Business leader embarrasses himself over PPE 8


On 7 December 2011, the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper included an article entitled “Hotel chief attacks our nanny state” in which the President of the Australian Hotels Association in South Australia (AHA/SA), Peter Hurley, seems to have been inspired by the same lunacy and misunderstandings as Jeremy Clarkson on matters of occupational health and safety.

The article reports that

“HOTELS Association chief Peter Hurley addressed Premier Jay Weatherill wearing a high-visibility vest yesterday in a provocative protest against a culture of over-regulation.

“It’s the decade of the rise and rise of the fluoro high-vis jacket,” he said, targeting State Government SafeWork SA. “An audit visit from Work Safe SA (sic) is the only thing that makes you wish you were at the dentist having root canal work.”

He said he had been told drive-in bottle shop staff had to wear high-visibility vests.

“Then the guy delivering bread started arriving in high vis. What took the cake recently was the bloke who tops up the condom vending machine arrives, gets out with his case of rubbery delights, resplendent in a high-vis vest. Maybe the topless waitress is next?””

As the opportunity for the comments was the AHA/SA Christmas function and the association developed its influence through alcohol, one could excuse Hurley’s comments as inspired by the event but he produced a fluorescent vest as a prop so his comments appear premeditated.

Not only did he criticise the South Australian Government in front of that State’s recently appointed Premier, Jay Weatherill,  SafetyAtWorkBlog has been informed that the Workplace Relations Minister, Russell Wortley, was also in the audience.  Hurley picks his moments well.

SafeWorkSA is not impressed.  It has advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that:

“Peter Hurley’s words and implied attitude to workplace safety are disappointing to us.

SafeWork SA seeks to work cooperatively with employers to demonstrate the benefits that safe workplaces can offer both to the wellbeing of staff and others, as well as the business bottom line.

Precautions such as high-visibility vests have come about because workers have been injured, sometimes fatally, by moving vehicles where the operator has been unable to sight people nearby.

Anything which can help catch the attention of the operator of a forklift or a truck alerting them to the presence of a nearby worker may well be the difference between life and death.

Employers who cut corners, take shortcuts, make assumptions or rely on luck, sooner or later get caught out – and it’s usually their workers who pay the heaviest price.”

Peter Hurley’s motivation for the speech is unclear but his attempt at criticising the “nanny state” through ridiculing high visibility personal protective equipment (PPE) illustrates his ignorance of OHS, an ignorance that seems to be increasing in the Australian business sector.  It may also be part of the larger lobbying agenda of the AHA/SA as the accusation of the “nanny state” is being used to criticise increased liquor licensing.

Personal Protective Equipment

The core OHS issue in the Advertiser’s article is that an unspecified someone has told the workers at his drive-through bottle shops that high-visibility vests are to be worn.  (According to some workers SafetyAtWorkBlog spoke with this evening, Woolworths, one of the two largest supermarket chains in Australia, has a policy of PPE for its bottle shop workers.)  The usual rationale for this type of PPE is to increase personal visibility when working in close proximity to vehicles, a constant scenario for bottle shop workers.

But what Hurley does not acknowledge is that PPE for bottle shop employees is only one of the control measures implemented to stop workers getting hit by by vehicles.  Many bottle shops have speed humps at the entrance and exit in order to reduce the speed of vehicles in the area shared by personnel and cars.  The ubiquitous closed-circuit television cameras are usually in place, predominantly, for after an incident.  Driveways are brightly lit, mostly for marketing purposes one imagines, but this also allows for easy identification and may deter attacks.

If the world of OHS has lost its “common sense”, as many Conservatives in the United Kingdom believe, how has the workforce been able to accept and internalise safety clothing as an automatic part of their working lives?  Isn’t the widespread practice of wearing PPE to work an example of the common sense that they claim is missing?

If individuals need to be more accountable for their behaviours and the work choices they make, surely, the personal use of PPE should be supported by business leaders, and not ridiculed.

Kevin Jones

8 comments

  1. Sorry Kevin, I don’t agree. The Gentleman in question is voicing a valid and very wide-spread concern that many OH&S principles are implemented without thought and not in response to an actual need. I also don’t think that this is just in the minds of “conservatives” – labelling anyone is counter-productive. Not just “progressives” support safe work practices.

    Safety at work is of course paramount but not all work practices require PPEs – and the Condom Vending machine operator is a very good example. Its regulation for regulation’s sake and not for safety.

    A blanket approach is not efficient policy its just easy policy – if a PPE provides no added protection it should not be a requirement – or every worker in every workplace would be required to wear one. When anything is overused its abused and its impact is diluted. Hi-Viz jackets should not – in my opinion – become so common place that they are no longer an eye-catcher or next we will be having to wear a flashing light!!

  2. Judy, thanks for taking me to task.

    I am not sure that the requirement for high-visibility clothing is a regulatory requirement. I think it is an option that chosen in order to satisfy the requirement to provide a safe and healthy work environment.

    No business should rely on personal protective equipment as the only safety initiative as it can be a less effective control measure than other options in the hierarchy of risk controls. Some of those higher order options – speed humps, lighting etc – are mentioned in my article.

    The hi-viz vest on the condom supplier is probably not related to the product being delivered but to frequent need of the driver to exit his vehicle in areas where there are other vehicles, such as loading bays, pub car parks and streets. The increased visibility will assist others in avoiding possible harm to the wearer.

    You are correct that people can become blase about PPE and other safety measures, but this will never be countered unless the reliance on PPE is replaced by more effective control measures. These measures may not be immediately apparent and this is where people advocate safety leadership and creativity. Relying on existing measures too long reduces their effectiveness so new perspectives and new controls need to be encouraged.

    I support any control measures that reduce the need to rely on PPE. Old and new OHS legislation also encourages this endeavour.

  3. I’m so glad you tackled this one today Kevin because the same said gentleman was on talk back yesterday and frankly it was just so sad to hear the callers that followed.

    I guess it all make more sense when there’s someone’s body under a vehicle.

  4. We are all reading this as safety professionals hoping like crazy that the issue of PPE is done only after all other avenues of safety have been exhausted. What makes me mad is that we all know they haven’t been and that 9 times out of 10 its the first and only thing attempted until someone is hurt or worse. Hurley is voicing a genuine concern of industry, and it is our fault (as safety professionals) for not insisting on higher level controls at all times, thus making a mockery of the puerile efforts of most businesses.

  5. David, I agree that complacency also exists in safety professionals. It is difficult to encourage innovation when existing controls “work”.

    I think Hurley was given the wrong advice and should have been provided with several safety options, of which one could have been PPE.

    I would like to see him turn his frustration over the PPE into a review of his premises so that PPE is not required. It would be wonderful to see him move from complainant to an exemplar of safety.

  6. Pingback: South Australia’s politicians prepare to grill the OHS regulator, SafeWorkSA « SafetyAtWorkBlog

  7. Pingback: Managing on luck is not managing safety « SafetyAtWorkBlog

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