Three OHS case studies 2

The South Australian Industrial Court made three decisions in late July 2009 that are useful cases to look at in order to promote improved health and safety practices but also, in one particular case, to note the approval and endorsement of the judge in the post-incident actions of the employer.

As the SafeWork SA media notice states

“All received 25 per cent discounts from their fines in recognition of their guilty pleas, cooperation, contrition and remedial action to improve their safety systems.”

Case 1

“Bluebird Rail Operations Pty Ltd was fined $30,000 over an incident at its Kilburn workshop in March 2007.  A worker’s arm was crushed beneath a 1,500 kilogram sidewall, which broke loose when a lifting lug failed as it was being lifted to a rail freight wagon under construction.

The court heard that SafeWork SA’s investigation revealed deficiencies in the equipment used, the work processes and the communication channels.

While the worker suffered permanent and debilitating injuries, his employer provided ongoing support including education and training. The employee returned to work after several months and has been promoted within the organisation.”

This case reports a surprisingly short rehabilitation period for a crushed arm.  The words of Magistrate Lieschke should be of considerable note to those OHS professionals who want their clients and companies to go beyond compliance.

“I accept that Bluebird Rail facilitated Mr Sewell’s return to work, in accordance with its legal obligations to provide vocational rehabilitation.  I accept that Bluebird Rail has gone beyond its minimum legal obligations and has provided further re-education support to Mr Sewell, sufficient for him to complete a Diploma in Project Management and for him to now be studying an engineering degree at university. The degree course is being funded by Bluebird Rail.  That is commendable support. Mr Sewell has been promoted and is now working as an assistant project manager.”

Case 2

“International Tastes Pty Ltd was fined $20,250 today after an incident in which an employee had his arm caught in the rotating blades of a pasta-making machine at the company’s Glynde premises in January 2007.

The court was told that the employee was taught to operate the machine with the safety guard open, the interlock switch which would have stopped the machine from operating in such cases was not working, and no safety checks or procedures were in place for either the machine or the tasks involved with its use.

The 24 year old victim suffered fractures, lacerations and nerve damage resulting in a number of operations and considerable pain and suffering.  He has since returned to work interstate with a related company.”

Safety professionals constantly argue for interlocks that cannot be bypassed.  This case shows that the relatively young worker suffered considerably from the incident and has moved interstate to continue with his career.

The judgement raises issues of deep concern to OHS professionals in relation to the level of supervision and induction required for workers and the perennial issue of machine guarding.  The judgement reports the circumstances of the incident:

“On 23 January 2007 [Mr B] suffered serious right arm injuries while operating a pasta making machine in accordance with a method he had recently been taught.  He had received on the job training only and was not given the benefit of any written work procedures.  He had been taught to work in close proximity to unguarded rotating blades.

While using a two litre plastic container to collect pasta mix from the machine the container came into contact with the exposed rotating blades of the adjacent mixing bowl, which in turn dragged his right arm into the blades.”

Case 3

“Central Glass Pty Ltd was fined $9,375 having been prosecuted over an incident in February 2007 at its Salisbury factory, where it makes aluminium window components.

Two workers were manually lifting a slippery steel die weighing 95 kilograms to place it in a press.  In doing so, the die slipped crushing the fingertip of one worker and narrowly missing their feet as it fell to the ground from about waist height.

SafeWork SA told the court there were no safety procedures for the task and the injury could have been averted through the use of mechanical lifting gear, which was later purchased.”

This case can relate to the concept that existed for some time in Australia of a “safe lifting weight”.  This concept has been shown to be a myth as it focuses on only one part of the work process and assumes that the particular lift is outside the other lifting actions that a worker may have been performing previously. It also assumes that everyone has a similar lifting capacity.

The judgement of this case provides more detail

“On 16 February 2007 Central Glass Pty Ltd unnecessarily exposed its employee [Mr R] to a risk of serious injury at work.

