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Good Work Design: A Conceptual Framework

It's in the DNA of the Human-Centred Organisation

Good work design, underpinned by human-centred design, human factors, and ergonomics, is a concept that is emerging in Australian workplaces and supported by literature,[i] guidance material,[ii] and international standards.[iii], [iv]

It can be defined as:

The process of identifying opportunities and problems through inquiry and bringing people and teams together to create solutions that can be empirically demonstrated to provide robust, positive outcomes that advance human performance. It advances Total Worker Health®[v] and is underpinned by the tenets of human-centred design and participatory ergonomics.[vi]

The human-centred organisation, per ISO27500:2016, is guided by seven principles:

  1. Capitalise on individual differences as an organisational strength
  2.  Make usability and accessibility strategic business objectives
  3.  Adopt a total system approach
  4.  Ensure health, safety, and well-being are business priorities
  5. Value personnel and create meaningful work
  6. Be open and trustworthy
  7. Act in socially responsible ways

The benefits of good work design span all levels and scope of business operations and performance; the activities may be undertaken by multiple business units and, preferably, involve the integration of these business units. The precepts of good work design often stem from work health and safety literature with work design suggestive of improvements in these areas, providing high levels of protection. The activities are thought to arise from the identification of hazards, analysis of risk, and management of hazards through design-based safety initiatives, with continuous improvement also an objective.[vii] However, to extend our thinking and enable the development of design concepts, features, and practice, it is useful to think about design for betterment, not just containment; to optimise a system, rather than just control or regulate a system – a salutogenic approach[viii],[ix] versus a problem-based, pathogenic approach (“what can be [even more] right”, versus “what’s gone wrong?”). In an organisation, this means capturing “near rights” or “work-arounds” (representing immediate design opportunities) and maintaining task-based registers to identify opportunity as much as it is important to identify hazards and analyse risk.[x] To translate this to the work health and safety professional, it means a radical shift in thinking. This might not be surprising because if significant changes are to be made, a consequential evolution must arise from frameworks for conceptualization, tacit knowledge, work culture, and practice.

Imagine if work was considered generative of opportunities to create health, well-being, productivity, social inclusion, education and learning, advancement, engagement, direction, life meaning, and sustainability. Once that appreciative approach is accepted, the conceptual framework for health and safety can be “flipped” so that work stimulates opportunity, different from the thinking that it generates risk requiring containment. This conceptual approach is illustrated in Figure 1:

Figure 1: A conceptual approach to OHS “flipped”: Toward good work design – a salutogenic approach (adapted from the conceptual model for OHS).[xi]

If such ideas were adopted, then the conceptual approaches could be presented as an hourglass or a helix shape – intelligent, risk-based management of hazards with the seamless integration of design-based capitalisation on opportunity, design-champions representing valued positions in the organisation, and board leadership endorsing and driving such activity.

Summary

Good work design is an emerging prospect for organisations with the increasing availability of guidance material and standards to help support the processes and influence thinking. Quality, human-centred design skillset, methods, and tools should be valued, adopted, and sought-after if the salutogenic, opportunity-based, innovation framework is to be wholly embraced.

Disclaimer

Sara Pazell, MBA, PhD, CPE, operates a human-centred design consultancy practice. She is affiliated with several Australian universities and service, product, or training organisations. These opinions reflect no other organisation with whom Sara has an affiliation; the ideas, concepts, and opinions are wholly Sara’s (influenced, of course, by the many scholars and teachers from whom Sara has been blessed to learn and sometimes wrangle with intellectually).

[i] Pazell, S. (2018). Good work design: Strategies to embed human-centred design in organisations [published thesis]. Brisbane, QLD: University of Queensland, Sustainable Minerals Industry, Minerals Industry Safety Health Centre.

[ii] Safe Work Australia (2005). Principles of Good Work Design: A Work Health and Safety Handbook.

[iii] ISO27500:2016 The Human-centred organisation: Rationale and general principles. The International Organization for Standardization.

[iv] ISO27501:2019 The human-centred organisation: Guidance for managers. The International Organization for Standardization.

[v] Centers for Disease Control (CDC). (2016a). What is Total Worker Health®? CDC: NIOSH: (accessed 8 December 2016). https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/twh/

[vi] Pazell, S. (2018). Good work design: Strategies to embed human-centred design in organisations [published thesis]. Brisbane, QLD: University of Queensland, Sustainable Minerals Industry, Minerals Industry Safety Health Centre; definition adapted from Spirovski, V. [Valeria Spirovski]. (2018). Australian’s design capability gap, how it hurts organisations & how to avoid hiring the wrong people. LinkedIn article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/australias-design-capability-gap-how-hurts-avoid-hiring-spirovski/

[vii] Safe Work Australia (2005). Principles of Good Work Design: A Work Health and Safety Handbook.

[viii] Antonovsky, A. (1979). Health, Stress and Coping. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.

[ix] Golembiewski, J. A. (2012). Salutogenic design: The neural basis for health promoting environments. World Health Design Scientific Review, 5(4), 62 – 68.

[x] Pazell, S. (2016). A novel way to hit the mark: Shifting the target from near miss to “NEAR RIGHTS”. LinkedIn article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/novel-way-hit-mark-shifting-target-from-near-miss-rights-sara-pazell/

[xi] Safety Institute of Australia (2012). The Core Body of Knowledge for Generalist OHS Professionals: OHS Book of Knowledge. http://www.ohsbok.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/1-Preliminaries.pdf?ce18fc