Category Archives: Psychosocial factors

Reducing the hazards within our training facilities

The target audience for this discussion blog is the Health and Safety Representatives (HSR’s) of a large organisation that train for emergency situations. The HSRs share a private communication platform known as Yammer. Yammer is the place where they share ideas, articles, blogs on all health and safety related issues. Communication through Yammer is suitable as it is the quickest way to reach out to all regional HSRs in a non formal context. This is a fictional scenario although the issues and references concerning the use of Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) are factual.

I understand everyone’s favourite day of the year is when we do our annual firefighting training, but as the Health and Safety Representatives for our organisation, I would like to enlighten you on some research I have been doing with regards to the fire extinguishers we train with.

One of the firefighting foams we use is called Aqueous Film Forming Foam or better known as AFFF.

It’s been a great experience to be able to use real fighting equipment and foam with our simulation fires, but how much do we know about the ecological and health hazards of AFFF?

This AFFF product has been found to contain non-biodegradable fluorosurfactants that are environmentally persistent (does not break down), therefore if we don’t discharge using the correct controls measures, contamination of soil, local streams and dams may occur.

Evidence of the ecological hazards using AFFF can be read in a recent report by AECOM Co. The report details a large organisation whose repeated usage of AFFF at sites where discharge has been inappropriately contained and disposed of, has lead to the contamination of soil, groundwater, and surface waters. The AECOM report recommends that residents in the ‘Southern Area’ not shower, bathe or fill pools with groundwater or consume milk from dairy cows exposed to surface water or groundwater or eat beef grown within the area. Pretty serious stuff!!

Generally, from what I have observed during training days, procedures are followed and the sewage system or our holding tanks are used without incident, although without soil contamination testing and a review of our hierarchy of controls, how do we know we are implementing the highest standard of care?

My recommendation would be to test our surrounding soil for precautionary measures and substitute the AFFF fire extinguishers with protein foam that is more environmentally friendly.

Your thoughts??

James Zacharioudakis


AECOM Services Pty Ltd (2016) Stage 2B Environmental Investigation Report, Executive Summary: RAAF Base Williamtown NSW, Department of Defence. Retrieved from

Environmental, Heritage and Risk Branch (2003) Environmental issues associated with Defence use of an aqueous film forming foam. Retrieved from

Fire fighting training and chemical hazards.

Fire fighting training and chemical hazards.

Formaldehyde in the workplace

Target Audience

The target audience are Hospital mortuary, Embalmers and Pathology workers who by the nature of their work are often in isolated, insular environments. Communication with others from different clinical areas would be infrequent and formalised . So communication via social media for peers in these areas  is suitable.

Safety Update

Formaldehyde has long been associated with scary movies and body parts in jars.

However who would have though for such a widely used chemical in Australia the major use for Formaldehyde is in labs to fix tissues and organs and in the funeral industry to embalm, disinfect and preserve (Australian Government Department of Health, 2016).

What are the facts about Formaldehyde?

It was discovered as a preservative for body parts and antiseptic as far back as 1893 (Woskie, 1994). Health effects depend on the concentration and the way it is handled. Suggesting embalming would pose more risk as formaldehyde exposures in the embalming process require a long duration and higher concentrations.  On a normal intact body the embalming time is 2 hours (Woskie 1994).

Skin contact cause rashes, splashes can cause eye irritation and corrosion of the cornea, inhalation may cause respiratory irritation and burning and high exposure may cause an irregular heartbeat, severe headache and pulmonary edema.  It can also react strongly with bleach and acids and has known to cause nasal cancers in animals (Australian Government Department of health,2013).

So why do we continue to use it?

It has properties which are not easily replaced by other products and some of the reading suggests workers are not willing to try other products due to Formaldehyde’s effectiveness.

Formaldehyde has been studied by various bodies in Australia and worldwide and some European countries have started to restrict its use (Australian Government Department of Health, 2013).

What can we do to prevent exposure?

