Flawed first aid information Reply

First Aid Complaince CodeSome time ago WorkSafe Victoria issued Compliance Codes on a number of workplace safety issues.  One was concerning First Aid.  The Compliance Codes were intended to replace Codes of Practice which had been around for decades.

The previous major change to workplace first aid was in 1995 when the First Aid Code of Practice was reviewed in Victoria.  Other Australian States vary between prescriptive and non-prescriptive first aid guidelines.

On 31 May 2009, WorkSafe released a factsheet on first aid for low risk micro businesses.  A low risk micro business is explained in the factsheet as those that

  • employ fewer than 10 people
  • are located where medical assistance or ambulance services are readily available
  • are businesses that don’t expose employees to hazards that could result in serious injuries (eg serious head injury, de-gloving, scalping, electric shock, spinal injury) or illnesses that may require immediate medical treatment.

First Aid for Low Risk Micro BusinessesSome examples of low risk micro businesses were included in the factsheet –  “retail shops and outlets, offices, libraries and art galleries” Why a one page information sheet for this sector was deemed to be needed is a mystery?  I asked WorkSafe several questions about this factsheet

  • What was the rationale for the production of this guidance for this sector? Given that the Compliance Code is specifically referenced.
  • Is retail really a low-risk micro-business?
    • What about the use of ladders?
    • Young workers?
    • Working alone or unsupervised?
    • Occupational (customer) violence?
    • Petrol stations?
    • Convenience stores?
    • Night shift security needs?
    • Knife cuts from removing stock from boxes?
    • Manual handling?
  • First aid kits are required but not first aid training. In the case of respiratory failure a first aid kit is next to useless for CPR.
  • Why is only St John Ambulance referenced on the guidance?

The factsheet misunderstands first aid by placing low risk microbusineses into the “paper-cut” sector.  This is doing micro-businesses a dreadful disservice.

TRAINED FIRST AIDER

Shortly after the First Aid Compliance Code was released St John Ambulance broadcast an email about workplace first aid compliance.  In that email St John wrote:

Low risk organisations (office, libraries, retail etc) should have at least one qualified First Aider for 10 to 50 employees…

The May 2009 fact sheet makes no mention of the need for a trained first aider but WorkSafe’s own Compliance Code states this as a compliance element.

A low-risk micro-business may not generate the potential hazards that WorkSafe lists in its definition above but employees in these businesses do have to respond to the injury needs of their customers.  In these times of public liability and the expansion of OHS obligations to include customers, neighbours, and others who are affected by work processes.

WorkSafe itself describes an employee’s duty of care:

“All workers have a duty of care to ensure that they work in a manner that is not harmful to their own health and safety and the health and safety of others.”

The omission of a trained first aider is unforgivable.  What would an employee do if a client collapses in the foyer of a convenience store with a heart attack or chokes on the food that they have just purchased?  What would one do if a stab victim stumbles into the only open retail outlet, perhaps a petrol station, at 2.00am? How would that petrol station attendant  treat someone who has had petrol accidentally splashed in their face?

These matters cannot be treated by a person who is untrained in basic first aid who only has a first aid kit available.  Training for all workers who work alone or in isolation in micro-businesses is a basic element of compliance, one that WorkSafe fails to list in its latest workplace first aid factsheet.

EMERGENCY NUMBER

Almost as unforgivable is that the factsheet makes no reference to the Australian emergency number of 000.  One of the first actions to be performed in a workplace where someone is seriously injured is to call for an emergency ambulance.  While waiting for the medical authorities, and if safe to do so, first aid should be rendered. WorkSafe needs to remember that CPR requires training and that a first aid kit is next to useless in this type of situation.

ST JOHN AMBULANCE

It is curious that only St John  Ambulance is listed on the factsheet for further information.  There are many first aid equipment and training providers in Victoria.  It would have been fairer to either recommend all providers or none at all.

[UPDATE: WorkSafe has advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that they will be addressign the St John Ambulandce and 000 issues raised.]

COMPLIANCE CODES

On 18 September 2008, the WorkSafe website described the First Aid Compliance Code as covering

“…first aid arrangements including first aid needs assessment, first aid training, first aid kits and first aid facilities.”

