Safety learnings from construction 7

Kevin Jones 2015

The author onsite earlier this year

I have recently finished some years of full-time work as a safety adviser on a range of construction projects in Australia and below is a list of some of what I have learnt (in no particular order).

Ask questions

People may initially think you are an idiot but, if you are genuinely interested, they will explain what they are doing (usually with some pride in their tone) and offer suggestions of how to do it better or safer.

Follow through

If you have said that you will look into an issue or provide additional information, do it. If you do not, your credibility with the worker you were talking with and, likely, their supervisor and workmates, is gone. More…

Drug and alcohol testing does not improve workplace safety, so why have it? 3

cover of EN455_NCETA_2011-2 Testing for drug and alcohol effects in workplaces sounds sensible but what do you do when there is no evidence that it improves worker safety or reduces risk? Apparently ignore the evidence, create industrial tension and impose unnecessary costs on industry.

The Australian national government and the Victorian (State) government have both pledged to introduce drug and alcohol testing for the construction sector.  The Victorian Government also promised to introduce drug and alcohol testing for parliamentarians but everyone expects a backdown on that election pledge.

Recently two researchers in Adelaide, Ken Pidd and Anne Roche published a research paper in Accident Analysis & Prevention asking “how effective is drug testing as a workplace safety strategy?“.  The abstract states:

“…the evidence base for the effectiveness of testing in improving workplace safety is at best tenuous.”


Workplace resilience gets a kicking Reply

The Age newspaper has published a feature article entitled “Workplace resilience: It’s all a great big con“. Although it does not mention occupational health and safety (OHS) specifically, it is applying the OHS principle of addressing the causes of workplace injury and ill-health.  It says that workplace resilience and similar training courses and strategies:

“… can’t overcome the structural realities and power imbalances that characterise the employment relationship. “Workplace resilience” might help us bear up to stress, but it won’t solve its underlying causes. And the causes of workplace unhappiness don’t necessarily reside in the individual and their own ability to “be resilient” or “relax” – they are part of the economic structures within which we work.”


Poorly planned safety risk registers can be painful 4

Due diligence on black blackboard with businessman

One of the most neglected occupational health and safety (OHS) management tools in Australian workplaces is the safety risk register even though they fit well with the renewed emphasis on OHS Due Diligence.

Every OHS professional dreads risk registers as these are often bureaucratic requirements that demand a risk workshop, that often fail to contribute to safety management or improvements and that senior executives sometimes rely on as being a definitive picture of risk. However this dread often originates from poor initial planning or looking for an easy “out”. More…

Front page drug testing article is marketing Reply

An article last week touched briefly on the issue of the effect of synthetic drugs in the workplace in the context of drug and alcohol testing.  The Australian newspaper on 28 September 2015 contained a front page article (paywalled) about mining company concerns over synthetic drugs at work, however it is an article that deserves greater analysis before anyone considers this as part of an evidence base as it is creatively constructed and relies on statements from a toxicologist working for drug testing laboratory. More…

OHS is in sports but by another name 4

After writing a recent article about the relevance of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws to sporting clubs, I attended a sports medicine seminar to access a different perspective on workplace safety.

2015-09-21 18.43.15Having never played sports outside the obligatory high school activities, which in my high school also included snooker?!, the world of locker rooms and team sports is foreign.  But earlier this week I learnt that where OHS professionals talk about productivity, sportspeople speak of performance, and where factories address line speed, sports physicians talk of load management.  I also learnt that professional sportspeople are exempt from workers’ compensation. More…

Hierarchy of Control podcast 1

It always surprises me when clients and colleagues ignore the Hierarchy of Controls when deciding what control measures to introduce.  Recently Oregon’s OSHA released a podcast about the Hierarchy of Controls which shares some of my concerns.

It was concerning that the podcast stated that some hierarchies place Administrative Controls on the same level as Engineering Controls and that some consider fall protection devices as Engineering Controls due the engineering of the anchor point (a dubious engineering control as this blog has discussed previously).

Below are several quotes from the 4 minute podcast Michael Wood of Oregon OSHA.

“A control that fully eliminates the hazard is always preferred to one that does not.”

“The hierarchy improves the control’s reliability.”

“The hierarchy of control recognises that perfection in human performance can not be attained.”

This short podcast is a good quick reminder to occupational health and safety professionals but could also be discussion catalyst on basic hazard management.

Kevin Jones

Professional sportspeople are workers, so make them safe 1

Player Reaches To Catch Ball In Australian Rules Football GameThere is no doubt that football fields are the workplaces of professional football players and their support staff. So they are covered by occupational health and safety (OHS) and/or work health and safety (WHS) laws but what does this mean in relation to OHS regulators, and the sportspeople’s employers? Recently Eric Windholz looked at this particular issue.

Windholz recently published “Professional Sport, Work Health and Safety Law and Reluctant Regulators” in which he states:

“The application of WHS law to professional sport is almost absent from practitioner and academic discourse. An examination of the websites of Australia’s WHS and sport regulators reveals none contains WHS guidance directed to professional sports.” (page 1, references are included in the paper)

The example he uses to show this apparent lack of interest, even by the Victorian OHS regulator, WorkSafe Victoria, is the Essendon Football Club supplements saga.  Windholz writes

“Had these events occurred in the construction, manufacturing or transport industry, for example, it is difficult to imagine WHS regulators not intervening. Yet, WorkSafe Victoria initially was reluctant to investigate choosing to defer to ‘more appropriate bodies’. It only commenced an investigation when compelled by a request from a member of the public.” (page 2)


Drug and alcohol testing for Australian construction sites 5

On 18 September 2015 Senator Eric Abetz introduced amendments to the Building Code so that drug and alcohol testing will be required on construction sites.  In his media release he states that:

“The construction industry is a high risk industry where the risks associated with the use of heavy machinery, mobile equipment, working in congested areas and working from heights, are accentuated by the effects of alcohol and drug use.”

Following this argument, would not greater safety benefit be gained by addressing the risks posed by machinery, working at heights and in congested areas?  Drug and alcohol testing will do little to reduce these risks, or more correctly, hazards.  Being impaired may make it more likely for a worker to fall while working at heights but creative and safe design could eliminate the risk of working at heights altogether. More…

Death from a well-known hazard – culture is only part of the answer 1

Cover of cif-cole-cb-20150911A coronial finding in Queensland in September 2015 illustrates how daily activities can lead to tragedy but also the role of safety culture.

According to one media report, in investigating the 2009 death of 24-year-old Cameron Cole who was hit as a pipe rack fell from a truck, the Queensland Coroner, Terry Ryan, found that

“…the semi-trailer had been over packed, not properly secured and there was no exclusion zone around the vehicle when the load was being released.”

From this event the Coroner makes many recommendations about the safety management of work practices at that time.  Many of these reflect common work practices that exist to this day on many Australian worksites. More…