The fact that quad bike use is dangerous needs a fresh communication strategy 1

Dr Tony Lower of the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health & Safety has released new information about deaths and injuries associated with quad bike use in Australia for 2011. His report lists media reports that

“There were at least 23 quad bike related fatalities and 56 major injuries, many of which are likely to be life‐changing…”

He also continues to keep pressure on the quad bike manufacturers:

“It is an absolute insult to quad bike users and particularly to those families that have lost loved ones in rollovers that the manufacturers and the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) simply continue to defend the indefensible. There is an urgent need to address this issue through better design of the quad bikes themselves and also ensuring crush protection devices are fitted”

But the severity of the risk and potential consequences of using quad bikes is well established.  This article is going to look at a couple of other issues raised by Dr Lower’s media release (not yet available online) and the Media Monitors report. More…

The Australian newspaper dismisses workplace deaths as “sickies” 7

Safe Work Australia has released two important statistical reports. One concerns the number of Work-Related Traumatic Injury Fatalities for 2009-10 and the other is called The Cost of Work-Related injury and Illness for Australian Employers, Workers and the Community: 2008-09 .

These reports have gained minimal mainstream media coverage. In a very short article The Australian newspaper preferred to focus on productivity clauses in workplace agreements following a departmental report, as is its choice, but, more significantly, the newspaper’s headline dismisses the report’s cost estimates on “work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths” as “sickies”.  The report on costs, from where The Australian drew its $A60 billion reference, includes an evaluation of the cost of workplace fatalities, defined in the report on page 18 as

“a work-related injury or disease, which results in death.”

It is enormously insulting that the newspaper includes workplace deaths in its disparaging headline “Workers’ sickies costing us $60bn”. Minister Bill Shorten states in his media release accompanying the reports that:

“Work-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities have a huge impact on Australian society. They can physically and mentally affect workers, colleagues, employers, families and the community. This latest research is evidence of the significant cost to Australia’s economy. Workplace safety is not just about avoiding human tragedy it is also about reducing economic cost for the nation.”

At a time when the Federal Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, is trying to bring some rigour and dignity to the issue of workplace safety, The Australian newspaper should be ashamed.

Kevin Jones

CEO departure has no apparent controversy 4

Speculation has been rife about the departure of Victorian WorkSafe’s CEO, Greg Tweedly since it was announced on 11 January 2012. Crikey (not available online) has aired questions about Tweedly’s lack of action on workplace bullying which WorkSafe has been accused of not addressing. The Age newspaper has juxtaposed the Liberal Government’s use of $A471 million of WorkCover premiums for consolidated revenue with Tweedly’s departure.

On the workplace bullying issue, Tweedly has said previously that he does not believe that WorkSafe has a toxic work environment. When the accusations were being aired in 2011 it was Tweedly who faced the media, where in the past it would have been more likely for the Executive Director to address these issues. Bullying accusations are highly embarrassing for WorkSafe as they issue the sdvice on preventing bullying at work, however WorkSafe is only one of the many government bodies in Victoria and in other Australian States that have been accused of this hazard. Other instances of workplace bullying reports have resulted in independent inquiries but not so with WorkSafe. Perhaps Tweedly is right and the working environment in WorkSafe is not toxic, or no more toxic than any other government department or authority. Perhaps the critics should be focussing on the problem of bullying in the workplace rather than the workplace, or the executive management, itself. More…

Merry Christmas from SafetyAtWorkBlog 1

I want to personally thank all of the loyal readers of SafetyAtWorkBlog  for your support in the last twelve months.  The blog stats is kicking along nicely but its prominence in OHS discussions, particularly in Australia, is growing stronger.

This year the blog has been blessed by perceptive and controversial articles by Col Finnie and Yossi Berger, in particular.  These contributions spread the workload but also broaden the voice of the SafetyAtWorkBlog.  (Now if only the unsolicited advertising masquerading as blog contributions would stop…. )

I will be taking some time away from the blog in January but the Twitter account will continue to scour media sources around the world for relevant content.  Please consider following SafetyOZ on Twitter and please keep emailing your suggestions for articles and your OHS tip-offs (we follow-up each one).

All the best

Kevin Jones

Tread carefully when speaking with the media 1

One of the most important professional lessons is to only talk about what you know.  I found this out personally after a disastrous pre-conference workshop many years ago where I did not understand what the workshop participants expected until I began seeing blank and quizzical expressions from the, thankfully, small audience.

On Australian radio on 14 December 2011, a geologist became embroiled in an interview on asbestos and cancer.

Ian Plimer is a well-known Australian geologist and is a professor of mining geology at the University of Adelaide.  Plimer is a controversial and outspoken critic of climate change.  The climate change debate is a fringe consideration in occupational health and safety but today,  Professor Plimer entered the debate on asbestos, a carcinogen that is responsible for hundreds and thousands of work and non-work related deaths.

