On 17 April 2014, Senator Eric Abetz, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, released the Building and Construction Industry (Fair and Lawful Building Sites) Code 2014 and supporting guidelines. This Code is, fundamentally, an industrial relations Code however there is an occupational health and safety (OHS) element that needs to be noted, particularly when considered against the background of the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program.
Section 6.2.1 of the Code’s Guidelines says:
“Improving the industry’s WHS&R [Work Health Safety and Rehabilitation] performance requires positive measures that aim for prevention rather than correcting things when they go wrong. This initiative is directed at making WHS&R management an integral part of the organisational culture of companies and enterprises.”
The aims of this section are laudable – “positive” actions, “integrated, pre-emptive instead of reactive – but there are also hints that role of safety in this Code has not been fully thought out.
The use of the term “things” is of concern. This term is vague and should never be used when a more accurate word is available, particularly in a government-issued guidance document. The use of “things” could be a mistake but the drafting of this Construction Code, and the political prominence of the Code, should not allow such mistakes. If it is not a mistake the lack of clarity is a worry, especially when a Royal Commission is being held (Home Insulation Program – HIP) that indicates a lack of understanding and attention to OHS in the planning phase of a building-related program.
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Twice in early April 2014, 7.30, a current affairs program of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ran two lead stories about occupational health and safety – home insulation-related fatalities and the risks of working at heights. The latter of these provided only a glimpse of a complex OHS issue and only touched on the matter of the self-certification of anchor points where compliance does not necessarily equate to safety. This issue has been taken up by the Working at Heights Association (WAHA) on 11 April 2014. In a media release WAHA stated:
“In the wake of last night’s ABC 7.30 Report on falls from height, the Working At Heights Association has a warning: “If you’re counting on a harness attached to an anchor system to save your life when you fall from a roof, you need to know that many roof anchors don’t meet the most basic safety standards.”
WAHA has conducted some “drop tests” of common anchor points that are currently in use in Australia and that meet the relevant Australian Standard AS/NZS5532 - Manufacturing requirements for single-point anchor device used for harness-based work at height. They found that
“In the tests, 100kg loads dropped through 2 metres tear single-person anchors away from their mounts, while 150kg loads for two-person-use hit the ground, smashing the weights. Only one out of the five anchors tested pass.”
This is a matter of enormous concern as anchor points are an essential element of fall protection. A lot of attention has been given to fall protection harnesses over the years with some new product types but all of these rely on the integrity of a firmly secured anchor point that can withstand the high forces involved in stopping someone falling to their deaths. More…
Australia’s Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (HIP) demands the attention of all occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals, primarily, because a job creation and economic stimulus program was so poorly planned at the highest level of government, that it seems to have established a culture that led to workplace deaths. However the Royal Commission is already revealing information that shows how OHS is misunderstood by decision-makers, a situation that still persists in many jurisdictions and will only change by watching the Royal Commission carefully and analysing this information through the perspective of workplace safety.
SafetyAtWorkBlog has been following the OHS issues of the HIP since the program commenced and will be providing a series of articles over coming months based on information coming from the Royal Commission. This is the first of them and provides background to how the Royal Commission came to be and the major OHS issues being addressed.
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‘s latest comedy show, Safety First, is a dig at the absurdity of some of the training and concepts behind occupational health and safety. Safety First, showing as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, does not ridicule OHS as a concept but focuses on the idiotic, semi-informed trainers who talk about safety whilst also, often, talking shit. The humour is effective and occasionally generates discomfort for its proximity to reality. More…
Ever since the UK Government reduced the occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations on small business, there have been concerns that a similar strategy could occur in Australia. Of all the States in Australia, Victoria is the most likely to mirror the UK actions, particularly as its WorkSafe organisation continues with its restructuring and (ridiculous) rebranding, and Victoria’s conservative government continues to see OHS as a red tape issue for small business. However a recent finding by the Queensland Coroner should be considered very seriously when thinking of OHS in small business.
In 2011 Adam Douglas Forster
” … came close to the rotating ball mill, then accidently (sic) became ensnared by the protruding bolts and was dragged underneath the ball mill which continued to rotate, thereby causing his fatal injuries.”
The inquest found
“There were no guards, barriers or other apparatus restricting access by any persons to the ball mill.” and
Forster “did not know how to turn the ball mill on or off”. More…
Terry Reis has written a terrific article about how occupational health and safety (OHS) requirements can impede his work as a fauna ecologist. Instead of whingeing about green or red tape, Terry has provided examples of the annoyance which allows me to build an article in response. This article is in no way a rebuttal as I agree with most of Terry’s grievances, but there can be reasons behind some of the grievances that are likely to be unrelated to OHS or illustrate poor OHS decisions.
