The new generation of foolhardy reporters Reply

In 1975 five Australian reporters were killed while covering the armed dispute between the Indonesian military and, what used to be called “freedom fighters”, the Fretilin in East Timor.  An indication of how circumstances can change is that José Ramos Horta, the current President of East Timor was a founder and former member of Fretilin, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor.

Since that time, in particular, in Australia, the issue of safety of media employees has gained considerable attention, primarily through the work of the journalist’s union, the MEAA, and the international Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma

But there are a new generation of freelancers and writers who come to reporting from outside the tertiary journalism courses (this writer included) who do not have the benefit of accessing the wisdom and advice of experienced reporters.  These writers (I do not apply the term journalist  even to myself) see the excitement of reporting from exotic locations and areas of conflict.  New technology of recording and distribution only encourages them because it makes the reporting process easier or, at least, makes it easier to provide content, the quality of the content is often questionable.

A new book is being released in Australia concerning the Balibo Five and the author spoke to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.  Tony Maniaty, who was in Indonesia at the time and spoke with the Australian reporters, touches on the risks to which the new generation of reporters are willingly exposing themselves.   His comments are timely and reinforce the importance of what used to be called listening to the wisdom of elders but now seems to be mentoring.  His comments apply to all occupations and professions.

A feature film is being made about this period and the events surrounding the Balibo Five.  Maniaty attending the shooting of the film and spoke about this in a Youtube video, ostensibly for the promotion of his book. 

Kevin Jones

 

 

Lack of restraint – Australian approach, Singapore deaths 1

sa0200906[1]_Page_1The Northern Territory OHS  authority issued a guidance this week about unrestrained travel in work vehicles, a practice many of us stopped some time ago.  Obviously not everyone has.

The NT guidance is a curious document as it strongly advocates that employers assess the hazards of unrestrained travel and decide the appropriate control measures.  This advice is in line with legislative requirements and safety management protocols but clearly the authority has much clearer advice.  The document is headed 

“No seat – No belt – No ride”

The assessment has been done and the heading gives the best advice.  In OHS profession speak – if there is no seat for a passenger and/or no seat belt then NT OHS says allowing someone to travel on or in the vehicle is not acceptable.

Australia can often be glib about workplace incidents as it always looks past its region for comparisons from the US or Europe rather than looking at its immediate neighbourhood.  

Singapore’s Strait-Times reported in May 2009 about the real consequences of unrestrained travel after

“…three foreign workers sitting in the back of a lorry died after it crashed into the back of a trailer. A fourth man in the front seat also died.”

The article goes on to list the law changes that Singapore has introduced but, more interestingly, tells how much more complicated the issue is than in Australia due to the level of foreign labour.

Kevin Jones

Swine Flu – isolation – a personal view 6

Australia’s swine flu numbers are increasing and the government is introducing new measures regularly in response. I write this post from self-imposed isolation from the swine flu outbreak in my son’s high school.  There are some interesting decisions that have been made which provide me with optimism but also illustrate some useful personnel management actions.

I heard about a confirmed case of swine flu at the high school at my son’s soccer match last Sunday.  I was asked by a soccer mum whether my son knew a boy at his high school who was a confirmed swine flu case.  He did and we had not heard.

When I returned home there was no message from the school on my answering machine and nothing on my mobile.  I looked on the internet and the case was reported but more importantly the school was to be closed for a week.  I confirmed the media report by looking at the local health department website.  The case and control measure was mentioned.

However, what does it mean in the broader context when a school is closed?  Is my son in “isolation”? Are the other family members?  The websites could not help with this so I rang the helpline listed on the website.  Yes, my son should have no contact with people outside the house and we should monitor his health, and that of others in the household, for symptoms.

I knew my employer had issued an email from Human Resources in late April advising what to do in the case of an outbreak of swine flu.  However, this is not much help for the days prior to symptoms or confirmation of the infection.  As I am not in isolation I could be going to work as normal and potentially and innocently infecting work colleagues – not a good risk control.  (I have written elsewhere on the matter of presenteeism, here was a preventative opportunity)

I put some risk management questions to the employer even though my advice would be to have me work from home.  Within 12 hours, my employer had set me up to work from home for the rest of the week.  The IT adviser emailed me a procedure entitled “Flu Pandemic Remote Access”.  I commented that I was a little surprised that the company was this prepared.  The IT adviser said it was only new and I was the first user.