On ABC Radio, prominent Australian journalist and writer on asbestos industry issues, Matt Peacock, took Ian Plimer to task about Plimer’s 2008 claim that chrysotile, or white asbestos, is not carcinogenic.   More…

Quad bike manufacturers withdraw from the safety campaign 5

The Weekly Times newspaper can feel justifiably chuffed that it has played a significant role in changing some of the attitudes on the safe operation of quad bikes.

It’s front page article on 23 November 2011 reports on a considerable backdown by quad bike manufacturers in Australia on the issue of rollover protection structures (ROPS) or crush protection devices (CPDs). (The cartoon is very funny also) Motorcycle manufacturers have been supporting a campaign and website through the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) but even recent media releases (FCAI MOVES TO DE-BUNK ATV ROLL-OVER PROTECTION MYTHS )  have been removed from the FCAI website  and the FCAI spokesperson has been “directed by ATV makers not to discuss the issue” according to the Weekly Times.  FCAI’s 2010 position paper on quad bike safety continues to be accessible.

New CEO

SafetyAtWorkBlog has been told that there is industry speculation that the sudden change in policy direction is due to the September 2011 appointment of a new CEO, Ian Chalmers. More…

Australia risks OHS ridicule in the media 6

The Sunday Herald-Sun ran an article that would not have been out-of-place in the English tabloid newspapers.  The article, “Safety regulations taking the fun out of schools”, indicates many of the confused lines of responsibility that English articles include.

In Victoria, the safety requirements of government schools are determined by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD).  The OHS regulator, WorkSafe, has some influence but far less that DEECD. (The only really school-related OHS document from WorkSafe Victoria was released in 2008)

The Sunday Herald-Sun article states, in some pictures not in the online version, that the Victorian Principals Association has been told of OHS regulations that require teachers to  “put on mask, surgical gloves to apply a band-aid”.  More…

Explosive near-miss deserves safety investigation 1

There was a brief ABC report from Western Australia on 12 November 2011 about a young man receiving serious burns from an industrial explosion.  Information is scant on this incident in the press but SafetyAtWorkBlog has been told that the incident occurred at drinks after work.  As the incident is not considered related to work, WorkSafeWA is unlikely to be involved with any investigation.

This seems an odd situation as it is reported that the serious injury occurred “when a large engine exploded in an industrial yard”!

Young worker + alcohol (potentially) + industrial workplace = a serious near miss, if nothing else.

It is hoped that whoever investigates the incident shares some of the findings so that important OHS lessons will be offered.  WorkSafeWA seems to be the logical choice for investigator but we will have to wait to see who takes the lead.

Kevin Jones

Social obligation is lost on some 1

In response to the Weekly Times’ articles on quad bike safety and the mandatory use of helmets, one letter writer in this week’s edition of the newspaper wrote:

“More state lunacy… Accidents happen, legislation cannot stop this. Free people have the right to decide such things for themselves.”

The letter writer has a strong belief that accidents happen and that nothing can be done to stop the harm, particularly through the application of legislation. This view is in the minority but is still spoken in some social circles, although the volume of such statements may have reduced over time.

The statement shows a misunderstanding of the cause of accidents and there is always a cause, or several. It is no longer socially acceptable to concede a workplace death as an Act of God or “shit happens”, although only recently in an expensive rail safety seminar, “shit happens” was said repeatedly. The letter writer’s statement is one of hopelessness, the antithesis of the values of the safety profession and OHS regulators.

Philosophers can argue the point more effectively but if one is to concede that “accidents happen”, that “shit happens”, then one should also not expect to be covered by workers’ compensation or compensated if injured in a public footpath or seek financial restitution if assaulted at a crowded nightclub or in a dark alley. What outrage would be felt if one was to lodge a workers’ compensation claim and the insurer’s response was “accidents happen, good luck with your disability”.

The “nanny state” epithet is short hand for lazy thinking, social ignorance and selfishness.

Safety often involves investigation, perhaps even “CSI:Safety” – Grissom in a fluoro vest. We must seek the root cause, in loss prevention terms, or contributory factors in the modern OHS and risk management context. From analysis comes insight and from insight comes prevention.

It is hard to imagine that anyone who may have lost a loved one in an industrial, or agricultural, incident could have written this letter to the Weekly Times. It is slightly easier to imagine that there are people in society who just do not care about the welfare of others and they write occasionally to the Weekly Times about the “nanny state”.

Kevin Jones

Weekly Times sets the tone for quad bike safety research 5

The Weekly Times newspaper continues to report on the changing attitudes to quad bike safety in Australia.  In its 19 October 2011 edition it featured an article that for the first time in the Australian print media questions the US research statistics on quad bike safety on which motorcycle manufacturers have been relying for many years.

The research by Dynamic Research, predominantly undertaken by John Zellner, has been questioned before but the appearance of such an article in the mainstream, albeit rural, press indicates a degree of research maturity in this area in Australia.  It also indicates the possibilities presented by the internet and social media for promoting change and questioning important matters that do not usually garner mainstream attention. More…