Case study: Good work through effective design

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Ensuring health and safety

by good work design is essential to maintaining your business’s productivity

and success, its safety record and to engage

and motivate your workers through positive interaction. Good work is healthy and safe work where the hazards and risks

are eliminated or minimised in order to prevent injury. Good work is also where the work

design optimises human performance, job satisfaction

and business success. A work designer is anyone

who makes decisions about the design

or redesign of work. They not only include experts such as engineers, architects,

ergonomists or psychologists, but also everyday decision makers

in the workplace such as those responsible

for staffing rosters, IT systems and the way work is done. Those with the primary duty of care

and those with specific design duties relating to the design of machinery,

substances and structures under work health and safety laws

also have a role. To assist with planning

and implementing good work design, work health and safety regulators,

unions and employer groups nationally have agreed

on 10 good work design principles. Let’s look at the 10 principles

and how they’ve been applied at two workplaces – Holy Cross Laundry

and Burstows Funeral Home. We specialise

in providing healthcare linen to the major private hospitals

in the Brisbane area. We employ about 150 people. Of those, 40 people have

an intellectual disability. Our WorkCover history was, um…

was pretty dismal, to be quite honest. The culture wasn’t the best

that it could be. We were moving to a situation

where WorkCover claims were more than our annual surplus. And we’ve been able

to turn that all around. As a result of the strategies

that we implemented, we reduced our claims by 85%

over a two-year period. Burstows is a fourth-generation

funeral home since 1900. There’s about 40 staff in total. PATRICIA: The funeral industry’s actually quite a high-pressure

industry to work in. IAN: You’re dealing with families

in their most vulnerable times. Those psychosocial risks, no matter how small an issue

it might be within an organisation, for that individual, it can lead

to depression and anxiety and a lot of stress for them. The thing that probably stresses me

the most about the industry is you want to help everyone and just feeling helpless

to go that step further. Grief takes many forms. There are pressures on us for time. If you imagine that I am

a wedding planner, that’s exactly what I do, except I only have three days

to complete the task. If we have a funeral

at 3:00 on such a day, that’s exactly what has to happen. Say, in a half-hour period

we could have six families call up and they all want us at the same time

to go and meet with them to bring their loved ones

into our care. The 10 principles of good work design

fit into three sections. One – why good work design

is important. Two – what should be considered

in good work design. And three –

how good work is designed. Let’s have a look

at the first set of principles, starting from the outside

of the model and moving in. How is good work designed? Principle 7 –

engage decision makers and leaders. Principle 8 – actively involve

the people who do the work, including those

in the supply chain and networks. Principle 9 – identify hazards,

assess and control risks and seek continuous improvement. Principle 10 – learn from the

experts, evidence and experience. These four ‘how’ principles

are the actions or steps that should be used

to achieve good work design. Work design or redesign

is most effective when there is a high level

of visible commitment, practical support and engagement

by decision makers. Steps should be taken to engage them

in a good work design process. Leaders can support good work design by ensuring the principles

are appropriately included, for example, in key organisational

policies and procedures, proposals and contracts

for workplace change, managers’ responsibilities

and key performance indicators and business management systems

and audit reports. Work health and safety laws

require employers to consult with their workers

and other stakeholders such as supply chain partners. This step in a good work design

process is an effective strategy to give workers a sense

of ownership of the change and to use their knowledge

and experience to provide solutions for work design problems. Good work design should

systematically apply a risk-management approach to the key workplace hazards

and risks. For the long-term sustainability

of safe and healthy work, designs or redesigns should be

continually monitored and adjusted to adapt to workplace changes. This includes obtaining feedback

and new information to continually improve design. Continuous improvement in work design

also requires ongoing collaboration between the various experts involved

in the work design process. Holy Cross Laundry

employed these principles when designing a new laundry facility

at Banyo. This was a unique opportunity for them to comprehensively review

the work environment and how work is done. Holy Cross Laundry and Burstows

provide an insight into how they managed

this redesign process. We were very serious about it. It wasn’t just about

ticking a box for us. It was… We wanted to make

these improvements. We were also able to look at how we benchmarked ourselves

against other industries. I think they’ve also put a big focus

on consulting with their staff. One of the first things

that was undertaken was a survey of staff on workplace

health and safety issues. MANDY: We did total risk assessments on every single piece of equipment

that was in the laundry and we’ve done that through

partnerships with different people, with our external consultants and with Workplace