My wife’s employer is still assessing the situation but we are of the same opinion that if work can be done from home, we should be located at home for the remainder of the isolation period.  We are lucky that our occupations afford us this option.

On Monday morning the school rang me to answer any questions about swine flu.  I didn’t ask any as we had done our homework and arranged to go to school to collect some of my son’s schoolwork for his time in isolation.

It could be asked why the school waited 24 hours to notify me? How does any company or organisation contact up to 700 people on the weekend?  These are issues that are currently also being discussed in a Royal Commission into Victorian Bushfires in Melbourne.  The school had all of its staff and teachers on the phones after a meeting at 9.00am that morning.  The school’s website did not get an update until Monday morning but not everyone turns on their PC on a Sunday.   In the context of the slow encroachment of swine flu in Australia, I think this was reasonable.

It should be noted that although my son was friends with the infected boy only the immediate classmates were provided with Tamiflu and that this occurred on the Sunday – a fair response.

Anticipating the family being at home for a week, I purchased some supplies including a thermometer as a useful way of identifying  at least one of the swine flu symptoms.

Two days into isolation and there are no symptoms.

From a professional OHS perspective, communication has been acceptable. Available online information was okay and company support reassuring.  At this early stage of the outbreak in Australia, we are optimistic and not worrying ourselves over issues over which we have no control.

Kevin Jones

Working alone – a poorly understood work hazard 2

Working alone is an established workplace hazard in many industries.  The control measure most applied is “don’t work alone” that is, undertake as many work tasks in isolated location with someone supervising or in close contact.

Modern technology has often been applied as a possible control measure – “deadman switch”, GPS tracking, mobile phone use.  Many of these control measures are second nature to workers in this century and are so commonplace that their safety role is ignored.

Regardless of the many zookeeper attacks that have gained media headlines over recent years, many workers are assaulted and killed while working alone.  Industries that do not have a strong history of safety management most often get caught out by having a staff member injured or killed.  Bosses or industry associations often express wonder at how such an incident could occur.  Safety professionals would have seen the hazard instantly.

The risk of violence from working alone has been a hot topic in Australia since a Victorian female real estate agent was murdered while showing a prospective “client” an isolated property.

HSS0075-Real      -3.477447e+266state-Property            51804944nspection                    afety[1]WorkSafe Victoria has just released a further publication concerning this matter.  The alert is okay in its context but is doing a disservice by being restricted to real estate agents.  Worksafe has more generic guidance but focus on real estate agents? Why not produce similarly detailed guidance guidance that is more broadly applicable to workers in isolation – pizza deliverers, night shift workers, street cleaners, office cleaners a whole raft of occupations that operate alone?

WorkSafe has said previously that real estate agents gain priority because such guidances are developed in conjunction with industry associations.  A legitimate question can be asked, why is a government authority producing guidance for a sector that already has an industry body who can do this?  Shouldn’t an OHS regulator be focusing on those areas that don’t have industry support?

Below are some of the recommended control measures in the latest publication.  SafetyAtWorkBlog’s more generic control measures are in red.

  • having a new client stop by the office and complete a personal identification form before viewing a property to verify details

Have a detailed list of staff work locations and a contact name and (after hours) number for a supervisor at each location

  • inspecting properties during the day. If night inspections are necessary, ensure the agent is accompanied. Identify exit points in case a quick escape is needed

Work with a colleague wherever possible

  • inspecting the property before showing clients,to assess any existing risks or hazards

Consider the security measures of each work area – lighting, access/egress, phone coverage, camera surveillance, etc

  • making an excuse and leaving the site immediately if the client becomes aggressive or makes the agent feel uncomfortable

Cancel the work task at the first sign of hazard

  • calling the office with a pre-assigned emergency code phrase if the agent senses a dangerous situation

The “safe word” control measure is well established in the escort business.  It can work but will only notify of a dangerous situation not eliminate it

  • regularly training staff on safety procedures, including instructions on dealing with potential offenders and incident reporting.

Develop safe work procedures in consultation with staff 

When considering control measures in these situations it may be very useful to understand that prosecutions are likely to consider that employers have undertaken control measures “as far is reasonably practicable” – a movable feast of judgements.  Ask yourself or your client the question, would they prefer to know that an employee is in danger, injured or killed, or would they prefer to have the employee safe and loose a potential client?  The court may consider camera or other technical surveillance to be reasonably practicable but what would your employee who has lost an eye, limb and quality of life think?

