Research

Irregular work schedules increase risks of occupational injury

Work schedules are made up of various variables and can cause health and safety effects, including work-related injury, which causes socioeconomic problems, such as productivity loss and damage to worker health.

Korean researchers investigated the association between work schedule irregularity and the incidence of work-related injury among South Korean manual workers using data from the 5th Korean Working Conditions Survey. In total, 18,330 manual workers were included.

They calculated the influence of an irregular work schedule on occupational injury after controlling for personal and work environment-related factors. The adjusted odds ratio (OR) for work-related injury was 1.66 for an irregular work schedule. The interaction had an additive effect when the work schedule was irregular, even when sufficient safety information was provided. Manual workers had a higher incidence of injury (2.1 per cent). Even in adjusted analyses, work schedule irregularity conferred greater risks of work injury, particularly when not working the same number of days weekly. 

The researchers concluded that policymakers and health professionals need to consider the impact of work schedule irregularity on worker safety and health.
Read more: Lee et al. Work schedule irregularity and the risk of work-related injury among Korean manual workers [Full textInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Pubic Health, vol. 17, no. 20.

Report: Widespread exploitation and wage theft in fruit picking

A new McKell Institute report has recommended that the Morrison Government implement a national labour-hire licensing scheme (as has been introduced in Victoria), remove entry barriers to enable inspections by unions and redesign the visa system to curb widespread exploitation and wage theft in fruit-picking.

The paper, commissioned by the Retail Supply Chain Alliance (the AWU, TWU and the SDA's NSW branch), focused on the Coffs Harbour region's blueberry industry and found that Australian and foreign workers to be systematically underpaid and exploited. 

Authors Edward Cavanough and Connor Wherrett found many foreign workers particularly vulnerable because of the "power imbalance inherent in the 88 days regional work requirement associated with [working holiday] visas". They said the "[working holiday visa] program creates a second-tier labour market, in which a minority of nefarious employers – often labour hirers – can source cheaper labour than otherwise would be available in Australia, under the auspices of a program with very little oversight that is designed to meet labour demands in often remote locations".

The authors' audit of job advertisements specific to blueberry-picking in the area demonstrated an "over-reliance" on small labour-hire operators to source workers, some who offered pay rates as low as $60 a day in their ads. This involved abusing the piecework system, with rates often as low as $2.50 to $3 per kilogram. For a worker to earn the minimum wage on these rates they would need to pick between 75 - 90kg of blueberries per day!

The report called for the Federal Government to remove entry barriers for unions, particularly in designated areas such as the Coffs Coast where employees are demonstrated to be highly vulnerable to exploitation.
Read more: Blue Harvest: Wage theft & other labour infringements in the NSW Mid-North Coast’s 2019/20 Berry Harvest by Edward Cavanough and Connor Wherrett of the McKell Institute, sponsored by the AWU, TWU and SDA NSW, November 2020 Listen to the ABC's AM story here. Source: WorkplaceExpress

Shift workers continue to be exposed to workplace hazards

Improving health and safety at work has been an important issue for the European Union since the 1980s.

Researchers from Sweden noted that while the existing literature supports that shift work is associated with multiple indicators of poor health it frequently neglects the potential impact of occupational hazards. This study sought to describe and compare the exposure to different workplace hazards among shift and other workers before and after 1980.

Exposures to different workplace hazards (noise, dust, pollutant, and other physical stressors) were analyzed among 119,413 participants from the UK Biobank cohort. It was also compared between shift and other workers. The researchers adjusted for potential confounding variables (sex, age, ethnicity, education level, occupational category, and neuroticism). 

They found that shift workers were more likely than other workers of being exposed to almost all identified hazards both before or after 1980. They were also more likely to be exposed to multiple hazards compared to other workers, also both before and after 1980 - more so, in fact, after 1980. Of note, however, was that the work environment has improved overall for other workers. The findings suggest that changes at the workplace have benefited other workers more than shift workers as they are still more exposed to all occupational hazards.
Read more: Miguet et al. Important difference between occupational hazard exposure among shift workers and other workers; comparing workplace before and after 1980 [Full text] International Journal of Environmental Research and Pubic Health, vol. 17, no. 20.

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