Health and Safety Queensland, with our team members

taking feedback on board. We’ve done all that to make those

changes, be they big or small, be it the purchase

of a piece of equipment or be it some additional training. The management team here

have been very hands-on in the design of that building and the workflow of the building. Every consideration

that we can possibly think of, every scenario that we can think of, has been built in to that laundry

to make it as safe as it can, as efficient as it can be. Employers are always

introducing new processes in their existing workplaces, introducing new plant and equipment

into their workplaces. All of those types of changes

are an opportunity to design out hazards

that exist in your workplace. We do everything that we can

to make it more comfortable. When we go to the new place, the environment will be

much more amenable. RACHEL: Burstows Funerals

also looked at work redesign to better manage work-related stress. PATRICIA: Ian felt that

there was some psychosocial risks within the organisation, but couldn’t really pinpoint

any one particular thing. The survey tool

was provided to Burstows and then they went about

surveying their own organisation. It highlighted three areas

for potential improvement. And they related to time pressures,

the emotional demands of the job and also team conflict

within the organisation. So after the survey,

we had quite a few changes. They’re consulting more

with their staff. We created a branch

and department managers meeting. CHRISTOPHER: Anything

that is a potential issue, we sort of get on to it

before it happens. People know who they need to go to to have something changed,

improved, updated. IAN: It had to be upper management,

middle management, staff all working as a team

to create an environment that is, um…a happier,

better, closer team. 12 months later, Burstows underwent

and completed the same survey. Those key factors that were

identified in the first survey around time pressures,

emotional stress and conflict were virtually nonexistent. IAN: Management should be really

getting to know their staff and getting to identify

what makes them tick, what’s important to them so that they can get

the best out of the staff. Let’s make them happy. Let’s help them enjoy

their work environment. What should be considered

in good design of work? Principle 4 – good work design

addresses physical, biomechanical, cognitive and psychosocial

characteristics of work together with the needs and

capabilities of the people involved. Principle 5 – good work design

considers the business needs, context and the work environment. Principle 6 – good work design

is applied along the supply chain and across

the operational life cycle. The ‘what’ principles

should be considered by those people in the organisation

that have design responsibilities. These three principles are a good way to consider all aspects of the work

that should be included in the design or redesign. To identify potential risks

and hazards, you need to look at the key

characteristics of the work as shown in this diagram. It is important to look at these

in combination. For example, introducing a new

computer-based monitoring system may change the force, movement

and posture required and the vibration

associated with these tasks, physical, chemical

or biological hazards, the intensity, complexity

and duration of tasks, job control, supervision

or peer support required. The business needs, context

and work environment can be important factors

in work design – for example, the organisational

structure and culture. Good work design should be applied

along the supply chain and at all stages

of the operational life cycle from start-up, routine operations,

maintenance, downsizing and cessation of business operations. At Holy Cross, workers

and managers identified what needed to be considered

in the design of their new facility by looking in a holistic way

at issues across the workplace. MANDY: We’re pulling and tugging

at linen, we’re separating linen. BOB: Trolley movement is a big issue in terms of if a lot of trolleys

need to get pushed around the plant. MANDY: The manoeuvring of the

trolleys because that’s dangerous. The trolleys can be heavy. Trolleys were being pushed around

in tight, confined areas which was leading

to a lot of crush injuries, people getting fingers jammed between

the trolley and fixed structures and people being struck

by trolleys as well. One of the other major things

that we needed to do was to change the culture

in the organisation. We’ve looked at

how the bags are handled so that we can, as far as possible, reduce the weight of the bags

on the individual. We extended the conveyor belt

at the foot of the sorting area. BOB: To enable bags to be

dropped onto the conveyor so people don’t have

to take weight. MANDY: It was right there,

it was slightly raised. So we minimised the bending,

the lifting, the pulling, the tugging and all of that

that needed to happen. So we sort of redesigned that area. They also had some issues

with their loading docks and people potentially falling off

those loading docks. When we came

to purchase new trucks, we sort of said,

“Well, what can we do here “in the design of the truck

to improve that?” BOB: We implemented a system whereby we had spring-up rails

on the side of the tailgate. So when the tailgate was lowered,

the side rails would come up. Holy Cross Laundry

had some significant challenges primarily due to the age of the

workplace that they were working in. It’s a fairly hot,

sweaty environment here and it doesn’t take me much

to sweat at all. I’ve only got to think about working

and I start sweating. The airflow isn’t the best. Yes, we’ve got industrial fans. Yes, we’ve got everything

that we can put in place to make it as comfortable

as possible. You know, during the very hot times,

we take more breaks, the team members have ice pops. Which we all appreciate, I’m sure. You grab one

and hide it behind your back and say, “Can I have another one?