Consider other control measures ONLY AFTER elimination has been seriously considered.

Kevin Jones

Other OHS guides concerning working alone are available below

WorkSafe WA

WA Dept of Commerce

Trade Union site

WorkSafe Victoria

Workplace Health & Safety Queensland

Should OHS regulators be involved in the competence of professionals? 6

WorkSafe and the Safety Institute of Australia are at the forefront of pushing for a defined level of competence for the safety professional.  WorkSafe identified this need many years ago and has been working on establishing alliances with safety professions since then to achieve its aims.

Significantly similar issues have been discussed in the United Kingdom over a similar period however, in that process the WorkSafe equivalent, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), have chosen not to participate.  According to a recent article in HEALTH AND SAFETY AT WORK, the HSE has stated its position

“Speaking at IOSH’s recent conference, HSE chief executive Geoffrey Podger was adamant that the general description of competence in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSW) Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) is sufficient. “I don’t think it helps the whole health and safety system if HSE tries to over-define the area,” he said, adding that there is still a “huge opportunity” for the professional bodies to work on their own definition.”

This position is considerably different from that in Australia where WorkSafe is now closely working (some would say too closely) with the SIA in developing standards and protocols that it and its partners want to operate nationally. Its aim seems to be similar to one the HSE and Health & Safety Commission established in 2007 – “Mapping Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Professional Body Activities in Scotland”.  It is worth looking at the page to see the list of safety professional bodies who are listed, the services offered and the membership databases.

Pages from externalproviders[1]A crucial HSE document is the “HSE statement to the external providers of health and safety assistance”.  Its statement that competence should be a goal rather than a benchmark should worry the Australian competence lobbyists.  In the Ponting article above, IOSH calls for more clarity but, as discussed elsewhere in SafetyAtWorkBlog, OHS legislation clearly states it is the employers’ ultimate responsibility to establish a safe and healthy work environment.  They may choose assistance from competent people but why should it be the regulator that establishes this?  The professional bodies such as IOSH and SIA have existed for decades.  Have they not determined levels of competency for their own members by now?

Geoff Hooke of the British Safety Industry Federation says

“when you ask how you measure competence, the simple answer is: with great difficulty”.

In general, shouldn’t the response from OHS professional associations be along the lines of

“we believe that all members of the XXX Association are competent within their fields and we would not hesitate in recommending our professional members in providing competent advice to companies…”?

These organizations who are calling for a clear definition are often the same organizations that are in support of “as far as is reasonably practicable”, a vague management concept that can be defined and re-defined depending on which judge hears which OHS prosecution. – the antithesis to the prevention principles of OHS.  One cannot call for certainty in one area while advocating flexibility in another.

The UK Works and Pensions Committee was right in saying that more control is required on external consultants and clearly lobbed the responsibility on the professional bodies.

Ponting’s article concludes that it is the job of the professional bodies to organize accreditation and the maintenance of that accreditation but acknowledges that it is politically fraught.  That is not enough reason to look to the regulator to solve the problem as it only makes the regulator the target of criticism over the process and the results.  The professional bodies themselves must work to a commonality of purpose and relinquish years of demarcation and, sometimes, schism.

The Australian safety professions would ultimately gain far more credibility for themselves and their professions if they too took it upon themselves to define accreditation, audit their members’ competencies and assist in the maintenance of skills.  In that way Australia may gain a safety profession of which everyone can be proud.

Kevin Jones

H1N1 and facemasks 1

Swine flu cases have begun appearing in Australia and not just in people who have travelled to infected zones overseas.  Talkback radio has begun discussing the wisdom of basic infection control issues such as isolation, hygiene and the use of facemasks.

Many large companies have started to provide antibacterial soaps and lotions in the office bathrooms and toilets but few have begun to issue guidelines on staff leave.  However as the flu season grows in Australia, it is expected that the tolerance to sniffles by workmates will diminish.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has already written about how swine flu will change the culture of workplaces.

The media has plenty of photos of people in infected zones wearing surgical masks or P2 and N95 masks. This indicates that non-health workers do not appreciate the role of facemasks.  According to authorities in Japan, where the the wearing of masks during infection peaks and outbreaks is a very common practice, masks are best worn by those who are infected to minimise droplets and spray rather than for healthy people to stop the chance of inhalation.

