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OHS Risks & Agency Workers: the Australian Experience Elsa Underhill Deakin University Melbourne Australia.

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Presentation on theme: "OHS Risks & Agency Workers: the Australian Experience Elsa Underhill Deakin University Melbourne Australia."— Presentation transcript:

1 OHS Risks & Agency Workers: the Australian Experience Elsa Underhill Deakin University Melbourne Australia

2  Empirical data  3 factors promoting risk ◦ Economic & reward pressures ◦ Disorganisation at host workplace ◦ Regulatory failure  Conclusion

3  Stratified sample of injured workers ◦ Investigated workers’ compensation claims in Victoria ◦ 198 agency & direct hire ◦ Matched by occupation & year of injury  (1994/95 - 2000/01) ◦ Statements from injured workers, witnesses, employers and host supervisors, medical reports  Focus groups and survey of agency workers ◦ 147 surveyed, mostly blue collar ◦ 5 Focus groups in Melbourne & regional Victoria

4  Economic & reward pressures ◦ Low job & income security ◦ Competition amongst agencies & agency workers ◦ Off-loading &/or concentration in high risk tasks  Disorganisation at host workplace ◦ Lack of familiarity ◦ Under-experienced/underqualified workers ◦ Inadequate training ◦ Lack of workplace voice  Regulatory failure ◦ Gaps in regulatory protection & weakened compliance (Quinlan, Mayhew & Bohle, 2001)  Not unique but more acute

5  80% casual employment - absence of employment continuity & protection, income security, leave entitlements  Pressures to accept unsafe tasks; to work with injury; to work when unwell  Poorly unionised  “He asked his supervisor if he could take 2 days sick leave. The supervisor told him that if he could not come to work for 2 days [the host] would have to replace him with another worker…” (2 months off work)  “I kept working and put up with the pain which was worse when I stopped and I didn’t mention it to anyone at the time as I was concerned my job would be terminated…I needed the money and didn’t want to attract attention by wearing a brace.” (3 weeks off work)  “He had been up all night the night before vomiting, with a high fever…his father advised him not go into work but he replied that he had to go as he was a casual employee and had no sick leave” (retired on medical grounds, major burns)



8 Agencies:  Low barriers to entry  Majority of agencies are small  Price driven competition amongst small-medium size agencies  Hosts go elsewhere is agencies ‘too demanding’ Agency workers:  Financial & employment insecurity contributes to willingness to accept any placement

9 AgencyDirect hire Stores, warehouse workers Highly repetitive13%2% Ad hoc heavy lifting > 20 kilo9%15% Continual heavy lifting28%29% Machinists, process workers Highly repetitive45%33% Ad hoc heavy lifting > 20 kilo17%6% Continual heavy lifting17%22%



12 Injured workers data  OHS training from agency employer ◦ 9% yes, 24% no, 66% unknown  OHS training from host ◦ 10% yes, 25% no, 65% unknown  Task training from host ◦ 41% yes, 20% no, 39% unknown  More likely for those with unrelated, no prior experience & those without a qualification

13 Survey data  Training for unfamiliar tasks? ◦ 43% never/rarely36%often/always  Training for unfamiliar equipment? ◦ 40% never/rarely37%often/always  OHS information from agency? ◦ 42% never/rarely42% often/always  OHS information from host? ◦ 27% never/rarely44% often/always ◦ OHS & task training from host is significantly related to ‘delayed’ injury

14 Too little… He’s not been given any specific lifting technique training, although we have a policy of continual safety training…” …there is no formal instruction given on manual handling techniques…they are told if an item is too heavy then to leave it and call for help… When I started my only training with the pump was being shown the on/off switch and the reversing procedure… …at no stage had I been given any advice on the possible dangers or working capability of the pallet jack… Or irrelevant… … the social club, history & expansion plans, other locations…etc. etc. Insufficient knowledge to make safe decisions

15  …he appeared extremely enthusiastic about his work but as a general motor mechanic probably involved in servicing, maintaining & tuning ordinary motor cars, he would not have had any exposure to this heavy duty equipment… (25 year old motor mechanic, working alone, moving part of engine trapped hand & crushed several fingers)  I looked over and thought he looked a bit uncertain about what he was doing… (20 year old, electrocuted performing equipment maintenance)  They’ve never seen a 100 tonne mobile crane before, they’re spellbound when they see the damn thing, they’ve got a ticket for an overhead crane in a factory and they haven’t got a clue how to do it… (union official)

16  …a small, rather overweight man with very poor muscles…his very diffuse symptoms can only be accounted for by muscular soreness due to unaccustomed activity for 3 days, having previously done no physical work at all for several years… (42 year old, injury to upper limbs)  …appears the claimant is not physically suited to the work she performs…she told our investigators she has always been prone to back pain from bending and lifting… (25 year old, back injury)

17  OHS legislation: agency & host have responsibility, but weak compliance & enforcement ◦ Shared responsibility creates gaps, not overlap ◦ Training – provision & standard ◦ Lack of participation in consultative processes eg. lack of OSH reps, committees  Employment legislation ◦ Insufficient protection & lack of compliance

18  3 factor model of economic & reward pressures, disorganisation and regulatory failure provides explanatory framework for increased risks ◦ Risks are more pronounced early in placement ◦ Especially new agency workers & those churning through placements ◦ Long term placements associated more with enduring degradation of employment & OHS standards

19  Reducing the risk faced by agency workers requires: ◦ Shift away from acute employment instability ◦ Shift away from ‘disposable’ workforce approach ◦ Greater attention to & investment in  Suitable job match, by agencies & hosts  Training to enable safe performance of tasks, by agencies & hosts  Time to adapt to new tasks ◦ Recognition by agencies & hosts of right to OHS representation & consultation, including union representation.

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