In a media statement at the time on compliance codes generally WorkSafe Executive Director, John Merritt was quoted:

“The codes were developed after extensive consultation with industry, employers, employees, governmental agencies and the community to provide greater certainty about what constitutes compliance under the OHS Act.”

“The codes include practical guidance, tools and checklists to make it easier for duty-holders to fulfil their legal obligations.”

Mr Merritt added that: “These codes will provide Victorian employers, workers and Health and Safety Representatives with certainty and assistance in meeting their responsibilities.”

The Compliance Codes are aimed at the many dutyholders yet one of the rationales for the new single sheet guidance is that dutyholders (employers) do not read Compliance Codes.  It seems that the Codes are now principally read by OHS professionals and advisers.

(This position may be one of the reasons WorkSafe is pushing so hard for a truly professional OHS structure through its HaSPA program – the establishment of an OHS middleman between the rules and their application in the real world.)

It is a considerable change to the readership the Compliance Codes were aimed at and is a substantial change from the Codes of Practice which, in the case of First Aid, were handed out to all first aid trainees, included in information kits for health & safety reps, and were read by dutyholders and integrated into their OHS management practices.

The significance of Compliance Codes and Codes of Practice at the moment is that these documents are to be part of the Federal Government’s move to harmonisation of OHS laws.  (Some eastern States have already begun joint publication of guidances). Variations in these documents, often the most referred-to OHS documents in workplaces across the country, will undercut the aim of harmonisation – the reduction of business compliance costs through harmonised OHS requirements.  If the practical application of laws are not harmonised, the aims will never be met and the process could be seen as seriously flawed.

Kevin Jones

Tasers as personal protective equipment 2

SafetyAtWorkBlog supports the use of tasers, or stun guns, as a control measure that eliminates or reduces the chances of a police officer being seriously injured but concerns continue around the world about the application of tasers. In 2008 the New South Wales government came to a decision of sorts on tasers.   Following the recent death of a man in Queensland from a taser, the focus has shifted to that States.

In an OHS context tasers could almost be considered a piece of active personal protective equipment (PPE), if there can be such a thing.

Recently Dr Jared Strote of the Division of Emergency Medicine at the University of Washington Medical Center said

“It is fairly clear that the use of TASERs on healthy individuals is rarely dangerous (there are hundreds of thousands of uses in the US without serious outcomes). The question is whether there is a subset of people for whom there is a higher risk.

The problem is that the individuals who have died in custody temporally associated to TASER use are the same types who are at higher risk of death during police restraint no matter what type of force is used.”

Dr Strote also illustrates the cost/benefit issue that OHS professionals must deal with constantly

“The issue is probably less whether or not TASERs can cause death (they probably can but very infrequently); the better question is whether their net benefits (potential to avoid using more lethal weapons (like firearms), potential to decrease risk to officers, etc.) outweigh the potential costs.”

Two studies by Dr Strote – “Injuries Associated With Law Enforcement Use Of Conducted Electrical Weapons” and “Injuries Associated With Law Enforcement Use Of Force,” were presented at a forum in New Orleans in mid-May 2009.

A UK expert, Dr Anthony Bleetman, a consultant in emergency medicine says

“Tasers have been used on human subjects probably about a million times, some in training and a lot in operational deployment. With any use of force there is a risk of death. But when you look at the big picture the death rate after Taser is no higher than with other types of force. But what we do know is that there is a certain type of individual who is at greater risk of death after police intervention – the so-called excited delirium state where somebody, usually a male in their 20s or 30s, often with a psychiatric history, often on illicit drugs or psychotropic drugs, has been in a fight or pursuit, physically exhausted, not feeling pain, dehydrated and hypoxic. And then you add on top of that physical restraint by police. These are the ones that die and they die whether you Taser them or don’t Taser them.”

Bleetman explains the role of tasers in comparison with other active PPP:

“Police officers have a whole spectrum of options to use in force from talking to people to laying their hands on people to using capsicum sprays, batons and dogs. And then there’s a gap until you get to firearms when you shoot people. So between batons, dogs, sprays and guns, Tasers sit quite nicely to use against people who are so agitated and so dangerous to themselves and others that the only way to take them down is something as lethal as a gun or as dangerous as a police dog.”

