Is there a time, over the last couple of days where something bad almost happened to you but didn't? Did you spill your coffee, drop and break a glass, correct a mistake in a report ..... All of these are little things that happen to us on a daily basis and we hardly pay any attention to them at all.
Just yesterday, I was at a client's desk, watching a tall, well groomed lady manager squirm around on her new mesh chair, yet she was quite happy to say she had huge workload, and spent long hours at work. She insisted she was otherwise fine. She didn't name what I was seeing, and there wasn't much of a connection at that time between what she thought was a minor problem and the reason I was checking out her work (in theory, neck pain). For me, this screams loudly that there is a big disconnect between the little things we may or may not notice about ourselves, what others pick up and what is reported as a real problem in the workplace.
In heavy industry we would call the small incidents such as slips and trips as 'near misses' and have to report them, but what is the equivalent of these 'small incidents' for office workers? A recent study of Taiwanese office workers showed some interesting differences between risk factors for different locations of pain...
1. high psychological distress was associated with neck, shoulder and upper back pain
2. high workload was associated with low back pain
If confronted with a near miss or incident form, what would my client from this morning have put down? At the end of the assessment, what do you think I might have written if given the same form and would these two views appear to be about the same thing?
How do you record near misses or incidents at work?
Typical fields in an hazard incident report form you might have at work include:
- Nature: was it a hazard near miss; injury / illness; exposure / release; environment; unacceptable behaviour
- Who is making the report, who are the witnesses
- Details of the hazard or incident: time, location, situation, what happened
- Outcome details: was treatment required
- What to do next
Few of the details of the story above fit neatly into the fields on a form like this. Often there are blanks left. The research from Taiwan suggests that risk factors could include psychological pressure (leading to psychological distress) and high workload (leading to extended time on task). Here are some likely ways the information from this scenario might be dealt with:
- information gets buried in my report - the hazard / incident report stays unchanged
- no assessment - a colleague tells her to take a break
- her distress increases, a claim for either neck pain then mental stress both go in but are not dealt with together
- she is just about coping and asks for a different mouse, monitor arm and other equipment then a chair
How can spotting a 'near miss' save money?
My point is what is effectively a near miss in three out of four outcomes above, can give a real opportunity to understand what is going on for one of your staff and potentially to head off an expensive claim.
In a recent document, Safe Work Australia claim that 70% of workers who reported they experienced work-related mental stress did not apply for workers’ compensation. This means that taking a closer look at office workers who, in a 'near miss' situation report upper body symptoms, might just unearth patterns of psychological stress and a way to get to better injury prevention.
1. Cho C-Y, Hwang Y-S, Cherng R-J. Musculoskeletal Symptoms and Associated Risk Factors Among Office Workers With High Workload Computer Use. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. 2012;35(7):534-40.
2. Safe Work Australia. The incidence of accepted worker's compensation claims for mental stress in Australia. Canberra: Safe Work Australia, 2013.