PPE can be a lazy OHS solution 2

One of the occupations with the clearest need for personal protective equipment (PPE) is that of a firefighter.  There are few other industries where PPE has such a high priority in workplace safety but sometimes PPE can still be forgotten.

A report on ABC radio and online  in Australia on 11 January 2010 shows that even in firefighting PPE may be forgotten.  The firefighter was the first one to take a fire hose to a shop fire and did not have on any breathing apparatus (BA).  His fully suited colleagues caught up with him and began fighting the fire.  It appears from this one media report that the firefighter kept his attention on fighting the fire rather than taking a break and putting on his BA.  Shortly after he began feeling unwell.


On 4 January 2010 the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) released a firefighting information package, based on an early September 2009 workshop, that includes some interesting information about firefighter health and safety.   More…

NZ announces inquiry into the safety of farm vehicles 5

The New Zealand Department of Labour (DoL) has announced a period of public consultation on its OHS guidance on the safe use of off-road vehicles.  The process will include a review of “Safe Use of ATVs on New Zealand Farms: Agricultural Guideline” publication.

Interestingly the DoL says  it

“is looking to extend this publication to apply to the agricultural, forestry and adventure tourism industries.”

There is a potential for a considerable broadening of OHS issues but this may be hampered by the scheduling of the public consultation.  The DoL public commentary period closes on February 13 2010. Both Australia and New Zealand are in Summer holiday mode and many companies are closed down for several weeks in January or operate on a skeleton staff.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has commented on this trend for short consultative periods over the Christmas break previously. More…

Sandman lecture online Reply

In November 2009, Peter Sandman delivered the Berreth Lecture at the annual conference of the National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC).  Significantly Sandman was asked not to present on risk communication but about his experiences in risk communication and how he came to prominence in the field.

The NPHIC has made the 65-minute video of his lecture available on-line. Sandman has the audio available through his website. The speech notes are also available but, as is his wont, Sandman diverges from the “script” frequently.


Quad bike safety sensitivities 2

The quad bike safety issue is hotting up on a range of fronts in Australia with the trade unions taking an active interest,  meetings between bike manufacturers and safety designers, and the SafetyAtWorkBlog email box filling up with background content and opinion.

One of these emails reminded me of some court action that was taken in 2005 by Honda against the Victorian State Coroner, Graeme Johnstone.  Johnstone only recently retired from the position after many years and over that time there were fewer more ardent safety advocates, particularly not any that had the same broad audience and media attention.

In 2005 Johnstone was conducting an inquest into several quad-bike related deaths.  At one point he approached a witness outside of the Coronial process to seek their assistance in a training course.  Representatives from Honda took exception to this and began court action in the Supreme Court of Victoria to have him dismissed from conducting the inquests.

Justice Tim Smith found Johnstone remained open-minded and impartial throughout the inquest but the unreported judgement available online illustrates some of the tensions of the time and continue to exist to this day.

The judgement mentions the purpose of the inquest:

“The major disputed issues in the inquest relevant to the present application were the following:

  • whether the lack of roll-over structures on their ATVs caused the death of Mr Crole and Dr Shephard
  • whether roll-over structures should be installed on ATVs
  • whether the question of the provision of roll-over structures for ATVs should be investigated further.”

In describing the context of Johnstone’s contact with the witness, Dr Raphael Grzebieta, the judgement hints at the Coroner’s inquest findings (which are not available online)

“In addition, notwithstanding Dr Grzebieta’s conclusion that Dr Shepherd and Mr Crole [the deceased] would have been saved by the fitting of the roll bars and that this would be sufficient to justify a recommendation that they be fitted, the coroner expressed a provisional view that:

“My view at the moment is that it does not give me enough to recommend roll-over protection.””