Many American studies and statistics must be treated with caution as tasers are readily available to the general public and therefore operate unregulated. However in 2005 the American Civil Liberties Union undertook a study of law enforcement agencies. According to an Associated Press report from the time written by Kim Curtis:

“The ACLU surveyed 79 law enforcement agencies in Northern and central California, according to spokesman Mark Schlosberg. Of those, 56 use Tasers and 54 agencies provided the ACLU with copies of their training materials and policies regarding stun gun use. Among the organisation’s major concerns was that only four departments regulate the number of times an officer may shoot someone with a Taser gun.”

This last point has been one of the most contentious points of the recent case in Queensland where a police taser was discharged 28 times.

Taser use is a very complex issue, as are most PPE and OHS issues when dealing with emergency services. It may be possible to take some hope from the deterrent effect of tasers identified by the Delaware State Police in some recent budget papers:

“We have encountered numerous incidents where the mere presence of the Taser on the troopers’ belts has discouraged defendants from resisting arrest.”

Kevin Jones

Prophet and Loss – review Reply

I bought tickets to the Jane Woollard play Prophet & Loss in almost totalProphet & Loss 002 ignorance of the play and, as a result, sat in the old church on a cold Winter’s night wondering what I was in for.  The program was detailed but I hadn’t time to read it.  I knew the play was about issues related to workplace death.  That’s the “loss”.  The “prophet” was Isaiah and that was the element that I could not understand without later reflection.

However, finding out about Isaiah could wait till we got home and then we could research a further dimension to what we saw.  The stories that told of the impact of workplace fatalities on families and workmates were compelling although a couple were familiar to me.  They told of bureaucratic confusion, the disinterest of insurance company call centre staff, the psychological legacy of a traumatic death and the inability to understand the survivor experience without having experienced it firsthand.

The venue was small but high and so the actors were close and the pain and grief was well presented.  All of the actors were very good even though I was sure I had seen one of them before somewhere.  It wasn’t till I looked at the program that the actor who looked like Helen Morse was indeed Helen Morse.

The stories’ subjects were frustrating and bleak, there is little opportunity for humour on this topic, but there was opportunity for theatricality and motion.  Fanny Hanusin broke the rhythm with her portrayal of Merpati who was hyperventilating in panic over the lack of understanding of her situation.  As Glynis Angell, the grief counsellor, Merrilyn, began breathing slowly to decrease Merpati’s panic, most of the audience were breath along.

All of the actors interchanged roles, with each taking a turn as an overcoated Isaiah writing on the wall and speaking ancient Hebrew (I later found out).  The role changes worked well on reflection but I could not work out the thematic structure of the play until three-quarters in.  The different outfits, the stories, Isaiah, were all confusing because the pairing of the characters with the stories took too long to establish.  I am not a great wearer of hats but the different characters could have been more readily identified by the audience with hats, as well as the changing of clothing.  Hats are more visible and illustrate different identities more clearly.  It may have shortened my confusion.

What differentiated this play from a series of monologues, given that I didn’t understand the Isaiah context, was the music.  The soloist, Deborah Kayser, the seraphim, sang beautifully and the acoustics of the venue were ideal although the 13th century language was totally lost on me. (A sample of Kayser’s singing can be heard online) I have never heard a double bass played to such beautiful effect as was played by Nick Tsiavos.  The depth of sound from a bow on bass could be felt in one’s chest and how he was able to pluck and stroke those strings at the same time was a mystery until he came into the light in the second half.

Kayser and Tsiavos, the seraphim, were a musical Greek chorus to the tales of grief and frustration.  This role was perhaps emphasized by their wings which were effective but initially confusing.  Kayser introduced the play in character with words that were cryptic but set the tone for the play.

The staging was effective in its industrial appeal and the use of 44-gallon drums as props and seats worked.  Early on the actors slowly rotated these drums to provide a chilling sound which I was hoping for more of throughout the play.

Each character laid out the clothes or uniform of their deceased loved one through the play, providing a useful personal profile that complemented each story.  I recall one character had worn her partner’s clothes for three days in a grieving intimacy.  She would only relinquish the clothes when they no longer smelt of her partner but now of her.

The play was being performed at the Centre for Theology and Ministry near the University of Melbourne for a limited season and as a lead-in to a major theological conference.  The play was supported by the Creative Ministries Network that provides a counselling service for those affected by workplace fatalities.

