Drug and alcohol testing does not improve workplace safety, so why have it? 3

cover of EN455_NCETA_2011-2 Testing for drug and alcohol effects in workplaces sounds sensible but what do you do when there is no evidence that it improves worker safety or reduces risk? Apparently ignore the evidence, create industrial tension and impose unnecessary costs on industry.

The Australian national government and the Victorian (State) government have both pledged to introduce drug and alcohol testing for the construction sector.  The Victorian Government also promised to introduce drug and alcohol testing for parliamentarians but everyone expects a backdown on that election pledge.

Recently two researchers in Adelaide, Ken Pidd and Anne Roche published a research paper in Accident Analysis & Prevention asking “how effective is drug testing as a workplace safety strategy?“.  The abstract states:

“…the evidence base for the effectiveness of testing in improving workplace safety is at best tenuous.”


Muddled talk is not helping OHS Reply

A short discussion* in Tasmania’s Parliament on 16 September 2015 is illustrative of the use of language to answer a question, just not necessarily the question asked.  This type of political language has existed for centuries and will continue to do so but it contributes to people’s confusion about occupational health and safety (OHS) and the regulators’ role in enforcing OHS laws and should be called to account.

The question was asked by Independent Kerry Finch to Attorney-General Dr Vanessa Goodwin.

“Is the Government concerned about the rundown in staff for the WorkSafe program? Is the Government aware that there are only a reported 19 field inspectors, when it requires between 27 and 30 for the program to work efficiently? Does the Government plan to recruit more field inspectors for WorkSafe?”


Drug and alcohol testing amendments may weaken safety 3

Last week the former Workplace Relations Minister, Eric Abetz, informed Australians that amendments had been introduced into the Building Code 2013 concerning drugs and alcohol testing.  However an analysis of those amendments shows that the amendments may not achieve what Abetz promised.

Siobhan Flores-Walsh, a Partner with the Australian law firm, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, has provided the following table that summarises a couple of those amendments. More…

OHS is in sports but by another name 4

After writing a recent article about the relevance of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws to sporting clubs, I attended a sports medicine seminar to access a different perspective on workplace safety.

2015-09-21 18.43.15Having never played sports outside the obligatory high school activities, which in my high school also included snooker?!, the world of locker rooms and team sports is foreign.  But earlier this week I learnt that where OHS professionals talk about productivity, sportspeople speak of performance, and where factories address line speed, sports physicians talk of load management.  I also learnt that professional sportspeople are exempt from workers’ compensation. More…

Professional sportspeople are workers, so make them safe 1

Player Reaches To Catch Ball In Australian Rules Football GameThere is no doubt that football fields are the workplaces of professional football players and their support staff. So they are covered by occupational health and safety (OHS) and/or work health and safety (WHS) laws but what does this mean in relation to OHS regulators, and the sportspeople’s employers? Recently Eric Windholz looked at this particular issue.

Windholz recently published “Professional Sport, Work Health and Safety Law and Reluctant Regulators” in which he states:

“The application of WHS law to professional sport is almost absent from practitioner and academic discourse. An examination of the websites of Australia’s WHS and sport regulators reveals none contains WHS guidance directed to professional sports.” (page 1, references are included in the paper)

The example he uses to show this apparent lack of interest, even by the Victorian OHS regulator, WorkSafe Victoria, is the Essendon Football Club supplements saga.  Windholz writes

“Had these events occurred in the construction, manufacturing or transport industry, for example, it is difficult to imagine WHS regulators not intervening. Yet, WorkSafe Victoria initially was reluctant to investigate choosing to defer to ‘more appropriate bodies’. It only commenced an investigation when compelled by a request from a member of the public.” (page 2)


OHS and IR share the stage at safety convention 1

Nigel Hadgkiss of Fair Work Building & Construction (FWBC) took the opportunity of the SIA National Convention in September 2015 to explain his thoughts on occupational health and safety (OHS) and industry relationSIA Conference 2015 (21)s (IR).  Hadgkiss (pictured right) argued that he had an obligation to protect the safety and health of his employees/inspectors from a major workplace hazard presented by officials of the Construction Forestry Mining & Energy Union (CFMEU). In OHS terms, his perspective is understandable but his political opponent, Michael Borowick of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), also appearing at the conference, held a different opinion. More…

Drug and alcohol testing for Australian construction sites 5

On 18 September 2015 Senator Eric Abetz introduced amendments to the Building Code so that drug and alcohol testing will be required on construction sites.  In his media release he states that:

“The construction industry is a high risk industry where the risks associated with the use of heavy machinery, mobile equipment, working in congested areas and working from heights, are accentuated by the effects of alcohol and drug use.”

Following this argument, would not greater safety benefit be gained by addressing the risks posed by machinery, working at heights and in congested areas?  Drug and alcohol testing will do little to reduce these risks, or more correctly, hazards.  Being impaired may make it more likely for a worker to fall while working at heights but creative and safe design could eliminate the risk of working at heights altogether. More…

Death from a well-known hazard – culture is only part of the answer 1

Cover of cif-cole-cb-20150911A coronial finding in Queensland in September 2015 illustrates how daily activities can lead to tragedy but also the role of safety culture.

According to one media report, in investigating the 2009 death of 24-year-old Cameron Cole who was hit as a pipe rack fell from a truck, the Queensland Coroner, Terry Ryan, found that

“…the semi-trailer had been over packed, not properly secured and there was no exclusion zone around the vehicle when the load was being released.”

From this event the Coroner makes many recommendations about the safety management of work practices at that time.  Many of these reflect common work practices that exist to this day on many Australian worksites. More…

Inquiry into precarious/insecure work includes OHS Reply

2015 has been a big year for public attention on the exploitation of workers.  In May, the Four Corners program revealed the exploitation of, largely, migrant or illegal workers in the food processing and vegetable growing sectors.  In the last month, 7Eleven workers have featured, also after a Four Corners investigation in conjunction with Fairfax Media.  In both cases, workplace safety has been mentioned but not featured.

In September 2015, the Victorian (Labor) Government released the terms of reference (ToR) for its inquiry into labour hire and insecure work and occupational health and safety (OHS) gains a mention. The final report is due by July 2016. It is now up to the OHS profession and its advocates to emphasis OHS’ important role in the industrial relations of vulnerable workers. More…

FIFO mental health challenges the way we do business 4

cover of Final Report w signature for website(2)An article on the occupational health and safety (OHS) risks of Australia’s Fly In – Fly Out (FIFO) workers has been on this blog’s agenda for a long time but the final report into the mental health of FIFO workers released in June 2015 by the Western Australian government summarises many of the hazards. A close look at the recommendations illustrates many of the general problems of addressing mental health issues in workplaces. More…