The Victorian Coroner continues to be active in investigating quad-bike related deaths as seen in this newspaper article from earlier in 2009.  A related article quotes John Merritt, WorkSafe’s executive director as saying:

“This inquest came about as a result of a terrible spate of fatalities in the past two years… WorkSafe’s position on this is clear. It believes that a quad bike is like any piece of farming equipment and those who use them need the appropriate training to be able to use them safely.”

If a quad bike is like any other piece of farming equipment, the equipment designers would be reviewing their designs to minimise the risk of injury as the field bin and silo manufacturers have, or the milk vat designers have or the windmill manufacturers have or, indeed , as have the tractor manufacturers who actively promote the safety features of their new tractors.

The unreported Supreme Court judgement provides a good indication of the major players in the quad bike safety discussion, particularly the expert witnesses for and against.

Many of the issues are resurfacing because safety and work practices continue to change and the only satisfactory resolution is when hazards are controlled and harm is reduced and, hopefully, eliminated.  2010 in Australia looks set to be a year when quad bike safety gets a good going over once more.

Kevin Jones

The future of the School of Risk & Safety Science 1

It was good to hear the President of the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA), Barry Silburn on the radio on 7 December 2009. The SIA has traditionally been very hesitant about going public on safety issues but clearly the potential disappearance of the School of Risk & Safety Science from the University of New South Wales is important to the SIA.

The closure of this school seems absurd, particularly, when the fact of its profitability is shown.

The university’s decision appears wrong and, from the evidence of the radio interview, it seems that the decision has occurred recently.  Dropping a school, regardless of the prominence claimed by the SIA, which has a problem with prominence of its own, is a harsh decision if there has not already been a consultative process or a strategic program for improvement and increased relevance.

It is not as if the school does not have access to top talent.  Names familiar to Australian OHS professionals, researchers and regulators include

Professor Chris Winder

Dr Anne Wyatt

Dr Jean Cross

Michael Tooma

In the University of New South Wales’ Australian School of Business, there are several other prominent OHS academics.  Most familiar to SafetyAtWorkBlog are

Professor Michael Quinlan

Professor Stephen Frenkel

Barry Silburn (a video of Barry Silburn talking about the SIA is available online) accuses the University of New South Wales of sacrificing the safety profession for short-term gain:

“They’re not looking at the overall picture of OHS within Australia they’re looking at very short-term money considerations on their courses that they’re conducting within the university”.

This seems an odd accusation when compared with the fact that the school has made a profit two years running.

It seems to SafetyAtWorkBlog that the limitations of the University’s review are clear in the statement of Deputy Vice Chancellor, Richard Henry:

We had an external review of the Faculty of Science by a committee of internationally respected scientists and their recommendations to the university were that the Faculty of Science should concentrate on its strengths; areas such as maths, physics, chemistry, psychology, biology.

The university wants to focus on pure science rather than applied science after a  review undertaken by “a committee of internationally respected scientists”.   HMMMM?

OHS academics are often less dependent on government funding than other schools and departments because the skills and knowledge can be more readily applied in a practical way and they live closer to the economic realities of business and workplace safety.

Silburn’s accusations of greed are too narrow.  The safety profession can continue without the School of Risk & Safety Science.  There are many sources of OHS graduates still in Australia and, from the activity of the University of Queensland, these opportunities are increasing.

It seems that the university may have been too narrow in its selection of the review panel for the Faculty of Science.  But if we take the panel’s recommendations seriously, Richard Henry does not see the School of Risk & Safety Sciences as fitting in the Faculty of Science.  Surely it could fit in the university’s School of Organisation and Management.  Going from this School’s profile in the website:

“The School of Organisation and Management is a multi-disciplinary unit comprising 32 full-time academics.  Our mission in the School of Organisation and Management (O&M) is to conduct high quality applied research and to prepare students for employment in diverse organisational settings.  Our main areas of research and teaching include: Organisational Behaviour, International Business, Human Resource Management, Industrial Relations, and social and psychological aspects of Management.”