Prophet & Loss could travel well with its combination of an occupational/social theme, beautiful music and faith.  Please look out for it.

Kevin Jones

2006 interview with Dr Jukka Takala of EU-OSHA Reply

In October 2006, I interviewed Dr Jukka Takala for the SafetyAtWork podcast.  Jukka had just taken over as director of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work from Hans-Horst Konkolewsky.

The agency has continued its important work but seems since 2006 to focus more on the EU internal requirements rather than reaching out globally as before.  This is understandable given the influx of new EU member states over that time but it is disappointing when an OHS “regulator’s” website has so many dead links to its former international partners.

The 2006 podcast is available for download.

The transcript of an earlier interview I conducted with Jukka in his ILO days is available by clicking the cover image below.

Kevin Jones

4i18 cover

Level crossings and safety management 2

Regular readers will know that SafetyAWorkBlog believes that there is little justification for road/rail crossings, particularly in metropolitan areas, and that grade separation should be the aim of any crossing upgrades.  Too often governments dismiss grade separation without serious consideration because it is usually the most expensive control option.  Regardless of expense, elimination of hazards must be considered in public safety policy and OHS.  It is only after the elimination of a hazard is seriously considered that lower order control measures are seen to be valid.

At the moment in Victoria, there is community outrage because the truck driver involved in the deaths of 11 train passengers at a level crossing at Kerang has been cleared of any legal responsibility for the deaths.  Several relatives of victims are pursuing civil action against the driver, Mr Christiaan Scholl.

The wisdom of civil action against the driver is debatable as any potential financial “win” will come from the insurance pockets of the Transport Accident Commission and not Mr Scholl.  Compensation may be gained but any hope that the action could be seen as a “penalty” is false.

The Kerang rail crossing illustrates some basic OHS issues:

Worker responsibility

The Kerang level crossing had design deficiencies that had repeatedly identified by a number of government authorities, local companies and the public.  The court case heard that the crossing was known to be dangerous.

In OHS, known hazards are controlled in a number of ways.  Clearly the rail and road traffic was not separated and engineering controls were not introduced at the time of the incident.  The owners of the crossing (and this is debated also) determined that signage was appropriate (or even perhaps “as far as is reasonably practicable”?).

Clearly signage was not adequate but there is also the issue of driver (worker) responsibility.  It was mentioned in court and repeatedly in the media that the level crossing was known to be dangerous.  Why then, would drivers continue to treat the crossing as if it was not?  The legal speed limits remained at 100kph, at the time of the incident.  The road laws clearly state that road traffic must give way to rail traffic and yet drivers have admitted to complacency.

This is perhaps the source of a lot of the community outrage in relation to the Kerang incident.  The findings in favour of the driver place all the responsibility for the incident on the inadequate design of the crossing.

Working environment

As employers have responsibility to ensure a safe and health work environment, so government has a social and legal obligation to make public areas safe.  Victorian governments for decades have neglected the hazards presented by inadequately designed or controlled level crossings.  Governments must take responsibility for inaction just as much as taking credit for action and infrastructure improvements.

Infrastructure spending had started to increase prior to the incident but the need was sharply illustrated through the unnecessary deaths of 11 rail passengers.  Many Australian governments are spending millions of dollars on rail/road crossing upgrades as a result of the Kerang incident.

Road Safety and OHS

Many OHS professionals illustrate OHS by drawing on road safety.  The correlation is very poor but the attempt is understandable – most people drive, they drive within strict laws that were learnt in training (induction), and the road laws are enforced by an external body (police = WorkSafe.  However, this relationship has no corresponding role for employers, who have a workplace responsibility.  The road user has a direct relationship with the regulator. In OHS the role of the employer is crucial.

Perhaps the Kerang incident and other level crossing incidents could be used in brainstorming to illustrate personal accountability, employer accountability and government responsibility.  It would be a worthwhile exercise to discuss whether road safety and workplace safety could share as many educative elements as some of the advocates suggest.

As with most posts on SafetyAtWorkBlog, these thoughts are a work-in-progress and debate and commentary are welcome.

Kevin Jones

Note: SafetyAtWorkBlog is not privy to any of the court evidence and must rely on media reports.  More information will be presented when available.

