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‘OHS challenges faced by multinational companies’

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TODAY I would like to briefly share with you the challenges that ABB and other multinational companies face in sustaining OHS programs locally and globally.

ABB has operations in more than 100 countries, employs over 100,000 employees and extensively utilises the services of contractors.

In today’s world, occupational health and safety needs to meet the challenges of an aging workforce, availability of experienced and appropriately skilled workers, the increased use of labour hire (casual labour) and contractors as well as the challenge of standardising programs and procedures in countries with wide cultural differences and demands.

Increase in the use of labour hire workers (casual workers) has been a global trend over the past 30 years.

These workers are hired out by an agent to host organisations for periods of time lasting from hours to months or even years.

There is a growing body of research that indicates labour hire workers - as part of the precarious or contingent workforce - are at increased risk of injury at work due to lack of training, unfamiliarity with the workplace, and poor integration with the permanent workforce, being used on higher risk tasks; and to lack of supervision, extended hours or working multiple jobs.

In an as yet unpublished study performed by an ABB operations manager, it was concluded that, in one part of our business, labour hire workers were seven times more likely to be injured - this was reflected in the ABB Australia incident statistics recorded.

This is despite excellent OHS systems and good inductions and poses a significant challenge. It is clear that we need to do more in relation to protecting and managing our labour hire workers.

Employers are required by OHS legislation to provide workers with training and supervision to enable them to perform their work in a manner that does not expose them to hazards. Companies with risk-tolerant cultures take a minimalist approach to these requirements. They provide induction with a checklist mentality - ticking off the items and filing it away.

This, they believe erroneously, is sufficient to fulfil their duty of care obligations. Unfortunately, some companies often fail to appreciate the importance and benefits of employee training and development as part of their overall risk management strategy. Inexperienced workers have lower levels of competencies than experienced well-trained workers and are a greater source of risk to the business. They tend to have more accidents and to inadvertently cause damage to company assets. They are less safe and less efficient.

Kevin Andrews, Federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, reminded us in his speech on World Safety Day this year that Australia is experiencing an ageing of its population and labour force. He stated that at present the net growth in the Australian workforce is 170,000 people each year.

Access Economics has estimated that, over the decades from 2020 to 2030, it is expected the workforce will only grow by just 125,000 people. That averages out to a mere 12,500 people per year. Having consulted with my global ABB colleagues, I would like to suggest that this issue is not isolated to Australia.

Most studies say that older workers tend to have fewer accidents, but when an older worker does get injured, their injuries are often more severe. They also may take longer to recover. Plus, the types of injuries can be different. Younger workers tend to get more eye or hand injuries, while older workers who have been working for many years report more back injuries.

Many workplace injuries are the result of doing the same things again and again. Repetitive motion injuries, for example, develop over time. An older worker then may report more musculoskeletal injuries since they’ve had longer for the condition to develop.

When anyone, no matter how old they are, is pushed to work harder than they safely can, there is a risk for injury.

Because older workers tend to have more severe injuries when they do happen, it’s important to make adjustments to work stations or work patterns to make them as safe as possible. It’s also important to make sure a person is suited for a particular task and is safely able to do it.

Training requirements may be different for older workers. Since learning is based on previous experience, training may need to be more  gpractically h based. New skills need to be explained in a way that fits into what they already know. Justification and the logic behind the information - why you’re doing what you’re doing - are more important.

ABB is committed to providing a standardised and consistent approach to occupational health and safety. Let us not forget the  gh h in OHS i.e. the health component and the challenges potential pandemics like Avain influenza (Bird flu) present to companies like ours, with global operations. ABB has established a network of global ABB doctors, supported by a Swiss occupational physician who is coordinating the reporting of occupational health and safety concerns.

Members of the network focus on known potential risk factors such as exposure to hazardous substances, occupational carcinogens, microbiological agents and physical agents, and other work-related conditions that might cause musculo-skeletal disorders. They work closely with local country health and safety advisors, to facilitate real improvements in healthy working practices.

In the last few years ABB has demonstrated a sustained effort in building a standardised OHS management system across its worldwide operations. The implementation and compliance with this system has been measured both locally and globally and been a key measure in managers’ scorecards.

ABB has established a regional network of experienced safety professionals who provide support to the individual country safety teams, the aim being to create the cultural change required to encourage proactive safety behaviours.

Promoting behavioural safety within ABB is a key element in delivering a safer workplace in the long term. For our management systems to be effective we must ensure that everyone, from the  gboardroom to the shop floor h, is engaged and participating in making ABB a safe company.

One of our key actions this year is for senior managers to conduct safety observational tours. The program is designed to help managers demonstrate their commitment to safety in an active and visible way. The intent is not to make them safety inspectors, but to spend scheduled time with employees talking about safety, focusing on areas for improvement, and rewarding safe behaviours.

Safety tours will help us focus on the human factors in safety. Evidence shows that unsafe behaviours play a major role in incidents at work - by some estimates, causing up to 80 percent of them. It is not enough to invest in systems and hardware.

Safety culture has been described as the collective values and attitudes of the people in the organisation. The unsafe behaviour of an individual is often the final act in an incident sequence; it will have been influenced by the job and organisation.

Safety incidents often occur because the behaviours producing the problem are being reinforced - for example, by incentives for productivity, regardless of safety. Managers and supervisors will only change the behaviours of others by demonstrating their commitment to improving safety.

Typically unsafe behaviour takes two forms: making a mistake or breaking rules (violations). People often focus on the violations made in an incident, but evidence shows that 80 percent of incidents are caused by mistakes - doing the wrong thing at the wrong time or forgetting to follow one in a series of steps.

The fact is that we all make mistakes. But in a high-risk job, with high voltages or at height, one mistake can be your last.

This is why health and safety systems must not only consider the physical aspects of a task, but also the behavioural possibilities. It is critical to build in safeguards to alleviate any pressure to take short cuts, and prevent against a lapse of concentration.

Unless we experience a safety incident, we typically believe it can’t happen to us. We also believe that experience and training makes us safe. But the evidence says something else.

Often it is the most experienced and well-trained people who have fatal or serious injury incidents. They can become too familiar with the task and the risks, and take short cuts.

And so it is with this in mind that ABB is producing global programs addressing our key OHS risks e.g. working with high voltage systems. The rules established will be non-negotiable.

I now move to the Pace Zenith Safety Award. The recognition of innovation in safety is an essential aspect of keeping our approach refreshed and interesting. It is important that we learn and share best practice OHS solutions and I am very proud that ABB is sponsoring this award.

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