Tag Archives: employee health

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.



Many people don’t think of carbon dioxide, commonly known as CO2, as being particularly harmful – other than to the environment in the form of greenhouse gases (Reich 2010). We breathe it out all the time and it is present in our everyday appliances like fridges, in our soft drinks and even in our smoke machines at parties (United Kingdom Health and Safety Executive 2015).

However, CO2 at concentrated levels in confined spaces is a health and safety risk. Not only can CO2 cut off oxygen supply, it’s hard to detect because it’s odourless – so you can’t smell it – and it’s colourless – so you can’t see it (Tox Town 2015).

Jose Pires_17953181_assignsubmission_file_co2-room

Throughout the hospital we have gas storage rooms containing full cylinders storing compressed CO2. A number of staff need to enter these rooms, especially maintenance staff, engineering personnel and research scientists.

So, before you enter a storage room remember:

  1. First check to see if you are entering a CO2 storage room – there is signage on the door of each room.
  2. Look up and check the monitor display above the door. Make sure it is displaying the green light, letting you know it is safe to enter.
  3. If it is green you can enter the room, but do not close the door behind you as it helps ventilate the room. A forced ventilation system has also been added to ensure there is air change over and crossflow at all times (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety 2013).
  4. If you hear or see the alarm go off when you are in the room, leave immediately. The alarm, which is located at floor level because CO2 is denser than air, is triggered when oxygen levels are low (United States Bureau of Land Management 2015).
  5. Do not re-enter the room until it is safe to do so.

If you are exposed to CO2 you may first experience shortness of breath, leading to sweating and then fatigue, nausea, dizziness, headaches and confusion. In extreme cases CO2 exposure can lead to loss of consciousness and even death (Air Liquide 2014; University of Sydney 2014; United States Bureau of Land Management 2015).

Please remember to report any incident of CO2 exposure to your supervisor and log it in our injury notification system.


Air Liquide 2015, ‘General hazards’, <http://www.airliquide.com.au/en/technical/general-hazards.html>.

  • 2014, ‘Material safety data sheet: carbon dioxide’, <http://docs.airliquide.com.au/msdsau/AL062.pdf>.

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety 2013, ‘OSH answers fact sheets: carbon dioxide’, <http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/chem_profiles/carbon_dioxide.html>.

  • 2008, ‘OSH answers fact sheets: compressed gases’, <http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/prevention/comp_gas.html>.
  • Reich, P 2010, ‘Climate Change. The carbon dioxide exchange’, Science, vol. 329, pp. 774-5.
  • Tox Town 2015, ‘Carbon Dioxide’, <http://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/text_version/chemicals.php?id=6>.
  • United Kingdom Health and Safety Executive 2015, ‘General hazards of carbon dioxide’, <http://www.hse.gov.uk/carboncapture/carbondioxide.htm>.
  • United States Bureau of Land Management 2015, ‘Health Risk Evaluation for Carbon Dioxide (CO2)’, <http://www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/wy/information/NEPA/cfodocs/howell.Par.2800.File.dat/25apxC.pdf>.
  • University of Sydney 2014, ‘Carbon dioxide exposure’, <http://sydney.edu.au/whs/docs/WHS_INC_INF_Carbon%20Dioxide%20Exposure_1.pdf>.

Safety Alert – Ethylene Ripening Agent

Ethylene is a hazardous substance, used to ripen bananas in warehouses. It can cause temporary health effects of frost-bite like burns to skin and eyes and drowsiness or dizziness if inhaled. This communication is for Managers responsible for banana ripening rooms in warehouses to review and ensure their controls are in place to prevent incident, injury and illness.

The Risks:


Ethylene is highly combustible if ignited or heated.

As it is a compressed gas, a ruptured ethylene cylinder may become a projectile and cause a frost-bite like burn to skin or eyes.

Within Ripening Rooms:

Inhalation can cause temporary drowsiness or dizziness. Carbon dioxide also accumulates as a by-product of ripening.

Required Controls:

Engineering Controls:

  • The maintenance department must regularly inspect the dispensing system, air quality monitoring system and the ventilation system.

Isolation Controls:

  • Store indoors, away from direct sunlight and sources of heat.
  • Secure full and empty cylinders upright with a chain and within a storage cage.
  • Place locks on storage cages and ripening room doors.

Administrative Controls:

  • Ventilate ripening rooms daily prior to access.
  • Maintain air quality monitoring. Only enter ripening rooms after checking oxygen levels.
  • Post placards indicating compressed gas, highly flammable and temporary health effects if inhaled or if exposed to skin and eyes.
  • Erect “No Smoking” and “Authorised Access Only” signs.
  • Provide the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) near storage, use and to first aiders.
  • Invite the fire brigade to site to tour the facility and check emergency preparedness procedures.
  • Detail the above risks and required controls within Safe Work Method Statements, Work Instructions and training.
  • Only authorise access once verified as competently trained.


Personal Protective Equipment:

  • Wear safety glasses, leather or cotton gloves and safety boots when changing cylinders.Banana Ripening Rooms

Do you work in pain?

Working With Pain: What can workplaces do to support employees with persistent musculoskeletal pain to stay at work?

“Do you work in pain?” was the question asked by Dr Jodi Oakman’s research team in order to recruit participants for their recent study. The study investigated the kinds of supports that assist employees with persistent musculoskeletal pain to maintain productive employment.

Persistent musculoskeletal pain is commonly caused by conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia or back injuries. Approximately 6.1 million Australians are affected by these conditions. Economic costs are significant due to loss of productivity, reduced workforce participation, lost income tax and increased government support payments. In general, work is good for health and those who are unable to work face substantial impacts on their finances, health and mental wellbeing. Those with persistent musculoskeletal pain are less likely than their peers to be able to maintain productive employment.

The project explored the relationship between the workplace and employee and in particular, the supports needed to encourage productive employment for those with persistent pain. Fifty working individuals with persistent musculoskeletal pain completed questionnaires and 35 also undertook semi-structured telephone interviews which explored a range of issues related to: barriers and enablers to maintaining productive employment, coping strategies, workplace supports and non-workplace supports.

Organisational factors had a significant impact on working productively; as an enabler as well as a barrier to maintaining employment. Organisational support was critical in maintaining employment, in particular the role of a supportive supervisor and manager who allowed employees to control their work routine (including hours and times of work). A lack of organisational support and strained relationships between participants and co-workers was likely to have negative impacts on employee productivity. Several participants in the study raised the issue of discrimination due to employers’ or potential employers’ perceptions that employees with persistent pain conditions are a financial liability due to the risk of potential compensation claims. A range of coping strategies were utilised by participants to help them maintain their productivity at work: changing the nature of their work, taking regular breaks, accessing flexible work hours (changing start or finish times), working longer when well, enlisting support from colleagues, modifying the work environment and adjusting the work routine.

For further information on this study go to:


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. http://authors.elsevier.com/a/1QAmB3IVV9MWh6

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. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003687014001033

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