With the help of another worker [Mr R]was required to manually lift an oily 95kg steel die from ground level and place it in a close fitting slot in a press at about waist height.  While doing so the die slipped and crushed one of [Mr R’s]fingers.  The die then fell to the ground narrowly missing the feet of [Mr R]and of his colleague. [Mr R] suffered a crush injury to the tip of his left middle finger.

Central Glass had not previously carried out any hazard identification and risk assessment process in relation to changing and fitting dies.  It did not have any safe work procedure for this task and did not provide adequate safety control measures such as mechanical lifting assistance.”

Kevin Jones

New OHS research on the limits of management based regulation 7

The National Research Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Regulation at the Australian National University is one of the few Australian research centres who provide free access to their data.  The number is growing but is still way behind institutions overseas.

Pages from wp%20-       -1.72813E-062unningham     0x1.8e0c80p-893nd              (null)inclair coverThe latest research report they have released concerns management-based regulations as opposed to prescriptive regulations.  Australia and many other countries have moved away from prescriptive OHS rules but this research by Neil Gunningham and Darren Sinclair has some good points on establishing workplace safety cultures by looking at a couple of case studies.

The abstract says

“The paper argues that notwithstanding the heavy emphasis currently being placed on both internal (company driven) and external (government driven) management-based regulation, a commitment at corporate level does not necessarily percolate down to individual facilities where ritualistic responses or resistant sub-cultures may thwart effective change. The findings have important implications for the effectiveness of management based regulation and meta-regulation more broadly.” (my emphasis)

The researchers go on to discuss the spread of shared values and shared meaning, how individuals and small units can thwart the good management intentions by a lack of organisational trust, through a literature review as well as the case studies and empirical data

For anyone who is the least bit interested in establishing a workplace safety culture, the following quote should get them downloading this report.

“Management based regulation does not ignore the challenges of engaging with group behavior. Indeed, its proponents assert that the capacity to achieve cultural change is one of its attributes (Welford 1997).  But whether, to what extent, or in what circumstances this is the case remains a matter of conjecture. Certainly changing cultures is no easy matter and it may well be far more difficult for senior management to manipulate than many organizational theorists assume (Morgan 1986:139).  Yet without cultural commitment on the part of those who are expected to implement the system, then edicts from regulators or (in the case of internal regulation) from senior management, may be met with creative compliance (McBarnet & Whelan 1999), resistance, “ritualism” (Merton 1968; Braithwaite 2008a:140-56) or various other forms of tokenism.”

Kevin Jones

UK’s HSE wants OHS professionals to be accredited 3

In early July 2009, the Chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Judith Hackitt spoke in favour of an accreditation system for OHS professionals.  This has particular relevance for those countries and professionals associations which follow some of the UK initiatives.

Hackitt is quoted in the HSE media release said:

“We do believe that there is a need for an accreditation system within the competency framework for health and safety professionals. We have no interest in HSE directly controlling or regulating such a scheme, but we are very keen to ensure that all professional bodies who establish an accreditation scheme do so in a way that measures competence in practice, not just acquired knowledge.

“Accreditation must include continuing professional development as a requirement as well as a means of sanction, with real teeth, for anyone who acts unethically in their professional activities – including providing inappropriate advice or guidance.”

She said that those involved in health and safety needed to be competent to assess and manage risk by applying common sense, taking a proportionate approach and exercising judgment about what is reasonable.

Competence is one of the cornerstones of the new health and safety strategy for Great Britain, and HSE wants to see increased competence as the basis of a more sensible and proportionate approach to managing risk.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog asked the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) for their response on the issues raised in Hackitt’s speech.  The response is below

Richard Jones, IOSH’s policy and technical director, said: “IOSH has long advocated some form of official accreditation of the health and safety profession. It is something that has been mooted for many years, but has never had formal government support, so has never got off the ground.

