occupations, work arrangements, and gender

I Saksvik-Lehouillier, T A Sørengaard

Occupational Medicine, 2023, XX, 1–7

There are individual differences in shift work tolerance; however, we lack knowledge about how this is experienced across different occupations, sex and shift types.

The aim of this study was to describe and investigate shift work tolerance, and individual differences in shift work tolerance, in two occupations, between men and women and between day/evening workers and rotating shift workers.

Shift work tolerance was higher among police employees compared to retail workers, among men compared to women, and among day workers compared to evening/rotating shift workers. The difference was larger between occupations than between sex and shift type. Evening workers had more symptoms of shift work intolerance than rotating shift workers. Neuroticism and autonomy were related to all symptoms of shift work tolerance among retail workers, but not police employees.

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Nurses scared to work at Townsville University Hospital after deaths, sexual assault, association says

Chloe Chomicki and Mia Knight

A Queensland nursing association has warned patients are at risk and nurses are frightened to work at a hospital in the state’s north following claims of preventable deaths and attacks on staff.

The Nurses Professional Association of Queensland (NPAQ) has called for an independent inquiry into Townsville University Hospital after a “series of poor patient outcomes” and the sexual assault of a nurse.

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Sophie Cotsis says Safe Work NSW needs to do more to enforce standards in construction

By Penny Burfitt

Minister for Work Health and Safety Sophie Cotsis says Safe Work New South Wales needs to do more to ensure safety as a string of injuries and deaths on work sites ignite calls for reform.

CFMEU construction branch secretary Darren Greenfield said the industry wanted to see Safe Work conduct stronger safety checks.

“We have far too many deaths and very serious injuries and a lot you don’t hear about,” he said.

Mr Greenfield said the union was calling for industrial manslaughter to be introduced as an offence under the NSW Work Health and Safety Act as matter of urgency.

The offence has been introduced in several other states and territories, and a bill to amend the WHS Act in NSW to include the charge was introduced to the lower house by Ms Cotsis in 2021, but it lapsed in 2022.

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Report on the prohibition on use of engineered stone

On 28 February 2023, WHS ministers asked Safe Work Australia to undertake further analysis and consultation on a prohibition on use of engineered stone.

On 16 August 2023, following extensive consultation, independent economic analysis and an expert review of evidence, Safe Work Australia provided a report making recommendations to Commonwealth, state and territory WHS ministers on options to prohibit the use of engineered stone.

The Agency thanks the workers, PCBUs, employer and worker representatives, WHS professionals, medical professionals, academics, government agencies, industry and peak bodies who made submissions to the consultation. These have been published on Safe Work Australia’s consultation website Engage.

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Action on silicosis stalled as surveillance program estimated to miss 200 workers with deadly disease

Adele Ferguson

As calls to ban engineered stone kitchen benchtops grow louder, a surveillance program in NSW is estimated to have missed a staggering 200 workers who have developed the crippling work-related lung disease silicosis but have not been diagnosed.

The figures, calculated by respiratory physician of 30 years Deborah Yates and occupational hygienists Kate Cole and Maggie Davidson, were published on Friday in response to a recent study by Monash University that found one in four stonemasons in Victoria who worked with artificial stone benchtops developed silicosis. It is a similar figure to a survey undertaken in Queensland.

Yates says they attempted to calculate the rough number of workers who were likely to have been missed using the current surveillance system in NSW, which only requires workers to get chest X-rays, which aren’t as accurate as CT scans.

Young tradesman warns of silica-related illnesses.

Hak Kim was in his mid-20s when he started noticing changes in his body while working on demolition sites in Sydney.

But the actual number of workers who have silicosis in NSW and Australia more broadly is unknown due to a lack of comprehensive and coordinated screening.

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Action still required to eliminate the harm caused by engineered stone

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions Te Kauae Kaimahi (NZCTU) is working with a growing number of unions, academics, and health and safety professionals calling for a ban on engineered stone.

More needs to be done to protect people who work with engineered stone. Workers in these industries are being exposed to highly hazardous silica dust and fears remain for their health and safety.

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We need more than a 15% pay rise to beat the 3 stigmas turning people off aged care jobs

Aged care workers will see their award wages increase by 15% at the end of this month. It’s recognition that their work has been undervalued, and that something needs to be done to solve the looming critical shortage of aged care workers as the population ages.

Higher wages was a key recommendation of the aged care royal commission. But how much money is enough to compensate for the stigma associated with aged care work?

Our research shows that aged care work is burdened by three types of stigma – physical, social and moral.

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Smart Digital Monitoring Systems For Occupational Safety And Health: Opportunities And Challenges

The role of digital OSH monitoring systems.

Digital systems and technologies are transforming the world of work for employers and workers alike. Their emergence also influences the management and improvement of workers’ occupational safety and health (OSH) in the workplace, as well as the nature, location, and organisation of work.

OSH monitoring systems are increasingly using digital technologies (ICT, cameras, wearables, smart personal protective equipment, artificial intelligence, etc.) to collect and analyse data on OSH.1.

These new types of digital OSH monitoring systems offer a vast range of opportunities for substantive OSH improvements, including: enhancing workers’ safety, and health awareness; improving task and shift allocation; preventing and reducing accidents; increasing wellbeing; tailoring solutions to specific needs; decreasing occupational stress or injuries; minimising consequences of accidents; and control over decisions, etc. Despite their many known and potential benefits, new OSH monitoring systems can trigger or increase physical health and safety risks, psycho-social risks, a blurring of OSH responsibility, or certain limitations regarding training.

