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

New Inventors – scaffold safety – video 4

For several years now the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has run the New Inventors.  This show displays new Australian inventions which increasingly is showing innovations in workplace safety.  In the past many award winning hazard solutions have first come to the attention of the marketplace and OHS regulators through the program.

On 17 June 2009, the show included an innovative scaffold fall protection barrier, HeightGuard. For a limited time only, the video of the invention is available online.  The product should be seen to be best understood.

A media release on HeightGuard is also available in support of the inventors’ appearance at the Queensland Safety Show.

Kevin Jones

Safety At Work podcasts Reply

As many will have noticed, I have been resurrecting some of the podcasts and interviews from several years ago and making them available, alongside new content, on SafetyAtWorkBlog.  Many of the old podcasts were available through iTunes at the time but that was before this blog and the multimedia options it presents.

Just as this blog has an RSS feed so do the podcasts.  If you want to subscribe to the audio through your media player, some of them allow this and the relevant feed is http://safetyatworkblog.wordpress.com/tag/audio/feed

Some of the podcast content may only have historical interest but I believe it is better to have this available universally on line than sitting in my archive.

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

Panic in disaster planning Reply

Three years ago I had the privilege of arranging for Dr Lee Clarke of Rutgers University to attend the Safety in Action Conference in Australia.  Lee had a book out at the time, Worst Cases, and spoke about the reality of panic.  Lee’s studies have continued and are, sadly, becoming more relevant.

Recently, Rutgers University posted a video interview with Lee on Youtube.

Shortly after the World Trade Center collapse in 2001, I asked Lee to write something about the event from his experience and perspective.  He wrote a piece for a special edition of Safety At Work magazine.  The article has been available through his website for some time and is now available through here by clicking on the image below.

I strongly recommend Lee’s books.  As he says in the video, they’re quite fun, in a sad sort of way.

Kevin Jones

Sept11

Resilience, stress and safety management Reply

The July 25 2007 SafetyAtWork podcast is now available for download.  It includes an interview with Michael Licenblat where we discuss the psychological approach to individuals taking control of their own safety, the benefits of wellbeing programs and the changing workplace.

On listening back to the podcast today, I was struck by several issues he raises:

  • Michael is one of the few wellbeing gurus who directly link the management of stress to the productivity of the worker.  He displays more awareness than many others of the “proactive” OHS context of this approach to human capital.
  • He discusses why it is difficult for all of us to say no to some work tasks, even if  the task is high risk and may injure ourselves and others.
  • He states two core elements of workplace cultures that seem to revolve around the established OHS obligation of consultation.  Perhaps OHS managers can become real agents of change by cranking up consultation.

Kevin Jones

BHP, swine flu and leave entitlements Reply

Many OHS professionals and business gurus state that safety leadership must come from the top of the corporate tree.  BHP Billiton received some rare positive press on 16 June 2009 concerning its OHS policies.

According to Mark Hawthorne, BHP CEO Marius Kloppers has revealed he is battling “pig flu”, in his words.  This seems to have generated a flurry of OHS activity.  Sadly the best OHS practice was not mentioned, which would be to send the infected CEO home.

Hawthorne’s article identifies several BHP swine flu actions:

  • non-essential trips have been cancelled;
  • executives who must fly are being provided with Tamiflu;
  • cleaning shifts have been increased;
  • telephones, keyboards, rest rooms and public areas are being disinfected more regularly; and
  • bottles of alcohol-based hand sanitisers have appeared.

SafetyAtWorkBlog is seeking clarification from BHP Billiton on a number of points.

It is hoped that these measures were not generated only by the CEO comments but were already in place, particularly, following previous incidents with SARS and even avian influenza.

Any measures should be supported by staff consultation that involves more than a notice on the board or an email in the intranet.  Many of these measures generate as many questions as they hope to answer and there should be information sessions for those who wish more detail.

Indeed one of the basic employment issues that always comes up in discussions about pandemics is leave entitlements.  The importance of brainstorming pandemic planning can be illustrated by an article in The Australian, also on 16 June 2009.  The ACTU believes that unpaid leave should not be applied if a worker needs to be absent from work due to influenza, even if the worker themselves are not ill.

The ACTU has told SafetyAtWorkBlog that the following motion was passed at last week’s ACTU Congress

that Federal and State governments should bring together peak union and employer groups to establish guidelines for handling the pandemic. These would:

  • ensure workers and their families are not financially disadvantaged by the outbreak;
  • provide employers with useful information and procedures to deal with any suspected cases of swine flu in the workplace;
  • ensure persons who are in isolation as a consequence of swine flu are not discriminated against or disadvantaged in their employment; and,
  • educate the community about the disease to stop misinformation, panic and help in the overall strategy to slow down the spread of the disease during the winter months.

One of the criticisms that SafetyAtWorkBlog has expressed about many influenza advice sites is that control of the hazard at work is not being seen in the context of occupational health and safety.  This was the case with www.fluthreat.com.