  • Develop alternative technology for preservation of the human body
  • Substitute with an alternative chemical or reduce formaldehyde use in embalming
  • Minimize formaldehyde release during embalming by enclosing the process and provide ventilation and masks.
  • Hazard communication via the MSDS’s and good housekeeping to avoid spills


American Federation of state, county and municipal employees. (2016). Workplace Health and Safety Fact Sheet Formaldehyde. Retrieved from

Australian Government Department of health. (2013). Formaldehyde Fact sheet National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme. Retrieved from

Formaldehyde testing lab, EMSL Analytical. INC New Jersey. Retrieved from

Woskie, S. (1994). Formaldehyde Use Reduction in Mortuaries. University of Massachusetts Lowell

Isolated and insular environments

Isolated and insular environments

Amber Atkinson

Flexible working practices – helping to make work good for us


Victoria Weale, a staff member and PhD student in the Centre for Ergonomics, Safety and Health was the recent winner of the Three Minute Thesis competition at the International Ergonomics Association Triennial Congress. Congratulations Victoria!

Victoria says:

“My research looks at work life balance and its effects on the health and wellbeing of workers in residential aged care. Addressing imbalances can create work that is good for us by enhancing workers’ health and wellbeing. This can aid recruitment and retention of people into this essential, growing sector.”

Below is the script from her winning presentation:

Work life balance. If you work, it’s probably on your mind. How much you’re working, and how it’s affecting you and those around you. With changes in technology and the pressure to do more at work, it’s one of the pressing issues of our time.

My research is looking at work life balance and its effects on the health and wellbeing of workers in residential aged care. This is a growing industry sector because as a nation, we’re getting older. We want our loved ones, and ourselves, to be cared for by people who are healthy, and enjoy and are committed to their work. But as the population ages, this sector will need more workers, and how can we encourage people into this physically and emotionally demanding work, and then make them want to stay there?

We know that work can be good or bad for our health, so, we want to strive towards work that enhances workers’ health and wellbeing. This can result in huge positive impacts, not just for the worker, but also for their family and society.

The use of flexible work practices that support employees to achieve a good work life balance is one way to ensure that the work is good work, which can improve people’s health and welling. My research will identify the flexible work practices that are used in residential aged care and examine the relationships between work life balance and outcomes such as health, job satisfaction, and other indicators of wellbeing.

So far I’ve found that whilst there are lots of challenges for staff working in this sector, there are also many positives, such as the fact that many workers have significant control over the number of hours they work, and when they work them. This flexibility is highly valued by staff as it allows them to combine work with their important non-work activities, which for some people, enables them to participate in the workforce.

The next step is to analyse questionnaire data, and I’m expecting to see relationships between work life balance and indicators of health and wellbeing.

The results of my work can be used to inform policy relating to the use of flexible working practices, so that for these essential care workers, the load is lightened and difficult work is made better. By designing work to enhance workers’ health and wellbeing, people will want to come into the sector and stay there. Surely this should be a priority for us all, as it’s these hard working men and women who will to look after us and our loved ones in our last few years of life.

New publications from the Centre for Ergonomics, Safety and Health

Dr Jodi Oakman, Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Ergonomics, Safety and Health, has recently had two articles published. Jodi’s research considers different industry sectors in relation to the prediction and risk management of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD). Risk factors such as physical and psychosocial hazards are considered as predictors for WMSDs. The publications provide support for new approaches to more systematic WMSD risk management, including the use of a ‘toolkit’ to assist organisations to identify and address the most relevant WMSD risks in their workplaces.

For some holiday reading, Jodi’s publications are listed:

Oakman, J. & Chan, S. (2015). Risk Management: Where should we target strategies to reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders? Safety Science. 73 (March ) 99-105.

Oakman, J., Macdonald, W., & Wells, Y. (2014). The need for change: Evidence to support a more comprehensive approach to risk management of musculoskeletal disorders in non-nursing employees sector. Applied Ergonomics, 45 (6) 1634-1640.

Presentations from researchers from The Netherlands- Roos Schelvis

Roos Schelvis (Health Psychologist)

Bottom-up innovation in vocational education: design and process lessons

The aim of the Bottom-up Innovation project is to increase vitality and decrease need for recovery in teachers of two Dutch vocational schools, by implementing a participatory, primary preventive and organizational level occupational health intervention. The design of the project as well as some results of the implementation process will be discussed.

“Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness” stated American psychotherapist Richard Carlson. Set aside the bluntness of the statement I found some truth in it. In my work as a research scientist at the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research TNO, I aim to make work-related stress more ‘unacceptable’ for employers, employees, social partners and policy makers. My projectwork ranges from developing a definition for ‘work stress’ with social partners, to designing an agression prevention tool that makes the primary organizational process safer, till evaluating an intervention on happy and healthy working for employees in vocational education. For the last named project I’m affiliated to VU University Medical Centre Amsterdam and Twente University as a PhD candidate.