This policy brief discusses some of the key opportunities and challenges of the new OSH monitoring systems and outlines key takeaways for policy- and decision-makers to enhance the benefits of these systems and minimising the potential drawbacks of their use at organisational level. The policy brief draws on research findings from a EU-OSHA’ s report on Digital OSH monitoring systems and OSH.

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Gloves off: aggression towards frontline workers

NADJA DÖRFLINGER, JONAS WEHRMANN, KARA NG and Sheena Johnson 15th June 2023.

Frontline staff are facing rising aggression. Employers need to reduce risks and provide support.

An upsurge in violence has been reported against frontline workers, such as firefighters, emergency responders and police offers. In Germany, for example, there were many attacks last New Year’s Eve, causing ‘terrifying’ experiences for emergency staff. In the United Kingdom, a hospital trust reported a 17 per cent increase in a year in abuse of staff—by patients and members of the public—and over half of National Health Service staff report that such incidents have increased, year on year. This is in spite of numerous safety measures and interventions to reduce the toll.

It has become a feature particularly for frontline workers who regularly interact with members of the public and so become targets for aggressive behaviour. This can affect not only their individual mental and physical health but also the condition of their organisations, while placing a strain on society through increased welfare expenditure.

Two research teams, one at the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the other at the University of Manchester in the UK, conducted empirical studies investigating workplace aggression across various occupational groups between 2020 and 2022.

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Stress at work: countering Europe’s new pandemic

Claes-Mikael Ståhl

In a Flash Eurobarometer survey in 2022, The European Agency for Health and Safety at Work (EU-OSHA) found that 46 per cent of respondents were subject to severe time pressure or overload of work. About a quarter (26 per cent) referred to poor communication or co-operation within their organisation and 18 per cent to a lack of autonomy or influence over the pace of work or work processes. Violence or verbal abuse from customers or patients affected 16 per cent of respondents and 7 per cent reported harassment or bullying at work. In its latest report published this year, the EU-OSHA also highlighted the link between workplace stress and heart disease.

Stress and depression can destroy livelihoods and even lead to suicide. And women are even more exposed to psychosocial risks than men—a gender dimension in the assessment, prevention and treatment of this disease is thus essential.

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Managing nanomaterials in the workplace

Nanomaterials are tiny particles, invisible to the human eye. However they are present in our daily lives in everyday products such as food, cosmetics, electronics and medicines.

Some nanomaterials are natural, while others are the by-products of human activities, or are specifically manufactured for a particular purpose. Although nanomaterials have many beneficial properties, there are large gaps in our knowledge about their associated health hazards. Particular care regarding the management of these materials must therefore be taken while research continues.

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Workers Organize for Better Conditions After Air Quality Plummets

As smoke from Canadian wildfires blanketed much of the East Coast of the USA and air quality worsened, some workers organized to try and stay safe. Here are examples and the reactions of management. Store workers, Starbucks Union workers, United Farmworkers and many others took steps to safeguard worker safety and health, with managers trying to stop them at each stage.

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Women and the Union Safety Rep role: Findings from focus groups July – October 2022

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) hosted a series of focus groups of women union reps and activists, to help us better understand women’s experiences of health and safety in the workplace, their engagement with the safety agenda in their unions, and how the trade union movement can better support them. Unions were invited to circulate notice to member participants from a diversity of backgrounds in order to take part and share their views, to help inform our work.

Women’s health and safety has for many years been somewhat overlooked. The finding of these focus groups aims to put a spotlight on the topic of gender in occupational safety and health.

TUC research shows only 20% of union safety reps are women, despite women making up a majority of union members. If we are to ensure safety reps are more representative of the wider workforce as a whole, we first need to better understand why fewer women are becoming safety reps, and why those who do take on the role step forward. To identify barriers and opportunities, we sought to hear direct from women reps and non-reps.

A summary of the findings and comments from participants is in the link below.

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Sexual harassment allegations cost local authorities at least £2.5m

Data obtained through freedom of information (FoI) laws shows that since 2018, 62 councils spent more than £1,728,900 to cover wage costs of staff who were suspended after allegations of sexual harassment, with accusations ranging from indecent exposure, upskirting, inappropriate comments and sexual assault to stalking and abuse of power.

A further £800,000 was paid out by six councils for sexual harassment claims, including legal fees, claimant costs and damages to victims.

The total will most likely be higher: 103 councils refused to supply data or did not respond to the FoI request.

Nearly half (46%) of the 225 councils who responded to the Observer’s FoI request had received reports of sexual harassment.

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Workplace interventions snubbing blue-collar workers

Australian workplace health promotion interventions are failing to target four of the five main modifiable lifestyle risk factors for chronic disease, and have a disproportionate focus on lower risk white-collar workers, a study has found.

The La Trobe University study found that more than 75 per cent of work interventions for chronic disease risk factors focus on physical activity, with far fewer targeting smoking, nutrition, alcohol consumption and obesity.

Further, healthcare and white-collar workers are the most frequently targeted, with far less attention paid to worker groups more likely to have chronic disease risk factors and poorer health, such as blue-collar workers.

The study, led by Leonie Arnold from La Trobe’s Centre for Ergonomics and Human Factors, says that smoking, nutrition, alcohol, physical activity, and overweight/obesity – collectively known as SNAPO – are the five main modifiable risk factors for chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.

“It is estimated that 96 per cent of working age adults in Australia have at least one of these risk factors… It is important to address these factors as healthy individuals are crucial for both the economic success of organisations and overall population health”

A scoping review of workplace health promotion interventions for chronic diseases in Australia, Leonie Arnold, et al, Australia, Journal of Occupational Health, published online July 2023, doi: 10.1002/1348-9585.12417 (sourced from www.ohsalert.com.au).