“The present system in the UK means that anyone can operate as a health and safety consultant. This means some businesses are likely to be getting advice from health and safety consultants with inadequate qualifications and experience or none at all. We feel this is wrong. You wouldn’t have an unqualified doctor looking after your medical needs, so why should you put lives at risk because of incompetent health and safety advice.

“Employers have repeatedly asked for better guidance on how to identify competent assistance, so they can be sure they’re getting good quality health and safety advice. We believe an accreditation scheme will help reassure them about the competence and suitability of the person they’re engaging.”

Richard added: “IOSH has been actively pushing the need for accreditation for some years now, in evidence to two select Committee Inquiries, through our ‘Get the best’ campaign and lobbying activities, and more recently through our ‘manifesto’. We’ve had discussions with government, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), MPs and other stakeholders on the need for an accreditation system for health and safety practitioners.

“We believe the majority of consultants are doing good work and providing a valuable service. IOSH’s professional development scheme helps ensure our members keep their knowledge and skills at a satisfactory level. However, the scheme obviously doesn’t apply to those who aren’t members of IOSH. Our hope is that an accreditation scheme will mean that all those working in the health and safety field have sufficient qualification, skills and knowledge to do the job properly and are maintaining these on a regular basis.

“At a meeting on 21 July, representatives from the HSE and key health and safety organisations came together to discuss an accreditation scheme for health and safety consultants. These stakeholders will now form a ‘steering group’ looking to take the proposal forward. It is hoped that an accreditation scheme could be introduced by around autumn 2010.”

Some Australian readers may want to keep an internet eye on the Australian OHS professionals’ alliance HaSPA.

Kevin Jones

Tasmanian Premier talks of workers compensation fairness Reply

On 26 July 2009, the Tasmanian Premier, David Bartlett spoke at the Tasmanian ALP conference.  Below is an extract from his speech in which he refers to the State’s review of workers compensation, the Clayton Report, and reflects the national industrial relations agenda by emphasising the Australian Labor Party’s favourite word of the day – “fair”.

“Delegates,

Not only must we act to keep Tasmanians safer on our roads – but so too in our workplaces.

The Labor Party began as we shall continue – as representatives of the working men and women of Tasmania.

That is why I am pleased that we have finally been able to reform the workers compensation provisions in this State, to return a fairer balance and provide the protection that workers deserve.

I have met people as Premier who have suffered terrible injuries at work.

I met a man last year who’d lost all the fingers on one hand, and yet had not been able to access the level of worker’s compensation that he so clearly and richly deserved.

That is not fair, and that’s why we’re changing it.

Unlike our opponents, who enthusiastically supported the flawed and unfair WorkChoices regime, we stand for a fair go for Tasmanian workers.

Some will say we’ve gone too far.  But this is about decency and dignity.

And it’s about respect for working people, and providing workers with the support and protections that they deserve.”

Kevin Jones

National scaffolding campaign Reply

This week a national scaffolding safety campaign was launched in Australia.  There are several sources for new and useful information about the campaign, two are below.

Mike Hammond of law firm, Deacons, has written a backgrounder on the need for the campaign and how to prepare for the compliance visits.  Hammond lists the key messages form the campaign as

  • “The campaign is designed to ensure compliance with existing workplace safety laws in relation to scaffolding;
  • Increase industry awareness of the safety issues associated with using unsafe scaffolding;
  • Recent incidents have highlighted a need to be vigilant when erecting, altering, using and dismantling scaffolding; and
  • A wide range of trades that use scaffolding are exposed to significant risks of death and injury when the scaffolding does not comply with AS 1576.”

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Nina Lyhne said in a media release on 24 July 2009 that

“The construction industry is a high risk industry. Sadly, we still see a large number of injuries and deaths on construction sites.

WorkSafe [WA] focuses a lot of attention on education as well as on enforcement to reinforce the need for improved safety.  Recent scaffolding incidents have led to the death of a number of workers and seriously injured others across Australia.

Industry is being advised of the intervention campaign, and inspectors from WA will be undertaking inspections over two months from 1 August to 30 September.”

