This Safe Work Australia film features three different perspectives on how workplace leaders can design good work and influence their safety culture, not only in their own business, but across their supply chain and the broader community. This seminar features three business leaders from Australian Country Choice, Lend Lease and Toll NQX.
Leaders at all levels have a critical role to play in building a positive safe work culture, influencing safety improvements, and designing safe, healthy and productive work.
For many workplace leaders, the safety vision they are still working towards is focused on achieving an absence of injury. But there is so much more to be gained through creating a strong safety culture, including enhanced worker health and wellbeing and increased business success and productivity.
Who is this presentation for?
Regulators, industry representatives, worker representatives and leaders at all levels – from officers and CEOs to middle management and those with work health and safety or human resource functions.
Dr Simon Blackwood, Deputy Director General at the Department of Justice and Attorney General with the Queensland Government.
Jennie Hunter, Manager of Leadership and Culture with Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.
Worker compensation claims have been decreasing over time but this masks all kinds of problems with our wellbeing at work.
Making our workplaces healthier and safer means we have to confront all those things causing us stress at work. And that’s not going to be solved by standing desks, complimentary massage or lunchtime yoga.
LISTEN NOW > to the ABC RadioNational podcast of ‘WorkLife: Why is work making us sick?”
When working conditions are harsh, workers are more likely to find satisfaction through small acts of deviant behaviour instead of banding together or joining a union, my research shows.
I interviewed 30 unskilled workers from five different sites in the greater Brisbane region. The workers came from large, centralised retail, automotive and food wholesaler workplaces and were under strict instruction and surveillance. I asked them about how they manage and organise their shifts.
The people working in these precarious conditions often concealed anxieties or insecurities about the role that work performs in their life. Their insecurities, however, emerged through deviant practices and cynical or apathetic behaviours to work.
Deviant actions involved cutting corners, avoiding paperwork and often avoiding health and safety procedures. Workers operated subtly in order to avoid detection from management.
These activities proved useful to workers because they allowed deadlines and quotas to be met more easily, while simultaneously allowing them avenues to socialise and enjoy aspects of their work day. While workers readily acknowledged deviating from management directives, they also recognised the importance of being perceived as a “valuable” worker.
My analysis suggests that deviant practices were often implemented in order to achieve more existential security at work. Deviant practices were important to workers who felt exhausted, stressed, or who had limited social interaction at work.
Other research shows that merely the threat of precarious employment has negative effects of workers’ health. This can manifest in physical and physiological forms: heightened risk of depression, stress, exhaustion, sleeping disorders, headaches, and high blood pressure.
Workers in precarious environments can also become “urban nomads” as they are stripped of traditional community benefits that come with regular salaried work; benefits such as a sense of community and a loss of work-based identity. It’s the loss of this community that leaves precarious workers not just financially, but socially unstable.
The study suggests that workers were far more likely to game the system rather than slack off. So rather than resist work entirely, workers were resisting the negative and precarious aspects of work.
This resistance allowed workers more social time and benefits they wouldn’t otherwise receive. While this distinction is subtle, it is important; it suggests that work is still a valuable social experience for these workers even though their relationship to it is precariously positioned.
Precarious work can involve any number of environmental uncertainties that arise in work; however, the most significant appear to be a loss of paid leave entitlements and work benefits that occur with temporary employment.
Statistics from the United Kingdom suggest that one in five workers is employed under precarious work conditions. The statistics are much the same in Australia; the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) lists casual or temporary employment at 19% (equivalent to one in five workers).
However, unlike the UK, Australian rates of unionisation are much lower. OECD figures suggest that trade union density (as of 2014) in the UK was 25.1%, compared with Australia’s 15.5%.
This disparity suggests that while Australian workers are just as likely as UK workers to be without secure employment, Australian workers were less likely to have the social support that unions and other organisations can offer.
Although deviant behaviour appears to be a problem for management, it’s important to recognise its social and psychological effects on workers. In an economic space that offers temporary contracts and little to no social support, it seems logical for workers to seek social-security through other avenues in the workplace. Consequently, even small acts of resistance provide valuable mechanisms for employees.
The data from this research suggests that while workers create existential security, they often fail to address the precarious working conditions that give rise to insecure mindsets. So while workers today partake in the ageless ritual of working-class resistance, the absence of collective organisation (like in unions) appears to be particularly problematic.
The effects of precarious work and the construction of insecure workers is particularly important in our global age. Without collective action between workers, the re-integration of unions into the workforce or intervention from national governments, it seems that any localised resistance to precarious work will never be more than just what it is: localised.
As commuters shimmy past large, lumbering trucks on the road, they may glance over and wonder, “How safe is that driver next to me?” If the truck driver is in poor health, the answer could be: Not very. Commercial truck drivers with three or more medical conditions double to quadruple their chance for being in a crash than healthier drivers, reports a new study led by investigators at the University of Utah School of Medicine in the USA.
The findings suggest that a trucker’s poor health could be a detriment not only to himself but also to others around him. “What these data are telling us is that with decreasing health comes increased crash risk, including crashes that truck drivers could prevent,” says the study’s lead author Matthew Thiese, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (RMCOEH). The results were published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Keeping healthy can be tough for truck drivers, who typically sit for long hours behind the wheel, deal with poor sleeping conditions, and have a hard time finding nutritious meals on the road. Now, examination of medical records from 49,464 commercial truck drivers finds evidence that their relatively poor health may put them at risk in more ways than one. 34 percent have signs of at least one of several medical conditions that had previously been linked to poor driving performance, from heart disease, to low back pain, to diabetes.
