International Reinforcements have arrived – are they prepared?

The Australian Fire Season Continues

Reinforcements from overseas are finally starting to arrive in force. They couldn’t be here at a better time. This firefight has been a long one, and with many more months to go, Australia with its collection of state services, volunteer and paid agencies simply cannot do it alone.

I for one am truly thankful for their arrival.

I do question though, and maybe now isn’t the time, whether moving people across the globe, across different time zones and massively different time zones is as simple as we make it seem? In essence, are we doing everything we can to make sure that we return these helpers back home in the state they were loaned to us.

I see two major problems that need to be addressed

  • Heat acclimatisation – Many are coming from the northern winter. This means that they are not acclimatised to the 40 degree temperatures that they are now facing. They will fatigue faster and suffer an increased risk of sustaining a heat injury than those they are working alongside.
  • Circadian Shift – As many come from the opposite side of the planet, at least in the early stages of their deployment their bodies will be conditioned to their own timezones. This means they won’t be getting the adequate rest they need, again increasing the risk of premature fatigue and poor decision making.

Some of these problems are simply part and parcel of our new global reality. Come wintertime it will be our people heading north to return the support we have so graciously been gifted. I simply ask that, our new reality needs new thinking.

  • Monitor their fatigue and acknowledge it with proper rostering that may need to be different to the locals.
  • Properly ensure that heat stress risk and hydration are managed, above and beyond the efforts we make with our own people. They are at a risk that we simply aren’t acknowledging or properly understanding.

I like everyone am truly thankful for these people giving their time to help us in our time of need. I simply ask that, as a community, are we doing everything we can to ensure that they stay safe.

Workplace Wellbeing is Broken

There, I said it! The way that we address wellbeing in the workplace is failing so many people, in so many ways! We seek simple solutions to complex problems and we are breaking people by pushing forward with initiatives that have failed in the past, or are easy to do, simply because we lack the courage to try to be different.

“Insanity is doing things the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”

Last week, my feed on every social media channel was filled with yellow cupcakes, yellow shirts and everyone asking the very important question RuOK? What a great thing to do you say, well done us!

Well, what if the person you asked that question to said no and in addition to all the other things going on in their lives, the reason that they R’ntOK is because of the very workplace that you seek to improve?

What if, just for arguments sake, just asking this question simply isn’t enough?

Is your organisation one that actively promotes wellness in every sense, or one that simply provides “mindfulness training”, “yoga”, some fruit or even better prides itself on having “an EAP and a chaplain!

While I know this is going to be controversial, I wish to propose a better way of doing business in this space. What if, for a change, we truly made our workplaces places where wellness can thrive, independent of the myriad of “wellness gurus” out there who seem to just create noise and in many ways dilute the positive messages and great initiatives underway elsewhere.

Anyone in this space will tell people that to be better mentally, they need to do a few things:

  • Tell someone – what if its a 60 year old man who simply doesn’t want to talk? What if the person they are supposed to talk to has simply no idea what it is that they do for a job (eg a 21 yr old psychologist who is trying to talk to a group of firefighters just back from their latest critical event). Surely its their fault if they don’t want to talk…toxic masculinity and all that!
  • Get some exercise – what if your work requires people to work 60 hour weeks? What if its a young mum (yes its still normally a mum unfortunately!) who drops their child at school, scrambles to work to get their time in, eats lunch at their desk and then scrambles off at 245 to pick their kids up … when do they fit in exercise??? What if its someone who is obese and trying to get started … how do they do that without support?
  • Eat better – what if you are a shiftworker (say a paramedic or a police officer) and looking for food on the road at 2 in the morning? Where do they get this food from? What if people genuinely can’t make sense of the multitude of information coming their way every day about proper nutrition??
  • Prioritise family time – With rising costs of living, is yours an organisation who prides itself on never delivering workplace agreements on time? I know a fire service who hasn’t had an agreement for over 3 years now! These people now work excessive hours in overtime simply to pay the bills. How do they prioritise family time? Or just as badly, is yours an organisation with managers who are happy to contact staff at all hours?

I fully believe that the answer to improving wellness lies not in doing what we have always done, but taking a multi-disciplinary approach that encompasses all aspects of a persons wellbeing. This will require some hard conversations around the way that we structure our work. It will take genuine, courageous leaders to push back against “the way we’ve always done it.”

Our managers need to be trained to be leaders in this area so that they become change agents rather than simply perpetuating a broken system, particularly those who think that simply celebrating RuOK day once a year is enough.

For any organisation looking to change the way that they address wellbeing of their staff, I would love to help! We can work with you to create better work for everyone by better training your leaders in how to properly address workplace wellness, and while there is no “one size fits all model” I offer you this as a potential way to start the conversation.

Contact me at to start the conversation.

The Tactical Athlete on Deployment

Volunteer firefighters

Ok Australia, hang on to your hats!

Its only September and we are already seeing bushfires out of control in our northern parts. Teams have been working day and night trying to control these infernos, where in many cases their efforts prove almost futile as house after house is destroyed by the horrific conditions. And this is only the start!

In Australia, the sharing of resources is common between the different agencies with teams moved across the country, and also across the globe as needed, to provide vital support to teams who become exhausted and physically overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work that is needed to try to keep the community safe. Almost to a person, these resources come from our volunteer population, doing their best to support the community, many times at great personal cost in terms of their health and their wellbeing as we ask them to deploy time, and time again throughout the season. And as the season drags on, and the goodwill dissipates it will increasingly be left to a few to maintain the rage.