Kevin Jones

New old US research into driving and talking Reply

The New York Times has revealed research on the hazards of driving and using mobile phones that was withheld since 2003.   The newspaper understandably focuses on the intrigue that prevented the report from being released but the content of the report has the potential to substantially change how companies “manage” the hazard of their staff using mobile phones whilst driving. Pages from original

The report, obtained through Freedom of Information and made available on the newspaper’s website, was a  substantial project for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and, according to NYTimes:

“The research mirrors other studies about the dangers of multitasking behind the wheel. Research shows that motorists talking on a phone are four times as likely to crash as other drivers, and are as likely to cause an accident as someone with a .08 blood alcohol content.”

The full report is available by clicking on the image in this post.

Kevin Jones

BHP Billiton’s safety record is again in the Australian media 2

BHP Billiton’s production report has generated some OHS-related interest in the Australian business media on 23 July 2009, but not all.  [SafetyAtWorkBlog has written several pieces about BHP Billiton‘s safety record]

The company’s iron ore production has fallen short of its May 2009 guidance.  Iron ore is the only division where production has dropped.  The Age newspaper reports that the five deaths “forced a production slowdown” and noted the Western Australian government’s review of BHP’s safety management.

Malcolm Maiden’s commentary in the same newspaper mentions the BHP production results but describes the five workplace fatalities as “production glitches”.   He writes

“Production glitches for both companies [BHP Billiton & Rio Tinto] might have been handled better if their iron ore operations were merged, as is now proposed.”

Safety management may have been improved.  Rio Tinto’s OHS performance is considerably better but the description of the fatalities as “production glitches” is cold.

This contrasts considerably with the coverage provided to the BHP results by the Australian Financial Review (AFR) which listed the issue on the  front page  with the headline “Poor safety record hits BHP output” (full article not available online without a subscription).  AFR says

“the safety issues overshadowed better than expected results from BHP’s petroleum and  metallurgical coal units….”

There was no overshadowing according to the writers in The Age.

The AFR article identifies a raft of safety matters that illustrates well the OHS status of BHP Billiton and emphasises just how serious the workplace fatalities are.

  • “Tensions with the WA government [over a variety of issues, including safety] have escalated…”
  • Seven BHP workers died in Australia and South Africa in 2008/09.
  • “Eleven BHP staff… died while on the job in 2008.”
  • On 22 July 2009 WA Minister for Mines & Petroleum, Norman Moore, praised BHP’s efforts to improve safety but said “It is very difficult to understand sometimes why fatalities occur within the safety frameworks that operate in most major mining companies…” said on 22 July 2009

Warren Edney, an analyst with the Royal Bank of Scotland and occasional media commentator, spoke in relation to the safety record of BHP’s Pilbara operations, where five workers died.  He said in the AFR article:

“It’s better than Chinese underground coalmining but that’s not a big tick, is it?… In part you’d say that we’ve undergone this mining boom in WA so you’ve got workers who haven’t had the safety brainwashing that other parts of the workforce may have had over the last 10 years.  Part of it reflects that and part of it may be that people get pressed to do things quicker.” [my emphasis]

It seems odd to compare the safety performance of an open-cut Australian iron ore mine with “Chinese underground coalmining”.  Similarly describing safety education and training as “safety brainwashing” is unusual.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has contacted the Royal Bank of Scotland for clarification of Warren Edney’s comments.

The AFR has almost been leading the Australian media pack on reporting of safety management in 2009,  partly due to the OHS harmonisation regulatory program and its impact on business costs.  This may also be due to some of the concerns about increased union activity on worksites under the new industrial relations legislation.  The AFR should be congratulated for discussing the OHS context of BHP’s iron ore production figures and providing a front page prominence.

Kevin Jones

The myth of the three-hour sleep Reply

The Australian media has widely reported that Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, exists on three-hours sleep per night.  He doesn’t and Professor Drew Dawson, a prominent Australian sleep researcher, discusses the exaggeration of high-flying professionals in an article at Crikey.com on 21 July 2009.

