Agricultural safety case study from Australia Reply

In early June 20915, the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) provided a case study of agricultural safety and the importance of safety culture – Raby Stud, part of Hassad Australia. The study shows great potential but the promotion of this case study would be more convincing if more OHS detail was available and if there was better coordination of its media.

RIRDC emphasised that:

“The injury rate is now close to zero at ‘Raby Stud’, near Warren in New South Wales, thanks to the attitude that ‘it won’t happen to me’ is simply not good enough to ensure everyone gets home safely to their families every night.”

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Is OHS an invisible science? Reply

On 1 June 2015 Australia’s Radio National broadcast a discussion about the future of work, in support of a Vivid Festival conference. Listening to the discussion through the prism of occupational health and safety (OHS) is an interesting experience as work/life balance is promoted as empowering the individual but, as we know in OHS, individuals often sacrifice their safety for income or deadlines or project demands, contrary to their legislative obligations. The workplace flexibility that many people seek allows the individual to manage the workload and develop or design the working environment. In other terms they establish an unregulated workplace. So what influence will OHS have in these new and emerging workplace configurations? Probably very little.

ABC’s Natasha Mitchell spoke with the curator of the conference Jess Scully. The context seems to be workplace flexibility, primarily, in the creative industries but not exclusively. Mitchell says that this increased flexibility can be seen in an increase in short-term contracts, job insecurity and “inadequate conditions” to which can be added unsafe work environments. More…

Safe Work Australia drops the national OHS awards 3

Each Australian State conducts its own occupational health and safety (OHS) awards.  It has been a long-held tradition that the winners of these awards are entered into the national OHS awards conducted by Safe Work Australia.  No more.  The national awards have been quietly dropped.

Safe Work Australia has decided to end the national awards just over a year since the Minister for Employment, Senator Eric Abetz, stated:

“I am delighted to see individuals, small businesses and large organisations finding solutions to make their workplaces safer….

“Their commitment and passion has made a difference in the community and ensured safer workplaces leading to more people getting home safely to their families.

“The leadership and innovation of people and organisations like those celebrated at the Awards that not only helps to reduce the number of workplace deaths and injuries but also helps to create a positive workplace culture.”

The 2014 media release went on to state:

“The Safe Work Australia Awards showcase the best workplace safety solutions, innovations and systems across our nation and are a celebration of what can be achieved to reduce workplace incidents and deaths.”

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Beyond auditing for due diligence 4

One of the most significant motivators for changes in safety leadership in the executive circles in Australia has been the obligation to apply due diligence to occupational health and safety (OHS) matters. The obligation has existed for several years now but is still dominated by legal interpretations rather than managerial ones. To support the legal obligations, OHS professionals should look at how they can add value to due diligence.  One way of achieving, and exceeding, compliance of due diligence would be to subject OHS systems and strategies to a peer-review rather than a narrow audit process. More…

Lack of progress on Safe Work Method Statements shows immaturity 17

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…

Safe Work Australia month begins with an online gamble 1

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…

WHS, performance indicators, annual reports and other thoughts 3

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
  • Reporting.

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…

OHS is not all about covering one’s arse 7

iStock_000005779267_SmallIt 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.

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Zero Accident Vision and its OHS potential 4

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…

Can Broken Windows Theory help OHS? 15

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…