Occupational health and safety is one of the biggest issues employers face and potentially one of the costliest. Yet it is surprising how mistaken many managers are about their responsibilities in this area. By Francesco Rossi
With most working Australians in the services sector, the occupational health and safety issues involved go beyond what commonly springs to mind.
Take educational institutions. Most have programs for ensuring safe plant, machinery and equipment for use by staff, and policies for preventing other risks and hazards. That is fine for those working in laboratories where exposure to dangerous equipment and materials is likely. But for most other employees these measures will have little relevance.
Many cases of workers being maimed or disfigured in industrial accidents are reported in the media. Increased attention has recently been given to incidents of workplace bullying, in which workers have taken practical jokes too far, resulting in injuries to fellow workers. But for those employed in the services sector, the likelihood of being maimed or disfigured through bullying and workplace accidents is minimal. They face other health and safety issues and a type of bullying that is mainly invisible.
In a case involving Arnott’s Biscuits decided by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, an employee who resigned due to bullying and harassment by a supervisor was reinstated and reimbursed for lost income. The commission also found that management had given no support. The outcome is not only damaging for the bully, but creates a negative image of the organisation and should be a stark reminder that management is ultimately responsible for what happens in the workplace.
In November last year, a full bench of the commission heard an ACTU test case on reasonable hours that sought to eliminate an anomaly in the award system that allowed employees to be forced to work virtually unlimited hours. This reflected the increasing realisation that unreasonable workloads are a form of bullying and a serious breach of occupational health and safety requirements.
Results of a recent ACTU survey showed that 54% of respondents had experienced intimidating behavior at work, and that 85% of these bullied workers reported their managers as the principle perpetrators. This is a serious indictment that managers must examine, and it reflects the mistaken views many have of their responsibilities.
It is ironic that the same management team that oversees implementation of the most prudent procedures for eliminating workplace injuries may be the worst perpetrators of bullying, making employees work late each night and at home on weekends.
Managers must recognise that extreme hours degrade health, family life and community involvement. Heavy workloads and time pressures that expose employees to such conditions are now recognised as a form of bullying, and any manager who allows this to occur is making a potentially costly mistake. Also, under the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act and Regulations 1991, employees must take responsibility for their own health and safety at work and not cause or increase risks to themselves or others. It is a grey area, but it may be that the legislation would allow an employee to refuse a higher workload on this basis.
For organisations that have not yet done so, it is time to put in place policies for dealing with bullying and harassment.
Managers should not wait for more legal imperatives. Esso recently incurred a $2-million fine over the 1998 Longford gas explosion. Following this ruling, the Victorian Government has said it will introduce tougher occupational health and safety laws. If managers want to avoid falling foul of the growing body of legislation, they must be committed to a genuine change in attitudes.
How not to
How not to be relevant (or how to be irrelevant)
This month’s award for the least relevant research goes to behavioral scientists S. Watanabe, J. Sakamoto, and M. Wakita. Their breakthrough? Pigeons know about fine art and are even discerning enough to tell Monet from Picasso. Research published in the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior found that the birds could relate to the genres of Monet, Cezanne and Renoir. What’s more, they could relate to paintings by Picasso, Braque and Matisse. They knew their Picasso even when researchers turned the slides upside down, but they were not so good when presented with inverted images of Monet’s work. It seems that pigeons don’t know much about art but they know what they like.
How not to hide your drug habit
Most inferior business model idea goes to Colin Davies, 44, who was arrested after opening Britain’s first Dutch-style marijuana cafe. Davies was nicked after police raided his Dutch Experience cafe in Stockport, on the outskirts of Manchester. He opened the cafe early last year, claiming he was offering cannabis to sick people to relieve their symptoms. It seems Davies knew how to delight his customers. Many were so outraged that about 40 of them marched from the cafe to the police station to demonstrate against Britain’s drug laws. Three were arrested. The men, aged 24, 21 and 29, were apprehended for possession of marijuana.
How not to keep a lid on it
Best business conference award goes to the inaugural World Toilet Summit 2001 and the Restroom Asia 2001 Exhibition in Singapore. The summit theme was “Our Toilets: The Past, The Present and The Future”. Lifting the lid on the industry, Jack Sim, the Restroom Association (Singapore) president said the conference had global significance: “There already exists a considerable body of knowledge, which needs to be disseminated globally for learning and improvement to take place in each country’s toilet environment.”
How not to elope
The award for vision with the most blue sky goes to an 84-year-old Spanish man, a Senor Policarpo, who tried escaping from the old-age home in which he lived to marry his 20-year-old fiancee. The young lady was waiting for Policarpo at the gate to the old-age home in the northern Spanish city of Leon, but his family members caught up with him and called the police. The nuns who ran the home for the elderly said they had thought that the young woman, who was a constant visitor to Policarpo, was his niece.
How not to escape arrest
The prize for the worst risk-control system goes to the man who robbed a Des Moines convenience store. The clerk pushed the button that locked the door, trapping the would-be robber. But when he pressed the alarm button, he accidentally unlocked the door. Undeterred, the clerk phoned the police as the crook was making his get-away. “He’s about five feet 10,” the clerk said. The suspect walked back in and corrected the victim: “I’m six-two.” “About 6-2,” the clerk told police. “And about 38 years old.” The robber interrupted again: “I’m 34.” A Polk County deputy sheriff arrived a moment later.