More research of  Professor Drew Dawson, Director, Centre for Sleep Research, University of South Australia, is available online.

Driving and talking 1

The issue of driving while using a mobile is a perennial issue for the media but nothing much changes.  The New York Times on 20 July 2009 carried an article on the latest research which confirms  many previous studies that using a mobile phone while driving increases the risk of an accident.

Pages from 6i17 rawNo US State has banned the practice because social use of mobile phones has become so widespread that any ban is impossible to enforce effectively.

In January 2009, SafetyAtWorkBlog reported on the recommendations from WorkSafe Victoria on the matter.  Even in their guide they would say nothing more than

“recommend that hands free calls be kept to a minimum”.

At some point for most workplace hazards, the evidence outweighs the enforcement difficulties and bans ensue.  It has happened to asbestos, it has happened with smoking, but these are decades after dancing around the most effective control measure – elimination.

Pages from 6i02 v4The industrialised world, in particular, has been wrestling with the hazard of phones and driving for well over a decade.  One report from 2002 said

“Tests carried out by scientists at the Transport Research Laboratory established that driving behaviour is impaired more by using a mobile phone than by being over the legal alcohol limit.”

The footnote to this comment said

“Previous research has shown that phone conversations while driving impair performance. It was difficult to quantify the risk of this impairment because the reference was usually made to normal driving without using a phone. “Worse than normal driving” does not necessarily mean dangerous. There was a need therefore to benchmark driving performance while using a mobile phone to a clearly dangerous level of performance. Driving with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit is an established danger.”

There are always conditions set with research findings but these are sensible and valid.

Pages from 3i13According to a 2004 report by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported by UPI (unable to find a link)

“…estimated 8 percent of all motorists — about 1.2 million drivers — were using cell phones at any given time while driving, up from 6 percent in 2002 and 4 percent in 2000. About 800,000 of those drivers used handsets and not hands-free devices.

  • Handheld cell phone use increased from 5 percent to 8 percent among drivers aged 15 to 24 between 2002 and 2004.
  • Use of cellular-phone handsets increased from 4 percent to 6 percent of female drivers, while the number of men talking on handheld cell phones while driving remained constant at 4 percent.
  • Motorists were more likely to use a cell phone while driving alone, but drivers with children in the vehicle were just as likely to use the phone as those without children in the car.”

For those readers who like dollar figures, the same UPI article stated

“A 2002 study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, part of Harvard University’s School of Public Health, found drivers using cell phones caused 1.5 million accidents annually resulting in 2,600 deaths and 570,000 injuries.

Researchers estimated banning cell phone use in vehicles would cost $43 billion a year in lost economic activity.”

Pages from 2003-119[The only HCRA report on the website is is a 2003 study – Cohen, J.T. and Graham, J.D. A revised economic analysis of restrictions on the use of cell phones while driving. Risk Analysis. 2003; 23(1):5-17.]

A September 2003 report from NIOSH lists a range of driver hazards related to work activities and is worth downloading.  Pages 51-555 deal specifically with phone use.

(If any reader knows of a literature review on this topic, please contact SafetyAtWorkBlog)

This workplace hazard has been around for so long that in the opinion of SafetyAtWorkBlog, when someone is driving a work vehicle 100% of their attention should be on the principal task at hand – driving.

Achieving this realistic aim can be helped by

  • not passing on mobile phone numbers when one knows the person is driving.  The low tech alternative of taking a message works.
  • having employees turn off the phone while driving. (The phone does have an OFF switch)
  • not fitting workplace vehicles with hands-free units.
  • reminding employees of the safe driving policies of the business; and
  • enforcing those policies so that employees know that dangerous acts will not be tolerated or compensated by the company.

Above all, employees must be informed of the risks involved with distraction, must be reassured that employers will support safe actions, and must realise the affect on other drivers and their families from their own mistakes.

