WorkSafe Victoria missteps on its venture with “Candid Camera” approach 10

WorkSafe Victoria has released a video of an experiment that shows that people will undertake unsafe acts if asked to do so.  This video is part of the OHS regulator’s campaign to increase focus on the OHS obligations of supervisors but it has generated serious complaints from safety professionals and advocates.

WorkSafe Victoria has been advised that the video sends “mixed messages” about electrical safety.  Safety professionals have decried that the video is meant to be funny with its jaunty whistling soundtrack yet it shows an apprentice pretending to receive a shock.  One participant giggles when she realises it is a joke, in the same way people are relieved after being “punk’d” or laugh after seeing the “candid camera” even though their participation was alarming.  The video has been described as a “stunt” that fails to illustrate the serious consequences of the action of handling live electric cables. More…

OHS is Dead. Long Live WHS. 6

Media reports on the 13 April 2012 Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting say that harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws in Australia has died.  Some say this is the fault of the Victorian Government with its economic justification for inaction but the process was struggling as soon as the West Australian Government flagged its major concerns, principally, with increased union powers, as reiterated in the Australian Financial Review on 14 April 2012 (not available on-line).

WA Premier Colin Barnett is quoted as saying that:

“There are three or four sections we don’t agree with and the principle one of those relates to right of entry [for trade unions]… We see that as an industrial issue.  Right of entry, it is was applied to OH&S, in all probability would be used by the unions to shut down the Pilbara iron ore operations…”

This is further evidence of the political dominance of the mining sector in Western Australia, if it was ever needed.

Victoria does not have the same excuse as the right of entry has existed for many years and almost totally without any industrial relations problems. More…

Accuracy on OHS laws, services and products is essential 5

The following article illustrates how important it is for companies to maintain accuracy when writing a media release about safety laws.  The internet allows for inaccuracies to become widely distributed and for these to gain some legitimacy through the re-publication on various OHS, magazine and news websites.

Asbestos Audits International issued a media release in early April 2012 stating the following:

“On January 1st, 2012, new Australian Model Health and Safety legislation came into effect dictating workplace buildings constructed before 2004 must have an asbestos audit. The legislation outlines building owners, building managers and property managers are responsible for these audits. More…

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…