Anne Wyatt researches the psychosocial issue of workplace bullying.  Chris Winder researches occupational toxicology and his most recent academic paper is “Managing hazards in the workplace using organisational safety management systems: A safe place, safe person, safe systems approach.”

If the University of New South Wales cannot see the continuing relevance of its profitable School of Risk & Safety Science, it should perhaps get examined at its own School of Optometry and Vision Science.

Kevin Jones

The School of Organisation and Management is a multi-disciplinary unit comprising 32 full-time academics. Our mission in the School of Organisation and Management (O&M) is to conduct high quality applied research and to prepare students for employment in diverse organisational settings. Our main areas of research and teaching include: Organisational Behaviour, International Business, Human Resource Management, Industrial Relations, and social and psychological aspects of Management.

New guidelines on aggression in health care 2

WorkSafe Western Australia and the other OHS regulators in Australia have produced a very good, and timely, guideline for the “Prevention and Management of Aggression in Health Services“.

The hazard has existed for many years and hospitals, in particular, are torn between the competing priorities of keeping their staff safe and maintaining  contact with their clients.   Glass screens and wire are effective barriers to violent attacks but it can be argued that such structures encourage aggression by implying that “violence happens here”.

The guidelines, or what the regulators call a “handbook for workplaces” (How does that fit in with the regulatory hierarchy for compliance?), provides good information on the integration of safe design into the health service premises.  But as with most of the safe design principles, as is their nature, they need to be applied from initial planning of a facility and so, therefore, are not as relevant to fitting-out existing facilities.  In health care, it often takes years or decades before upgrades are considered by the boards and safe design is still a new concept to most.

Another appealing element of the guide is that it does not only consider the high customer churn areas such as casualty or emergency.  It is good to see the important but neglected issue of cash handling mentioned even in a small way.

Another positive is the handbook includes a bibliography.  This is terrific for those who want to establish a detailed understanding of the issues and the current research.  For the OHS regulators, it allows them to share the burden of authority.  Just as in writing a blog, by referencing source material the reader understands the knowledge base for the opinions and the (blog) writer gains additional credibility by showing they have formed opinions and advice from the most current sources.

Having praised the bibliography, it is surprising that of all the Claire Mayhew publications and papers mentioned her CCH book “Guide to Managing OHS Risks in the Health Care Industry”, was omitted.

The regulators have often had difficulty determining whether checklists or assessment forms should be included in their guidances.  In Victoria one example of the conflict was in the Manual Handling Code of Practice that included a short and long assessment checklist.  Hardly anyone looked beyond the short version and many thought this undercut the effectiveness of the publication.

The fact is that safety management takes time and business want to spend as little time on safety as possible but still get the best results.  Checklists are an audience favourite and contribute to more popular and widely read guidelines, and broad distribution of the safety message is a major aim.

Interestingly amongst the checklist in this health services aggression publication a staff survey has been included.

(At least) WorkSafe WA has listened to the frustrations of readers who download a PDF version but then have to muck about with, or retype, the checklists.  This handbook is also available as an RTF file for use in word processing.

This is the first OHS publication that has come out from a government regulator with this combination of content, advice and forms.  It is easy to see how this will be attractive to the intended health services sector.

Kevin Jones

News on Australia’s OHS model Act Reply

Safe Work Australia (SWA) has released the latest communique following the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council meeting on 9 December 2009.  Various amendments have been made to the draft Act following the public submissions period.  Those amendments that SWA consider significant are:

  • adoption of the definition of ‘officer’ in accordance with the Corporations Act 2001 and the definition of ‘due diligence’ to clarify officers’ duties
  • a duty for the persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) to consult not only with workers directly affected by the health and safety matter, but with other duty holders who have a duty in relation to the same matter
  • the requirement for a PCBU to provide training to a health and safety representative (HSR) within three months of a request for training
  • removal of compensation orders as a sentencing option
  • removal of requirements for union right of entry which are already prescribed under the Fair Work Act 2009
  • restructuring of the most serious category of offence to a reckless endangerment offence when a duty holders’ conduct has exposed a person to a risk of death or serious injury of another person
  • monetary penalties, not penalty units, used to ensure consistency between jurisdictions
  • a 14 day timeframe for commencing negotiations between a PCBU and workgroup
  • allowing a PCBU to refuse entry on ‘reasonable grounds’ to a person chosen by the HSR to provide assistance, if no relevant assistance could be provided by the nominated person
  • being subject to a criminal penalty regime, except in relation to right of entry offences in Part 7. Right of entry offences in Part 7 would be subject to a civil penalty regime consistent with that in the Fair Work Act 2009. A framework will need to be established for civil penalties, and
  • penalties for the non-duty of care offences for corporations, ranging from a maximum of $500 000 for serious breaches to a maximum of $10 000 for minor administrative breaches.

Significantly, all the submissions that pushed for the inclusion of a “suitably qualified” OHS professional seem to have missed out.  Clarification or confirmation of this is being sought from Safe Work Australia.

Kevin Jones

UPDATE – 11 December 2009

The Model Work Health and Safety Act has now been posted on the Safe Work Australia website and is available for download HERE

Managerial federalism? Reply

There are some OHS professionals in Australia who follow the harmonisation of the country’s OHS laws closely.  The current status is that the various public submissions are being analysed and discussed by the Government.

But for those who are hankering for some pre-Christmas reading the New South Wales Parliament has released a report called “Managerial Federalism – COAG and the States” written by Gareth Griffith.  This is not a report about OHS, although the topic does get a brief mention on page 25.

OHS harmonisation is perhaps one of the simpler reform processes compared with tax or the legal sector.

The report provides a very good summary of the various consultative structures that the Federal and State Governments operate within as the country changes to a process of “managerial federalism”.  The report summary defines “managerial federalism” as

“…defined to be administrative in its mode of operation, pragmatic in orientation, concerned with the effective and rational management of human and other resources, and rich in policy goals and objectives.  The States play a creative and proactive part but are, to a substantial degree, service providers whose performance is subject to continuous scrutiny and oversight.”

(“Rational management”?  Has everyone in the Australian government been told to read the book by Kepner and Tregoe?  Let’s hope it’s not the 1965 edition.)

Being familiar with some of the concepts and rationales in the report may help those lucky enough to be consulted on government decision-making to know their place in the wild scheme of bureaucratic policy-making.  It may even prove invaluable if you are the safety coordinator on one of the Governments’ many infrastructure projects.

Kevin Jones

Formaldehyde upgraded to human carcinogen 2

On 4 November 2009, the United States’ National Toxicology Program (NTP) upgraded formaldehyde to a “known human carcinogen”.  This widely used chemical, principally in wood products, has been suspected of being carcinogenic for some time.

The suspicion was a major reason why, in Australia, Comcare issued a cautionary safety alert on using some shipping containers as converted accommodation.  But the Comcare advice was based, and reasonably so, on a manufacturers’ material safety data sheet (MSDS).

One such MSDS selected at random from the Australian internet sites has this to say about formaldehyde:

Reported fatal dose for humans: 60-90 mL

Oral LD50 (rat): 800 mg/kg

Inhalation LC50 (rat): 590 mg/m3

Low concentrations of formaldehyde may cause sensitisation by skin contact. Formaldehyde vapour is irritant to mucous membranes and respiratory tract. Asthma like symptoms have occasionally been reported following inhalation.

Animal studies have shown formaldehyde to cause carcinogenic effects. In particular, chronic inhalation studies in rats have shown the development of nasal cavity carcinomas at 6 and 15 ppm. These cancers developed at concentrations which produced chronic tissues irritation and would not be voluntarily tolerated by humans. [IPCS Environmental Health Criteria 89, Formaldehyde, World Health Organisation [WHO], Geneva, 1989.]