Some of the issues Terry raises include:
- Working Alone
- OHS arguments
- Drug and Alcohol Testing
Terry mentions the irrelevance of many OHS inductions and his article seems to indicate a dysfunctional induction program. The intention of inductions is to outline the safety rules of a workplace or task but most are boring, condescending or include information that is unrelated to the task. The reality of many inductions is that they are a mechanism to have workers sign up and indicate they have understood all of their safety obligations on a site so that there is a clearer line of responsibility in the event of an incident. More…
A guest post by Carl Sachs
The revised Australian Standard AS1657 for fixed ladders, platforms and walkways released in October 2013 plugs some serious holes. Guard rails made of rubber, for example, are now explicitly unacceptable.
While absurd, rubber guard rails technically complied with the 21-year-old AS1657 and the example shows just how sorely an update was needed.
Four big changes to AS1657
The biggest changes to AS1657 concern selection, labelling, guardrail testing and the design of fixed ladders. More…
On 29 January 2014 Australia’s Fairfax newspapers published an article called “Safety performances at Australia’s top companies is serious business” written by Adele Ferguson. The article is based on an analysis by Citi Research of the safety performance of companies listed in Australia’s ASX100 share index. Citi Research (Citi) has kindly provided SafetyAtWorkBlog with a copy of this report developed for its fund manager and superfund clients. It is a terrific reference document providing a useful insight to the OHS performance of prominent Australian corporations. It cannot be definitive but we know of nothing else like it in Australia.
In the Fairfax article Ferguson wrote:
“While safety is a complex issue largely due to the fact that safety records are difficult to measure and difficult to compare across companies and industries, it is an important area to explore. For starters, it is a good proxy for the way a company deals with staff and manages risk more generally.”
Safety does not have to be complex but the measurement of safety performance can be as, even though there is a (dreadfully outdated) Australian Standard for measuring OHS performance, companies tweak the existing measures and the principal measurement, the Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR), has been found to be a flawed indicator. LTIFR is tolerated as a measurement simply because a better alternative has not been developed or widely accepted.
The Citi Research report lists LTIFRs for most of the 117 companies but it balances this with almost as many Total Recordable Injury Frequency Rates (TRIFR). More…
The Weekly Times scored an exclusive this week about a new model of Polaris quad bike which incorporates a roll cage or rollover protection structure (ROPS) in its design. The significance of the Sportsman Ace is, according to the newspaper and the manufacturer, a “game changer” because it seems to counter the arguments of the quad bike manufacturers against such design changes in submissions to government and in public campaigns. They have stressed that more effective control of a quad bike comes from driver training and behaviour and that ROPs may itself contribute to driver injuries and deaths. The Polaris Sportsman Ace, to be released in the United States this week and Australia next month, seems to prove that quad bikes can be redesigned to include safety features, an action that manufacturers have been extremely reluctant to do.
A major critic of ROPs on quad bikes in Australia has been the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI). SafetyAtWorkBlog spoke to a spokesman for the FCAI who explained that the Polaris Sportsman Ace is not an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) but a UTV (Utility Terrain Vehicle). More…
There will be two areas of occupational health and safety attention in the early months of 2014 in Australia – workplace bullying laws and the Royal Commission into Home Insulation Program. The labour law firms are gearing up for a “bumper year” as one said prior to Christmas and the business groups are already lobbying/complaining/whingeing about the workplace bullying laws administered by the Fair Work Commission. However the Royal Commission has the potential for the biggest social and ideological impact so, as the new year begins, I will attempt some predictions of the Royal Commission’s findings based around some of the terms of reference.
‘the processes by which the Australian Government made decisions about the establishment and implementation of the Program, and the bases of those decisions, including how workplace health and safety and other risks relating to the Program were identified, assessed and managed;’
This paragraph is the one that could have the most long-term effect on governance, due diligence and procurement. There are many suggestions on these issues in the sphere of project management but trying to keep the discussion in OHS, there are some useful comments on the Government procurement of services. Australia’s Federal Safety Commission acknowledges that procurement is an important stage in project design. WorkSafe Victoria’s “handbook for the public sector – health and safety in construction procurement” says
“As procurers, governments can promote better health and safety by requiring projects to include a range of safety measures, such as specifying the safety budget, building layout or the use of certain More…