Matching drivers’ medical and crash histories revealed that drivers with at least three of the flagged conditions were more likely to have been involved in a crash. There were 82 truck drivers in the highest risk group, and results were calculated from millions data points reflecting their relative crash risk every day for up to seven years. The investigators found that this group was at higher risk for different categories of crashes, including accidents that caused injury, and that could have been avoided.
The rate of crashes resulting in injury among all truck drivers was 29 per 100 million miles traveled. For drivers with three or more ailments, the frequency increased to 93 per 100 million miles traveled, according to Thiese. The trends held true even after taking into consideration other factors that influence truckers driving abilities such as age and amount of commercial driving experience.
The new findings could mean that one health condition, say diabetes, is manageable but diabetes in combination with high blood pressure and anxiety could substantially increase a driver’s risk.
“Right now, conditions are thought of in isolation,” says Thiese. “There’s no guidance for looking at multiple conditions in concert.” Current commercial motor vehicle guidelines pull truckers with major health concerns from the pool but do not factor in an accumulation of multiple minor symptoms.
Considering that occupants of the other vehicle get hurt in three-quarters of injury crashes involving trucks, it’s in the public interest to continue investigating the issue, says the study’s senior author Kurt Hegmann, M.D., M.P.H., director of RMCOEH. “If we can better understand the interplay between driver health and crash risk, then we can better address safety concerns,” he says.
Matthew S. Thiese, Richard J. Hanowski, Stefanos N. Kales, Richard J. Porter, Gary Moffitt, Nan Hu, Kurt T. Hegmann. Multiple Conditions Increase Preventable Crash Risks Among Truck Drivers in a Cohort Study. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2017; 1 DOI: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000000937
In a newly published study, we found that employees who “cut corners” tend to be morally compromised, low in conscientiousness, self-focused and impulsive. This in addition to the potential for corner-cutting to increase risks.
Surveying more than 1,000 Australians and Americans, we found approximately one in four employees regularly cut corners. Men are slightly more likely to cut corners than women.
Cutting corners at work
Cutting corners is a workplace behaviour characterised by skipping or avoiding steps important to a task, in order to complete the task sooner. Corner-cutting is generally considered an undesirable behaviour, with research linking it to a range of negative outcomes such as low job performance, safety violations and serious injuries.
Although corner-cutting comes with a set of risks, it also comes with a clear possible benefit – cutting corners can possibly lead to greater productivity. Consistent with this, studies have shown that corner-cutting is more likely in jobs characterised by high demands and few resources. It is also more likely in organisations that prioritise efficiency over risks.
However, even in such organisations, corner-cutting is openly discouraged. Mistakes caused by employees cutting corners are typically met with harsh consequences.
To investigate whether corner-cutters can be identified, we surveyed employees from a range of industries including health care, education, hospitality, retail and construction. We looked at several demographic variables and personality traits to determine who is more or less likely to cut corners at work. We focused on both common personality traits (e.g., extraversion, conscientiousness) as well as “darker” personality traits (e.g., Machiavellianism, narcissism).
We didn’t just stop at a questionnaire. We also exposed employees to a hypothetical scenario where they could choose to cut corners or not. We conducted two variations of the study across Australia and the US.
The personality traits of corner-cutters
Across both studies, we found that both common and darker personality traits were associated with corner-cutting. Most significantly, corner-cutters were likely to be low in conscientiousness, low in honesty and high in psychopathy (i.e., impulsive, callous social attitudes). Corner-cutters also scored high in Machiavellianism (i.e., manipulation, self-interest) and narcissism (i.e., grandiosity, pride).
Age and gender were also factors in corner-cutting, such that employees who cut corners at work tended to be younger and male.
But there are also various contexts that play into the decision to cut corners. While a third of employees cut corners when it would likely save them time, they were less likely to do so if they could be reprimanded (only one in six employees cut corners in this situation), or if there was the potential for a poor-quality outcome (only one in four cut corners then).
These results paint a seemingly negative picture of workplace corner-cutters as individuals who are generally self-interested and low in conscientiousness. However, it is plausible that employees sometimes cut corners with noble intentions. For example, the related concept of “workarounds” refers to the more accepted behaviour of “clever methods for getting done what the system does not let you do easily”.
To explore this possibility, we investigated whether corner-cutters were more proactive than those who tend not to cut corners. Our results strongly suggested that this was generally not the case.
Proactive employees were not more likely to achieve their goals by cutting corners at work, even when their goal was to save time. In fact, we found that proactive individuals were slightly less likely to cut corners at work than non-proactive individuals.
We also found little relation between corner-cutting and career success. There was no relationship between corner-cutting and income. However, it was associated with higher income for those who scored high in psychopathy.
This indicates that while corner-cutting generally does not relate to career success, it can result in career benefits for impulsive, self-focused individuals. These individuals are likely to cut corners as a strategy to be more productive, despite possible costs to the organisation or co-workers.
Implications for managers
Overall, we found that corner-cutting is not a desirable workplace behaviour. Those most likely to cut corners are likely to be poor performers aiming to meet minimimal standards in contrast to good performers looking to excel. The possible exception is individuals high in psychopathy looking for short-cuts to get ahead.
Clearly, it makes sense to minimise the number of employees with corner-cutting tendencies. This is particularly true for jobs in which mistakes caused by cutting corners can lead to serious injury (e.g., jobs in mining, construction). At the very least, we suggest employers take into account certain characteristics of applicants (e.g., conscientiousness, psychopathy) when selecting for such positions.