The government is recommending people use masks as a way of reducing the spread of infection via droplets from coughs and sneezes, but puts the onus on those who are already infected.

 “If you start to cough or sneeze, please use a mask,” reads an advice section on the Health Ministry’s website. “If someone in your family or at your workplace is coughing without a mask on, please urge them to wear one.” 

An official at the ministry emphasised the government was only recommending those with symptoms wear masks.

 “Unless you are in a very crowded place, masks are not going to help much with prevention,” he said. “We are not saying that people should always wear a mask when you go out, although it might help to wear one on a rush-hour train.”

 “We are certainly not saying that you’ll be safe if you just put on a mask.”

If the situation worsens to the extent that Australians need to wear PPE as a barrier to infection, the government needs to begin a campaign of not only educating the community on influenza risks but on basic matters like how to wear a mask and how to safely dispose of them.

Although Japanese authorities are quoted above, you are urged to seek local advice for your specific circumstances.

Kevin Jones

Insights into crisis decision-making and communications – Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission Reply

There’s an opportunity to follow the hearings of the Victorian Royal Commission on last summer’s horrendous bushfires via a live web stream. Here is the link to the Commission’s home page: http://www.royalcommission.vic.gov.au/ The “live stream” link on that page takes you to a live broadcast of the hearings underway at the time.

Fortunately, the catastrophe of the summer’s bushfires don’t happen often (unfortunately, the enormity of some people lighting fires does happen too often). What is even more rare is for us to be able to listen to first-hand witness experiences of decision-making in extreme conditions and to gain insights from listening to those experiences.

I often have the Royal Commission’s live stream running in the background while doing other work. I do that because I’d prefer to hear the witnesses reports directly. Of course, there will be a final report, but hearing the tone and context of the questions and answers are the sort of things that can be very difficult to recreate in a written report.

Monitoring the live stream is highly recommended for all safety professionals; doubly so for those people who work in larger businesses or organizations. A rare chance to observe and compare decision-making processes and lines of communication in complex situations to see what did and didn’t work.

Col Finnie
col@finiohs.com
www.finiohs.com

Welding explosion burn survivor talks about the experience 1

The 19 May 2009 edition of The 7.30 Report included a fresh perspective on rehabilitation from workplace injuries.  According to the website

“Sydney man Frank Spiteri was not expected to live after suffering third-degree burns to 70 per cent of his body in a major workplace explosion in 2007.

Not only did Mr Spiteri survive, but he has transformed from an overweight businessman into a fitness fanatic who is determined to help other burns victims.”

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has provided an extended interview with Frank online. It is a story of extraordinary personal will, a story rarely seen on national television.

Kevin Jones

The OHS recommendations the Australian Government rejected 1

According to the Communiqué of the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council on 18 May 2009, the following issues should be considered when drafting the new OHS legislation

“Application of the primary duty of care to any person conducting a business or undertaking

The panel recommends that the primary duty of care should be owed by any person conducting a business or undertaking.  The objective of this recommendation is to move away from the traditional emphasis on the employment relationship as the determiner of the primary duty, to provide greater health and safety protection for all persons involved in, or affected by, work activity.  Care needs to be taken during drafting to ensure that the scope of the duty is limited to matters of occupational health and safety and does not further extend into areas of public safety that are not related to the workplace activity. “

The first part of this is recognition of the variety of workplaces Australia now has, the number of people within worksites who are not employees and the previous issues of OHS and unpaid volunteers.  It seems to expand to matters of public liability but then, curiously, pulls back to emphasise occupational health and safety.  As Michael Tooma has noted, circumstances seem to have passed beyond the arbitrariness of the occupational categorisation. More…

Radio interview on harmonisation of OHS law Reply

Last week, I had the pleasure of being interviewed byElanor McInerney of the 3CR radio program, Stick Together.  The interview concerned the harmonisation law in Australia and my thoughts on the risks and impacts it would have on Australian business and workers.

The radio program is now available as a podcast  (My part is around the 19 minute mark.) 

Please let me know if I am totally off the beam with my applications of the OHS laws and the political issues.

I thank Elanor and the producers of Stick Together for making this available so soon after the broadcast on 17 May 2009.

Kevin Jones