Some positive mutagenic effects have been reported for formaldehyde. Available animal data do not show embryotoxic or teratogenic effects following exposure to formaldehyde.

The NTP notes that formaldehyde effects have now been identified as having a role in leukaemia and not just localised inhalation-related cancers.

The MSDS is dated 2004 and Australian OHS legislation only requires MSDS to be updated at five-yearly intervals.  Of course they can be updated more frequently should the employer chose or, perhaps if the manufacturer advises them of a reclassification.

It is interesting that a 2004 MSDS still refers to WHO data that is fifteen years old and that the reference is to a non-Australian criterion.  It is accepted that chemical reclassification and research are long processes but what should the updating timeline be now that the US has made this significant re-categorisation?

Perhaps the Australia classifications will gain speed given that the more compatible European re-categorisation of formaldehyde, and other chemicals, was announced overnight.  The EU-OSHA website states

“Formaldehyde was confirmed as carcinogenic to humans. There is sufficient evidence in humans of an increased incidence of nasopharyngeal.”

However the human leukaemia issue was discusses in the evaluation summaries:

“The Working Group was almost evenly split on the evaluation of formaldehyde causing leukaemias in humans, with the majority viewing the evidence as sufficient for carcinogenicity and the minority viewing the evidence as limited.  Particularly relevant to the discussions regarding sufficient evidence was a recent study accepted for publication which, for the first time, reported aneuploidy in blood of exposed workers characteristic of myeloid leukaemia and myelodysplastic syndromes with supporting information suggesting a decrease in the major circulating blood cell types and in circulating haematological precursor cells.  The authors and Working Group felt this study needed to be replicated.”

Given that wood products that contain formaldehyde are used frequently in cabinet-making it is fair to expect MSDSs and OHS guidances on hazardous substances and wood dusts would be reissued and databases updated fairly quickly.  Just as important is the fact that particle boards are commonly sold in hardware and timber outlets in Australia and that Spring and Summer is often the DIY peak.

It is not hard to picture an unscrupulous media outlet generating a panic about the presence of formaldehyde in these products regardless of how the chemical is bound or whether inhalation risks are minimised.

Kevin Jones

Recent WorkSafe Victoria prosecutions 3

Over the last two weeks, WorkSafe Victoria has released over a dozen reports and summaries about prosecutions over OHS breaches.  Some have been highlighted in SafetyAtWorkBlog posts but there are too many for us to cover in detail or to expand upon.

Below is a list of those prosecution summaries

A Bending Company Pty. Ltd. – 8/12/09
Summary: Crush injury

Compass Recruitment Australia Pty Ltd – 8/12/09
Summary: Unguarded Plant/Labour Hire

McCain Foods (Aust) Pty Ltd – 7/12/09
Summary: Lack of isolation procedures, instruction and training

Barro Group Pty. Limited – 7/12/09
Summary: Fatality (crush injury) and a failure to provide and maintain for its employees, a safe working environment that was without risks to health.

Alan Mance Motors (Melton) Pty Ltd – 1/12/09
Summary: Explosion

Victorian State Emergency Service Authority – 30/11/09
Summary: Fatality, Volunteers, Employer, Drowning

Dynamic Industries Pty Ltd – 25/11/09
Summary: Fall from height – Fatality

The Inflatable Event Company Pty Ltd – 25/11/09
Summary: Failure to inform, instruct, train and supervise

Transglobal Shipping & Storage (Vic) Pty Ltd – 25/11/09
Summary: Forklifts, Failure to comply with a Prohibition Notice

Andrew Irvine – 25/11/09
Summary: Fall from height – fatality

Canningvale Timber Sales Pty Ltd – 25/11/09
Summary: Unguarded Plant

John Mavros – 25/11/09
Summary: Unguarded Plant

Shane Grigg -v- The Precast Company Pty Ltd – 16/11/09
Summary: Fail to provide suitable employment