Sadly, influenza information from OHS regulators is of dubious value and application, in many instances, and the regulators have not been promoting their advice.  Very little OHS traction has been gained on the pandemic, even when the unions make the point to the media, as the ACTU did with The Australian newspaper.  The Australian’s article did not mention the following, and sensible, ACTU advice:

“Employers owe a duty of care to workers to provide healthy and safe workplaces as far as reasonably forseeable(sic) [and] the swine flu outbreak has been highly publicised and is reasonably forseeable.”

Let’s hope that the BHP Billiton control measures are part of an integrated OHS/pandemic plan and not a reflex action to please the boss.

Kevin Jones

Corporate health adviser’s recommendations on swine flu 2

Recently SafetyAtWorkBlog wondered why the ACT OHS Commissioner referenced a commercial website instead of a government authority.  The commercial website was www.fluthreat.com operated by HSA Group which since early April 2009 is part of Medibank Private.

Fluthreat.com.au provides information on its Flu At Work page that is very flimsy and seems to be  intended to generate further enquiries to its commercial advisory service.  We’re not comfortable with that or the lack of badging from the parent company but…….

SafetyAtWorkBlog put some questions to HSA Group/Medibank and received the following responses from their media advisor over a week later.  We could be picky but we have decided to let the responses speak for themselves.

The questions were based on the bulletpoints listed on the Flu At Work page in order to flesh out the advice to a more practical level.

What does HSA Group recommend for basic personal respiratory hygiene methods?

HSA’s fluthreat website covers basic respiratory hygiene considerations.  Personal habits that we all should adopt include covering mouths when coughing and sneezing, using tissues and disposing of them properly, and regularly washing of hands.

In this time of swine flu, is the old way of throwing tissues in a waste basket no longer the right option?

Using a waste basket is fine.  The important thing is the waste is disposed of appropriately, and the waste basket does not require excessive handling in the disposal process.

Handwipes and gel have issues of their own – should they be applied after handwashing or instead of, should they be used after each sneeze or cough? What does HSA recommend?

Considerations of personal  hygiene should be a regular occurrence – not just simply after each sneeze or  cough.  Handwipes and gels are for occasions when you can’t wash your hands – it is not necessary to use both.  Handwipes and gels should be alcohol based, which has been shown to be effective in killing influenza type viruses.

Regarding adequate cleaning of surfaces and equipment, should this be undertaken by the users of the equipment or should cleaning contractors be contacted in order to upgrade their processes?

Unfortunately there is no one simple answer to this question.  Every business operates differently, and therefore will require a different response to a pandemic.  We encourage all businesses to have a pandemic plan, which will guide the business wide response.

Certainly cleaning of surfaces and equipment should be considered in the context of an organisation’s pandemic plan, and may include having staff take additional care for hygiene and cleaning, or having cleaning contractors upgrade their processes.  The appropriateness of such considerations are linked to the pandemic phase & an organisation’s response strategy in the context of their pandemic plan.

Regarding telephones, which are the closest item most office workers have to their mouths, years ago there were phone cleaners who  physically came to the office to clean and disinfect  handsets. Would HSA recommend this service be reinstated?

These services are still available for businesses who want them.  Alternatively staff can be trained to do it themselves with alcohol based wipes.  Again the specific needs of businesses will vary, and cleaning of telephone handsets should be set out in the pandemic plan.

In a closed environment, such as an office, where possible, should ventilation be increased by opening a window?  Some office buildings turn off they ventilation overnight even when nightshift workers are in the building.  Does HSA believe that nightshift workers could be at increased risk of contracting influenza?

Ventilation is important in workplaces, and not just due to swine flu. Where windows can be opened without affecting the air-conditioning flow this will help with ventilation. Air conditioning should remain on if people are present in the building.  However there is no evidence that nightshift workers are at an increased risk of contracting influenza – it is the behaviour of workers and their levels of personal hygiene that are the strongest influence on this.

Regarding encouraging sick persons to stay at home, why only “encourage”, when  employers have the legislative obligation to not place their employees at risk? What if the employee has shown no symptoms of influenza but may be infectious due to contact with a family member who is sick?

Employers should have policies in place that articulate how staff should  behave in such circumstances, and ideally a plan that covers pandemics specifically.  There is only a very small risk of people being infectious prior to symptoms appearing.

Sending workers home after the illness has appeared is an acknowledgement that illness is already present in the workplace.  In this instance, what would HSA advise the employer to do?

Employers should continue to activate their pandemic plan, which will trigger workplace specific staff communications and contingency plans.

Does HSA recommend the wearing of facemasks as a suitable control measure for anyone who may come to work sneezing (for whatever reason)?

Facemasks can be very helpful in controlling the spread of respiratory diseases.  However it should be noted that a sneeze does not necessarily equate to H1N1 or seasonal influenza.  A diagnosis of suspected H1N1 or seasonal influenza requires consideration of a number of other factors.

Regardless of the further information from HSA Group/Medibank, SafetyAtWorkBlog still recommends that the best advice is available from the relevant health authorities in your State or country.

Kevin Jones

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.