Kevin Jones

Aspirational targets are next to useless put politically expedient 1

Further to the recent blog article on New South Wales WorkCover statistics,  SafetyAtWorkBlog has been provided with a copy of the official Comparative Performance Monitoring (CPM) report that was released in August 2008.  These figures are used to measure performance against the National OHS Strategy 2002-2012.

SafeWorkAustralia has told SafetyAtWorkBlog that the next edition is due in October 2009 (just in time for Safe Work Australia Week – what a coincidence!) after it has been discussed at the next scheduled Workplace Relations Ministers Council amongst other meetings.

Most organisations, including political ones, have key performance indicators for managers and the companies themselves, to measure the likelihood of meeting the target.  This may involve additional remuneration, awards or any other type of recognition.  If the target is not reached, there are repercussions – loss of potential bonus, loss of job….

The National OHS Strategy has no reward for achievement other than a warm, fuzzy feeling.  Nor does it have any penalty except the same warm, fuzzy feeling with perhaps a few less degrees of warmth or duration.

According to the media release from the then-National OHS Council in May 2002, the “indicators of success” are

  • “Workplace parties recognise and incorporate OHS as an integral part of their normal business operations
  • Increased OHS knowledge and skills in workplaces and the community
  • Governments develop and implement more effective OHS interventions
  • Research, data and evaluations provide better, timelier information for effective prevention”

The release also said

“There are five initial national priority areas for action to achieve short-term and longer-term improvements…. The priorities are:

  • reduce high incidence/severity risks;
  • improve the capacity of business operators and workers to manage OHS effectively;
  • prevent occupational disease more effectively;
  • eliminate hazards at the design stage;
  • strengthen the capacity of government to influence OHS outcomes”

These are classic “aspirational targets” that have no penalties for failure.  The targets themselves were discussed in the previous blog article.

According to the 2008 CPM report summary

“The reduction in the incidence rate of injury and musculoskeletal claims between the base period (2000–01 to 2002–03) and 2006–07 was 16%, which means the interim target of a 20% reduction by 2006–07 has not been met.  It is also below the rate of improvement needed to meet the long term target of a 40% improvement by 2012.  The rate of decline in the incidence of claims will need to accelerate in future years if the target is to be achieved.  Four jurisdictions however, met the interim target of improvement: NSW with 29% improvement, the Australian Government with 27% improvement and South Australia and Seacare each recorded 24% improvement.  Although these four jurisdictions recorded improvements higher than the 20% required, considerable efforts will be required by all jurisdictions if the national target is to be met.

The number of fatalities recorded for 2006–07 is lower than in previous years, increasing the percentage improvement from the base period.  The incidence of compensated fatalities from injury and musculoskeletal disorders decreased by 16% from the base period to 2006–07, thus the interim target of a 10% reduction by 2006–07 has been surpassed.  The national incidence rate is still ‘on target’ to meet the 20% reduction required by 2011–12, however there is a considerable amount of volatility in this measure and consistent improvement is required.

The National OHS Strategy also includes an aspirational target for Australia to have the lowest work-related traumatic fatality rate in the world by 2009.  Analysis of international data indicates that in 2006–07, Australia recorded the sixth lowest injury fatality rate, with this rate decreasing more quickly than many of the best performing countries in the world.  However, despite this improvement, it is unlikely that Australia will meet the aspirational goal unless substantial improvements are recorded in the next few years.”

The federal government can react in several ways if the signatories to the strategy fail to meet the target in 2012:

  • Blame the previous government who was in power at the time of the strategy;
  • the large number of parties to the strategy made it impossible to coordinate;
  • The political climate has changed so much  that the targets reflected unreasonable expectations; or
  • The economic climate has changed so much that the targets reflected unreasonable expectations.

Unless all the parties renew their efforts (and their budgets) in order to reach the targets in 2012, from 2009, which is highly unlikely, 2012 is going to have an OHS “elephant in the room” and it will have been white.

Kevin Jones