On 27 October 2014 the Safety Institute of Australia, with the support of RMIT University conducted a seminar on safety in the construction industry. As with the event last year the issue of Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) dominated the conversation. The same frustrations were expressed as last year – SWMS are too big and complex, they are demanded for tasks they are not legislatively required for, they are rarely read, they are rarely reviewed and they are written only in English. What was missing was an indication of who is (over)demanding SWMS and why.
The seminar contained one client representative experienced in major construction projects who said that he was not directly involved with SWMS as the contract demands only that work is undertaken safely with predetermined levels of risk and reward. That level of safety may or may not involve the use of SWMS – SWMS were not prescribed.
He did not review SWMS unless there was a specific reason and most of the time there was not. It could be argued that too much involvement by the client in how the project is to be completed implies a shared OHS responsibility with the client, changing the client/contractor relationship.
One construction industry representative said that they have been able to reduce the number of SWMS to around twenty types for each of the active construction projects. This has been achieved by limiting the SWMS to the 19 high risk tasks identified in safety legislation. It was significant that this perspective came from the top-level of construction companies, the Tier Ones. More…
The annual Safe Work Australia month starts today. The promotion of this month has fluctuated wildly over the last decade. Sometimes there are physical launches with interesting speakers, sometimes balloons and merchandise, other times the national OHS authority has left most of the activity to the States. In 2014, Safe Work Australia has jumped into internet videos, online presentations and webinars each day of the month of October (the full schedule is available HERE). This initiative is to be supported but it has not been tried before in Australia and its success is not guaranteed.
As expected the first couple of videos are polite launches of the strategy with statements from Ministers and CEOs. The potential for valuable content is after the initial launch but this value is debatable. It is unclear who the target audience is. If the seminar series is for OHS newbies, a restatement of legislative OHS obligations is of little interest to experienced safety managers and professionals. More…
Macquarie University researcher Sharron O’Neill is traveling around Australia refining, through consultation and seminars, her research into Work Health and Safety (WHS) Due Diligence. In a Melbourne seminar this week O’Neill, and her colleague, Karen Wolfe, provided thought-provoking discussions on three principal areas:
- Due Diligence,
- Performance Indicators, and
Below are some of my thoughts that they provoked.
WHS Due Diligence
WHS Due Diligence is still a poorly understood concept. Part of the reason is that the major explainers of due diligence seem to be, predominantly, labour lawyers who, not surprisingly, emphasis the legal requirements and origins rather than the safety elements and application. There are few safety professionals who are explaining due diligence; rather they are discussing OHS/WHS in the context of due diligence.
One colleague explained how an established organisation employed her as their first dedicated OHS professional around the same time as due diligence was being discussed as part of the national OHS harmonisation process. By looking through the company’s existing system of work, More…
It is very common to hear people say that the core motivation for introducing or improving workplace safety management is to cover one’s arse (to protect oneself from various legislative and reputational exposures), be that the collective arse of management, the board and executives or the arse of the individual worker. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the intention occupational health and safety (OHS) laws and principles yet the fear of reputational damage is a strong motivator of change with which safety professionals should learn to work and, perhaps, exploit, particularly as the traditional methods for corporate embarrassment, the media, are declining.
The most pertinent research on reputation risk as a motivator for OHS change seems to come from the UK’s Health and Safety Executive in 2005. In a summary report on research into compliance, HSE looked at the motivations of employers for change. It found that reputational damage was one of many motivators and that each was given around the same weight in deliberations but that
“Respondents cite newspaper reports covering serious incidents and requirement to advise customers of incidents as the best way of increasing risk of reputational damage, followed by a requirement to report health and safety in company reports. ” ( page 10)
This change catalyst relies on two increasingly fragile criteria – the media and annual reports. The media has rarely reported on OHS issues unless the incident
- has caused major disruption
- involves a high profile individual or company
- involves children
- can be given a party political context.
In 2013 the Safety Science journal allowed open access to an article that discusses “The case for research into the zero accident vision” (ZAV). The terminology is slightly different but seems compatible with the “zero harm” trend occurring in Australia. The authors acknowledge that
“…. many companies with a good safety reputation have adopted a zero accident vision, yet there is very little scientific research in this field.” (link added)
Although the discussion revolves around experience in Finland and Finland has a unique culture, the concepts discussed are indicative of the ZAV:
- “accounting for complex contexts;
- setting up norms, rules and performance indicators;
- identifying the role of safety climate and safety culture;
- studying human behavior.”