Does union presence improve OHS? 4

The trade union movement is an important element in the management of safety in workplaces but over the last twenty years, with the exception of a couple of industry sectors, the membership numbers have waned.  Until recently in Australia, the union movement was able to maintain a level of influence in the government decision-making process that was contrary to its declining membership.

Last week the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, told the ACTU to stop lobbying the government and instead generate innovation, enthusiasm and members by reintroducing itself to the community.  Union membership spiked in response to its anti-Howard government advertising over three years ago but any membership based on fear is unsustainable.

Paul Kelly in today’s Australian is more forthright about the trade union position in society and politics but it is clear that the union movement needs to refocus.

Health and safety representatives (HSRs) have been a major element of the enforcement of safety standards in workplaces.  Some OHS legislation in the last decade has had to emphasise non-union consultation on safety issues to balance the declining presence of HSRs.  New research from Europe has found the following

three researchers reviewed
the studies done on the matter in Europe. They
conclude that having trade union representation
leads to better observance of the rules,
lower accident rates and fewer work-related
health problems.

“having trade union representation leads to better observance of the rules, lower accident rates and fewer work-related health problems.”

Transposing these findings into a non-European context is unwise but the research could provide a model for independent research and a comparative study.

Regrettably the report is not available for free but can be purchased through the European Trade Union Institute.

Kevin Jones

Charges laid on swing stage collapse Reply

SafetyAtWorkBlog reported on a scaffolding incident in Queensland in mid-2008.  Charges have now been laid but not manslaughter charges as were called for at the time by the unions.

The workers were fatally injured on 21 June 2008 when the swing stage scaffold they were using to carry out concrete patchwork on the Pegasus high-rise, then under construction at Broadbeach, failed and fell 26 levels to the ground.

According to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland

Allscaff Systems Pty Ltd, which erected the swing stage, is charged with failing to ensure the plant was erected in a way that ensured it was safe when used properly.

Ralph Michael Smith, director of Allscaff Systems Pty Ltd, is charged with failing to ensure the company complied with its obligations under the Act.

Karimbla Construction Services Pty Limited, which built the high-rise, is charged with breaching obligations as a person in control of a workplace and as project manager.

Pryme Constructions Pty Ltd, which undertook the concrete patching, is charged with breaching its obligations to ensure workplace health and safety.

SsfetyAtWorkBlog will be following this case over the next few months.

New transport fatigue commitments Reply

Also at the ACTU Congress in early June 2009, the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, also made commitments to improves the health and safety of transport workers.  In her speech, Gillard said

And through tripartite engagement we will be reforming independent contracting and the transport industry. 
Australia’s truck drivers work hard to make a living.  But they shouldn’t have to die to make a living.  And we will be working on safe rates to prevent them from having to take that risk. 
We will work with the Transport Workers Union and responsible employers to make sure that drivers are paid for all the work they do. 
We will make sure that payment methods and rates do not require drivers to speed or work excessive hours just to make ends meet.

And through tripartite engagement we will be reforming independent contracting and the transport industry.

Australia’s truck drivers work hard to make a living.  But they shouldn’t have to die to make a living.  And we will be working on safe rates to prevent them from having to take that risk.

We will work with the Transport Workers Union and responsible employers to make sure that drivers are paid for all the work they do.

We will make sure that payment methods and rates do not require drivers to speed or work excessive hours just to make ends meet.

Tony Sheldon of the Transport Workers Union conducted a press conference shortly afterwards and the press release said:

Transport Workers Union Federal Secretary, Tony Sheldon, said it was time to put an end to the carnage on Australia’s roads where 280 people die each year from heavy-vehicle-related incidents.

“Trucks make up 2 per cent of registered vehicles on our roads but are involved in 22 per cent of fatalities,” Mr Sheldon said.

“We need to make sure owner-drivers and employees are paid for their waiting time, for increases in fuel prices and for proper maintenance on their vehicles so they are not forced to do ‘one more load’ and push the boundaries to make ends meet.”

Australia’s transport industry have been the leaders in getting fatigue on the OHS and industrial relations agenda over the last five years.  