I haven’t got one yet.” It’s about the health

and well-being of our team, so it’s nice when you come to work that you can actually

enjoy being at work. RACHEL: At Burstows? The other thing

that came out of it was… evaluation

of my leadership style. (LAUGHS) The famous 360. Where the worker gave him feedback

on his performance. So one of the key things that

came out of that 360 feedback was to restructure the organisation in such a way that Ian didn’t have

so many people reporting to him. In the organisation structure,

there was Ian and then there was

all the workers underneath him. So he didn’t have any supervisors

or team leaders or other managers that worked for him. But then we branched out with having each little location

having their own manager. That in itself created more teamwork, a cohesiveness that everyone

was part of the overall team. They made some great efforts

to integrate our teams. Burstows integrated

a counselling service for its staff and our families. Whether or not it’s something to do

within work or if it’s something

in our private life that is actually causing us stress. If people in specific areas

needed certain tools or certain processes

to be implemented to be able to do their job better

and in a less stressful way, Burstows went about setting up

processing systems to provide that to their staff. IAN: One of the key things, I think,

that came out of it too was we talked about emotional stress and part of that happens

within funeral services in relation to people transferring

people from hospitals and homes to our funeral home. And one of the things that

they showed concern about was… ..bariatric patients,

which are overly obese. We created a special unit

for our transfer vehicles that enable us to carry people

of any weight – you know, 300, 400, 500 kilos

if necessary – with no ergonomic issues at all because the unit does

the whole lot of it. Why is good work design important? Principle 1 – good work design gives

the highest level of protection so far as is reasonably practicable. Principle 2 – good work design

enhances health and well-being. Principle 3 – good work design enhances business success

and productivity. The last three principles –

the ‘why’ principles – outline the benefits

of good work design. Good work design will

assist you to comply with work health and safety laws. Good work design prevents harm, but can also enhance the health

and well-being of workers because satisfying work

with positive social interactions are good for people’s physical

and mental health. Good work design can lead

to direct cost savings, particularly when problems

are addressed before they arise. Yes, what we’ve done here is we’ve tried to remove

as much manual handling as we can. My favourite thing

in the new laundry is the trolley tipper and the bag hooker. My favourite things

are the bag tracks and the new conveyor belts because it helps us

not to lift those bags anymore. The trolley tipper now empties

the bags onto a conveyor belt. The conveyor belt takes it

on a journey to the bag rail system. That takes it on a journey and

it comes up here on this platform to the sorting deck. When it’s on the sorting deck

just behind me, a team member just needs

to loosen the cord. So we’ve removed all of those

manual handling concerns that we had. We now have conveyor belts

that do that, not only in the main sort area

but in the clean sort area as well. So we’ve reduced the amount

of trolley traffic. I think it’s less chance of accidents because we’ve got more…

a wider space to go through. So we’re trying to improve

the working conditions. One of the things that we’ve done,

which hasn’t been done before, is to isolate the dryers

from the rest of the plant because they generate

the most heat, lint and noise. MANDY: We’ve got a very high ceiling

so we’ve got natural light coming in. BOB: The roof’s been designed so we get a cross flow

of ventilation. We’ve got cooling systems

near the sorting deck so it’s a more pleasant environment

for them to work in. I believe it’ll set a benchmark for how workplace

health and safety practices can be adopted

in a broad range of industries. We ended up with a longer term staff. There was less turnover. A happier, better, closer team. The changes have been observable. You can see it

in people’s performance, you can see it in

people’s camaraderie, marked respect for each other. The 10 principles of good work design can be applied to help support better

work health and safety outcomes and business productivity. They are deliberately high level

and should be broadly applicable across the range of Australian

businesses and workplaces. Just as every workplace is unique so is the way each principle

can be applied in practice. To explore how good work design

can be useful for your workplace, visit Work safe, home safe –

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