The Australian Wallabies landed in Japan this morning to start their month long world cup rugby campaign. With them travels the best sports scientists, the best conditioning coaches, the best nutritionists that money can buy. In the world of elite sport, not doing so would be seen as lunacy. The players are their greatest asset and they do everything in their power to ensure that they are always prepared and recovered for the next training session, the next game and hopefully to bring the world cup back to Australia.

My question to each agency then, and those taking a pay check to ensure “wellbeing” of their people is this – Are you doing everything in your power to ensure that these tactical athletes are treated as we treat our elite athletes or is it simply enough to provide them with a bottle of water and maybe some yoga?

Are you monitoring their workload? Are you ensuring that they are properly recovered before you send them back into the breach? Are you providing them with the best chances of staying healthy and well in the stifling heat of the Australian summer.We wouldn’t deploy with fire trucks or helicopters that weren’t subject to strict maintenance schedules.. why are our people any different? And I know it costs money but so does that shiny new helicopter or drone that you so proudly show off on the news.

The science is out there. The tools to monitor our people exists. All we need now is the people in those positions who spend the money and make the decisions to accept that maybe, just maybe there is a better way to look after our people.

By removing recruitment standards, do we actually understand what they are for?

This week, in response to a cultural review, it was identified that Victorian Police (Australia) were unable to meet their 50% gender target during recruitment. One of the main reasons for not meeting the targets was placed squarely on the pre-recruitment physical standards which are now effectively being eased or practically erased.

While I am not going to get into the politics of why this decision was made, or even the rightness or wrongness of this decision on that basis, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe people don’t understand why it is that standards are there in the first place. I am a big advocate for physical standards in physical jobs and even more so for ongoing maintenance of those standards

In the policing setting the world has certainly changed in the past 20 or 30 years, with more emphasis on “soft skills” and de-escalating situations rather than relying purely on brawn. However, eventually one way or another, the physicality of the situation will require someone to have the ability to either protect themselves or ultimately apprehend someone who doesn’t want to be apprehended.

  • We know that grip strength correlates highly with the ability to shoot straight.
  • We know that the load on our police (body armour etc) is far higher than it was even 5 years ago.

Whatever we might think about the work that police, firefighters or military personnel do, it is critical that a contemporary view of this is undertaken and that our tests reflect that. Tests developed 20 or 30 years ago, when the world was different can no longer be used. Likewise testing based on “what we reckon” or tests designed to “test toughness” based on gut feel of a few who passed that test when they were younger, can no longer be used either.

In the world of Physical Employment Standards, they are developed and employed on the basis of

  • Does the test reflect the job?
  • Are the standards in those tests reasonable to ensure that a worker can do that job safely and effectively?
  • Were those tests rigorously devised based on best practice approaches?

I don’t know how the VicPol standards were developed. However, assuming that they were properly devised and that they met the two criteria above then my question is, as an employer, is VicPol or indeed any other agency redefining or removing standards purely to meet quotas complying with their obligations under the WHS Act – that being to ensure the safety of their staff. Of course, if the test wasn’t developed with any stringency or any adherence to best practice then maybe, just maybe, removing this test could be justified. However, we still need something.

We at OPSolutions can help your organisation here.

Preparing for the heat of summer – are your workers ready?

This week saw the launch of the 2019/20 bushfire program here in Australia, off the back of a dry winter and predictions of a long hot summer ahead. We have watched with horror, the heatwaves that have smashed the people of Europe and the United States, with the tacit understanding that this is headed our way. For many of us, the heat is merely an inconvenience as we leave our air conditioned houses and drive in our air conditioned cars to our air conditioned offices, with only short exposures to the weather in between.

However, for many of us that weather becomes our operating environment with our exposures dictated not by what we want to do, but rather what is needed to be done. In my world, that of firefighting, we simply cannot ‘down tools’ when it gets too hot. We have a job to do.

But you’re not a firefighter you say…maybe not. What about the bricklayer needing to get the house finished before Christmas, the line worker having to repair downed power lines so that our air conditioning is firing when we get home? The Schoolteacher working in the classroom without air conditioning?

We know that heat kills. We know that, when we expose people to these environments the risk of injury increases, cognitive performance decreases and the very real risk of heat stroke occurs. Unfortunately, through experience we know that heat kills. However, what do you as an employer do about it? Do you provide water and a bit of shade and call it a day? Do you change your work times to suit the environment? Are you one of the many who risk manage based on the fact that “it hasn’t happened yet so I don’t need to worry.” Are you looking for your “Black Swan” event without even knowing it.

And then, what information are you and your staff using to make those decisions? An educated workforce, from the lowliest worker to the loftiest manager is critical to ensuring the safety of our staff at work. In the firefighting world, we spend far more time on preparing than we do on responding. We know that the work put in before the fire arrives, pays dividends when it does. As such, why would managing a risk be any different? Summer is coming. We know it is going to be a hot one. The question is, are you a boss that prepares for disaster by educating your staff and developing policy appropriately, or are you the one who scrambles when it arrives.

At OPSolutions, we have developed an E-Learning package to assist you in meeting your due diligence when meeting the challenges of putting your workers into the heat. We can match this with formal training courses, tailored to your individual workplace and your risk profile. Now is the time to act, not while it is 40degrees outside rather while we still have time to prepare.