Presentations from researchers from The Netherlands- Fenna Leijten

School seminar series Wednesday 24th of September 1.00-2.00 Room HS1/115

Two researchers from The Netherlands will present at the next School Seminar.

Fenna Leijten

The Study on Employment, Ability and Motivation, STREAM

In this longitudinal cohort study (2010-2014), working, self-employed, and non-employed persons aged 45-64 years in the Netherlands filled out an annual questionnaire. The goal of this study is to gain insight into how older workers can remain employed, healthy, and productively for longer. The design and possibilities of this study will be described, as well as some results.

Fenna has a background in Social Psychological and in Public Health. She is doing a PhD at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, on the influence of health problems on work ability and productivity in older employees, and the role that work and personal factors play in this relation. In her research she conducts both quantitative studies using large national datasets and qualitative studies. Furthermore, she is a research scientist at the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research TNO, where she works on diverse projects focusing on integrated and innovative health care.

New research published in ‘Applied Ergonomics’

Jodi and colleagues have recently published an article in Applied Ergonomics on their work on prevention of musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) in the health care sector. The article examines predictors of WMSDs in health care sector employees and found that both psychosocial and physical hazards were related to increased WMSD risk. On the basis of this they propose that risk management strategies need to take into account all hazards to be maximally effective. The article can be found in Applied Ergonomics, see details below. 

Developing a comprehensive approach to risk management of musculoskeletal disorders in non-nursing health care sector employee

Applied ErgonomicsVolume 45, Issue 6November 2014Pages 1634-1640

Jodi Oakman, Wendy Macdonald, Yvonne Wells


This study of selected jobs in the health care sector explored a range of physical and psychosocial factors to identify those that most strongly predicted work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) risk. A self-report survey was used to collect data on physical and psychosocial risk factors from employees in three health care organisations in Victoria, Australia. Multivariate analyses demonstrated the importance of both psychosocial and physical hazards in predicting WMSD risk and provides evidence for risk management of WMSDs to incorporate a more comprehensive and integrated approach. Use of a risk management toolkit is recommended to address WMSD risk in the workplace.

A reminder that alumni of La Trobe University are able to access the library once they have joined the alumni program. See the link here for a range of benefits:



New book

Jodi has been involved in a book that has just been released:


Psychosocial Factors at Work in the Asia Pacific

The concept of the book emerged from the expert meetings of the Asia Pacific Academy for Psychosocial Factors at Work, of which the Centre for Ergonomics and Human Factors at La Trobe has been attending. One of the aims of the book was to gain a better understanding of workplace psychosocial issues across the region- the book is certainly an eye opener in this respect. Another aim was to increase academic links across the region.The book features inputs from 30 academics with 26 from the Asia Pacific (Japan (6), Australia (11), China (1), South Korea (1), Malaysia (6), and New Zealand (1)). There are additional international contributions from Germany (3) and Belgium (1).

For more information: 

Flexible Working Practices

Big Ben


I’m Victoria and I started work on a PhD early last year titled ‘The effects of flexible working practices on employee health and wellbeing’. I’ve always been interested in work-life balance and the health impacts that arise when juggling work and life’s other activities.

Flexible working practices (FWPs), which can be either formal or informal, and organisation-led or employee-led, are common in many occupations and industry sectors. It is envisaged that these patterns will continue as working hours become increasingly diverse to meet operational requirements of organisations, and new technologies facilitate practices such as working remotely. These types of flexible working practices are often considered to be beneficial to either organisational or employee outcomes, depending on whether the flexible working practice in question has been initiated by the organisation or employee. However, there has been little empirical research to determine the impact of flexible working practices on outcomes such as employee health and wellbeing. A recent review (Joyce, Pabayo, Critchley, & Bambra, 2010) suggested that flexibility in working patterns that give employees more choice or control is likely to be beneficial for employees’ health and wellbeing.

My research includes both quantitative and qualitative components where I will explore aspects of flexible working patterns in the residential aged care sector and whether a relationship exists between flexibility and health outcomes.


Joyce, K., Pabayo, R., Critchley, J. A., & Bambra, C. (2010). Flexible working conditions and their effects on employee health and wellbeing (Review). The Cochrane Collaboration