The authors’ short discussion of context is important as it acknowledges the state of knowledge of hazards and advocates systemic analysis. It also mentions dealing with ‘normal accidents” in complex settings that leads to either looking for safer substitutes or ‘high reliability theory’ and ‘resilience engineering’. Context is vital but there is also the trap of paying too much attention to context and not enough to the hazard, a situation that can often happen with wellbeing programs. More…
There are very few innovations that originate from within the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession. Most of the change seems to come from the application of external concepts to workplace activities and approaches. Recently a colleague was discussing how some of the current OHS initiatives mirror the “broken windows” concept which originated in criminology in the United States. In some ways Broken Windows Theory mirrors OHS positives but it may also reflect some of the negatives or OHS dead-ends.
Ostensibly Broken Windows Theory discusses how attention to small improvements may generate cultural change. However the improvements introduced seem to have different levels of success depending on the context in which they are applied. For instance in OHS, a construction site may mandate that protective gloves are worn for all manual activity but if there is a variable level of manual handling risk, the wearing of gloves will be an accepted practice in one area but haphazard in another. The intention of a mandated safety requirement is to change the risk and safety culture of a workplace but the different levels of risk mean that the requirement can be seen as “common sense” in one area but unnecessary “red tape” in another.
The criminological application of the theory reached its peak in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s. More…
A guest post by Carl Sachs
The revised Australian Standard AS1657 for fixed ladders, platforms and walkways released in October 2013 plugs some serious holes. Guard rails made of rubber, for example, are now explicitly unacceptable.
While absurd, rubber guard rails technically complied with the 21-year-old AS1657 and the example shows just how sorely an update was needed.
Four big changes to AS1657
The biggest changes to AS1657 concern selection, labelling, guardrail testing and the design of fixed ladders. More…
The Weekly Times scored an exclusive this week about a new model of Polaris quad bike which incorporates a roll cage or rollover protection structure (ROPS) in its design. The significance of the Sportsman Ace is, according to the newspaper and the manufacturer, a “game changer” because it seems to counter the arguments of the quad bike manufacturers against such design changes in submissions to government and in public campaigns. They have stressed that more effective control of a quad bike comes from driver training and behaviour and that ROPs may itself contribute to driver injuries and deaths. The Polaris Sportsman Ace, to be released in the United States this week and Australia next month, seems to prove that quad bikes can be redesigned to include safety features, an action that manufacturers have been extremely reluctant to do.
A major critic of ROPs on quad bikes in Australia has been the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI). SafetyAtWorkBlog spoke to a spokesman for the FCAI who explained that the Polaris Sportsman Ace is not an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) but a UTV (Utility Terrain Vehicle). More…
Australian marketer and communicator, Marie-Claire Ross, has moved from video to print with a new book called “Transform Your Safety Communication“. The book approaches safety communications from the marketing perspective and provides a terrific primer in how to write about workplace safety effectively.
Marie-Claire Ross writes that
“Too often, safety professionals are taught about compliance, but not the right skills to influence and engage others.” (page 12)
This is not a deficiency of just the OHS academia. Such a statement would equally apply to most professions. Commercial communication skills, those required other than for essays, assignments and theses, are rarely included in any curriculum other than journalism and marketing. As such, this book is likely to have benefits way beyond the safety profession. More…
During a recent seminar I produced the doodle on the right, which depicts what I think the speaker was talking about. Safety is a goal that can be best achieved through improving a company’s leadership qualities. However all companies seem to be restricted by red tape, however one defines that. Can this journey be improved?
Decrease the baggage
It may be possible to reduce or minimise the red tape baggage. Most Western governments are attempting this through inquiries and reviews but this is assuming that it is government bureaucracy that has created this baggage. In Australia over the last fifty years Governments have allowed business great flexibility in how it achieves OHS compliance and safe workplaces (definitely not the same thing) by reducing the prescriptive basis of OHS laws. It may have been reasonable to expect that the loss of prescriptive safety would decrease paperwork but over the same time there has been increasing calls for less red tape from government. More…