The implication in Sheldon’s words above is that fatigue and delivery/schedule pressures are generating road fatalities of drivers and other road users.  The Deputy PM made the same link between remuneration and safety. (If any readers can point towards the evidence behind the rhetoric, it would be appreciated).

The challenge for the TWU and, to a lesser extent, the governemtn is that unions represent a minority of transport drivers and so the coverage of union rules and codes of conduct have limited effect.  That is not to say that the limited effect is not important but the Deputy PM told the ACTU Congress what it needs to do to make these OHS and IR changes a reality.  

Gillard told the congress delegates that they needed to get out into the community and start building membership, as membership is strength.  This is particularly important on those policies and initiatives such as OHS and transport safety, where there is broad community impact.  

Some of the proudest achievements in the Australian trade union movement have come from those social contracts that have improved living conditions and health, not only just salary levels, to those workers in Australia who struggle to stay financially viable.  The union movement needs to reinvigorate its members and itself to improve the quality of life for all and not just the pay packets for some.

Kevin Jones

Australian Minister’s latest comments on OHS law reform 3

Last week the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, spoke at the ACTU Congress for 2009.  Industrial relations was clearly the principal agenda issue but Gillard did mention OHS.  The relevant OHS text of her speech is below.

For those wishing more information about her rowdy reception, coverage is available at several Australian news sites.

The OHS content got no mention in any of the mainstream press and some of the political websites also ignored it.  

Prior to the Deputy PM’s speech, the congress held a minute’s silence for all those who lost their lives through traumatic injuries at work.  The Deputy PM was presented with a petition (details to come). 

During the silence, two relatives of  young construction workers in Queensland who had died, were on stage.  On screen a role call of the dead scrolled slowly as a backdrop.  

Occupational Health and Safety

Friends, as representatives of working Australians you know that nothing is more important to them than safety at work.

Recently State Ministers for occupational health and safety and I reached a vital reform milestone: agreement for the creation of a uniform national occupational health and safety regime. 

This is a massive advance for workplace safety. As you will recall, the first, but ultimately unsuccessful steps towards a uniform occupational health and safety regime were taken by the Hawke Government in 1984.  25 years is too long to wait for better laws to cut preventable workplace deaths and accidents.  But we are now primed to achieve a great outcome for Australian workers and businesses alike. 

Under current occupational health and safety laws, only four jurisdictions allow workers to stop unsafe work – Western Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT.  This represents approximately 14.5% of Australian workers. The new occupational health and safety laws will extend this right to all Australian workers.

For too long employers have thought that they could cut costs by cutting corners on health and safety.  Under these new laws every employer will understand that cutting corners comes at a huge price. 

The penalties under the new occupational health and safety laws will far exceed existing penalties in today’s legislation in Australia.  Currently, the highest maximum fine for a corporation is $1.65 million.  In some jurisdictions the maximum is significantly less.  Under the new laws, the maximum will be increased to $3 million, almost double the largest penalty in the country today. 

Through the tripartite body, Safe Work Australia, you will be partners in developing the model laws for this new national system. 

Kevin Jones

Harmonising workers compensation Reply

Gabrielle Lis raised an issue in an article for Return To Work Matters that deserves to be seriously considered.  The Australian Government is set on a path of harmonising OHS laws through the coordination role of Safe Work Australia.  One of the key policies  for Safe Work Australia is also to 

“develop proposals relating to… harmonising workers’ compensation arrangements across the Commonwealth, States and Territories…”

Wow, this is more of a challenge than harmonising OHS laws.  As Gabrielle writes

“Workers and employers don’t always see eye to eye on the issue, not to mention the differing interests of big businesses and small and medium enterprises, and the entrenched positions of the states and territories, who all tend to prefer “how we do things” to how things might best be done.”

Safe Work Australia is going to be dealing with over a dozen worker’s compensation insurers, around half a dozen workers’ compensation bureaucracies and thousands of stakeholders in the compensation, insurance, healthcare and return-to-work sectors.

This challenge is phenomenal and will not fit into any short-term schedule.  This challenge differs from OHS in that it directly involves money, millions of it.  The negotiations on OHS between government, unions and employer groups will be nothing compared to when the insurance companies move in on workers compensation.

Kevin Jones

(Disclaimer: Kevin Jones is a regular columnist for www.rtwmatters.org)