Infrastructure | Occupational Health & Safety

Is social media the secret to improving OHS in correctional facilities?

3 Mar 2015, by Informa Insights

prisons 1There are many issues that need to be dealt with in regard to the health and safety of prisoners. Not only do correctional facilities need to ensure that inmates address their offending behaviour and prepare for the workforce upon release, prisons need to ensure that they provide the safest environment possible for those under their care. We spoke with Peter Hollis, Director of Human Resources at Queensland Corrective Services, and he shared with us his experience in improving OHS from risk assessments to implementing social media information campaigns.

Safety within prisons has long been a contentious issue. In 2010, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released a report on the health of Australia’s prisoners, and the findings reflect higher incidences of disease and ill-health than what is reflected in the general population.

“The report highlights a number of significant health issues.  It shows that rates of chronic conditions, such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and communicable diseases such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C, are significantly higher among prisoners than among the general population.

‘Of particular concern is the number of people who enter prison with mental health issues and high levels of psychological distress,” said Ingrid Johnston of the AIHW’s Social and Indigenous Group. You can find the full report here.

peter hollis
Peter Hollis, Director of Human Resources at Queensland Corrective Services

In 2013, Peter Hollis, who is the Director of Human Resources at Queensland Corrective Services, wrote an eBook to highlight the importance of OHS within correctional facilities and he shared his experiences working within the industry  in order to improve safety. When he first began in the OHS industry, Peter writes that OHS was often not the top priority for correctional facilities.

“I knew straight away that safety was never going to be a priority issue where I worked.  That’s not to say that it’s not important to our management teams, it’s just that the operational considerations of keeping prisoners in jail were always going to be the top priority of everyone’s To Do Lists.  Whilst I could understand what was trying to be achieved by pushing a Safety Message, it seemed to me that this simply wouldn’t work at ABC Corrections.

I’ve started seeing lots of online commentary about this issue lately.  What I am particularly seeing is an acceptance that in many industries, OHS will sit somewhere near the bottom of everyone’s agenda.  But if you have systems in place to investigate, identify, and mitigate future risk, I accepted that that’s ok.”

Peter provides a number of ways to combat these issues, mainly risk assessment of hazards as they occur, hazards and risk mitigation. and most surprisingly, social media. For each issue that arises, Peter stresses the importance of keeping proper records as well as undergoing a proper risk assessment so that sensible mitigation controls can be put in place. Peter also states that it is of the utmost importance to ensure correctional facilities are taking notes of basic hazard identification and management.

“All hazards and incidents, and their resolution, are tabled at the local workplace health and safety committee meetings, giving management teams oversight of the specific issues in their workplace, and confidence that they are demonstrating a duty of care to the employees.

Where a broader systemic issue is identified out of a hazard or incident the committee refers this up to the ABC Governance Committee, who can give consideration to controls across a number of workplaces.”

safetyThrough more unconventional tactics, Peter has been disseminating information on OHS in prisons through his social network channels. He states that if there are new changes to policy or legislation, he can easily keep people up to date via Facebook.

“Recently ABC Corrections was impacted by some significant legislative changes to workers compensation entitlements.  I scoured the internet to find simple Q&A or factsheets that I could post, which were user friendly, and wouldn’t result in people pulling those tortured faces at their screens that I spoke about earlier. In this instance, the information that I needed to get out was important and needed to be provided in a clear and concise manner.  This was not a time where I would use graphics or humour.

I’ve collected a series of YouTube clips that I have in my favourites box.  Every now and then I will wheel one of these out.  Some are thought provoking, and others are just funny.  There are also a million images on the internet of stupid people compromising their safety.  For some reason staff seem to enjoy these as well.”

Peter’s eBook can be found here, and it is truly an invaluable account of his experience in prison OHS and what he had to do in order to get results. Peter will also be delivering a presentation at the Prisons 2015 conference that will be taking place on the 17-18 March,  and its aim is to be share insights on whole of life cycle management for correctional facilities. You can view the full agenda and the full speaker line-up here.

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