New coronial approach should lead to greater safety information 1

The Australian State of Victoria has been in a fortuitous position with a Coroner, Graeme Johnstone, who was a staunch advocate of safety in the public and workplace spheres.  Johnstone was a strong and physical presence at many conferences and in the media.  Indeed, it would be difficult to find a more obvious and influential safety advocate in Australia over the last twenty years.

Johnstone retired recently due to ill-health.  From 4 November 2009, his successor, Jennifer Coate, will be sitting in an official Coroners Court and the supportive legislation should provide even greater support to safety advocates.

According to a media release issued in support of the Court, there are several important legislative changes.

  • The power of the court to make recommendations to any Minister, public statutory body or entity relating to public health and safety and the administration of justice. Previously recommendations could only be made to Ministers.
  • Importantly, any Minister, public statutory body or entity either receiving or  [sic] the [sic]of a recommendation must now respond in writing within three months stating what action will be taken (if any) as a result of the recommendations. This has never been required before and is an Australian first.
  • All inquest findings, coronial recommendations and responses to recommendations will be published on the internet, unless otherwise ordered by a coroner. This is the first time in Victorian coronial history that a requirement to publish inquest findings has been enshrined in legislation.
  • A new power for coroners to compel witnesses to testify without the risk of self incrimination. The court will now be able to issue a certificate excusing evidence heard by the court from being used to incriminate witnesses in other court proceedings.”

On the first point, how much different would have been the approach to level crossing safety with this authority?  Would the faulty design of some level crossings have been changed more quickly?  Of course, recommendations are still only recommendations but by referring to statutory authorities and others, there is likely to be less direct political spin and, perhaps, greater accountability.

This leads to the second point, timelines.  Any meeting, action item, control measure or even correspondence, should have a timeline for response.  This will allow the families of victims a hook on which they can hang their dissatisfaction with government inaction.  Of course, there is usually no guarantee that correspondence is publicly accessible but to bullet point three.

Not only will inquest findings now be easily accessible to the public, the government responses mentioned above will be made available on the Coroner’s website.

Around ten years ago I was writing a book on occupational health and safety in the sex industry in Australia.  I requested details form the Coroner’s office of deaths in this industry.  I received many pages of decisions which helped considerably in determining whether deaths occurred at work or in relation to work.

Several years later, I put in a similar request for information on dairy-related deaths in support of a WorkSafe Victoria guidance with which I was assisting.  The level of detail provided then was a line or two on each incident.  It was enough to prepare a rough data table but was woefully unhelpful in the preparation of case studies of work-related fatalities.  The accessibility allowed under the new laws will allow for a greater, and more public, understanding of the contributing factors to death which should lead to greater options for elimination or control.

The Coroner is clearly enthusiastic about her new powers.  In the media release Coates says

“This new legislation will better enable the court to thoroughly examine and investigate the different types of deaths reported to us so we can help prevent similar deaths from occurring.  Of real significance is the requirement that any body or entity receiving a recommendation must respond to us. This will be a real mechanism for change to public safety and we expect enormous benefits for the Victorian community to follow,” she said.

Judge Coate said publishing inquest findings, recommendations and responses on the internet would make public statutory authorities and entities more aware of their responsibility to respond to coronial findings.

“The new response requirement means the recommendations of a coroner cannot be selectively pursued or ignored. This is an important gain for the public safety and administration of justice for our community”

She said the publication of inquest findings, recommendations and responses on the internet would also make the coronial process more accessible to families who experience the death of a loved one investigated by the court.

“We have gone to great lengths to ensure our new practices under the Act recognise and have regard for the families and friends of a loved one who has died.  That includes acknowledging the distress of families and their need for support and a recognition that different cultures have different beliefs and practices surrounding death.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog wishes Coroner Coates all the best and will be keenly watching the progress.

Kevin Jones

Senator calls for Senate hearing on the safety of posties Reply

Senator Steve Fielding is the head of the Family First Party, the smallest political party in Australia’s Parliament at the moment.  Fielding is one of the handful of senators who hold the balance of power in the parliament and therefore has more political influence than a party of the size of Family First usually has.

On 19 October 2009, as a result of evidence given at a Senate inquiry by a representative of Australia Post, Senator Fielding said, in a media statement:

“There are serious allegations staff have been forced back to work simply to sit in a room to watch television so managers can get their bonus for having lower lost injury time figures,” Senator Fielding said.  “This is outrageous and puts the health of workers at risk because of some greedy managers.

“No wonder Australia Post won an award last month for its rehabilitation of injured workers if it’s fudging the numbers.  There’s an obvious conflict of interest between InjuryNET, which looks after the doctors that Australia Post sends its workers too, and Australia Post itself.

“Dr David Milecki, who is a consultant to Australia Post’s return-to-work program, also runs InjuryNET.

“Australia Post even admitted that this contract did not go through an independent process – there was not even a tender process.

“We need a senate inquiry urgently to make sure Australia Post employees are being looked after and that they’re aren’t being taken advantage of by dodgy managers who are more interested in their bonuses.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog contacted Australia Post to gauge some reaction.  A spokesperson says that Australia Post will be cooperating fully with any Senate inquiry.

Every country has its fair share of eccentric politicians.  The current feeling is that Steve Fielding is Australia’s.  But regardless of character or competence, the Senator has authority and a responsibility to investigate the concerns listed above.

This is a developing story but one that may relate a little to issues raised in the recent SafetyAtWorkBlog about awards nights.

Kevin Jones

Safe Work Australia Week podcast Reply

Today, 1,500 union health and safety representatives attended a one-day seminar in Melbourne concerning occupational health and safety.  The seminars were supported by a range of information booths on issues from support on workplace death, legal advice, superannuation and individual union services.

Kevin Jones, the editor of SafetyAtWorkBlog took the opportunity to chat with a couple of people on the booths about OHS generally and what their thoughts were on workplace safety.

The latest SafetyAtWork Podcast includes discussions with the Asbestos Information and Support Services, the AMWU and TWU.

The podcast can be downloaded HERE

The OHS obligations of global corporations Reply

BHP Billiton has issued a media statement concerning the death of a miner, Gregory Goslett, at its coalmine in Khutala in South Africa.  Due to the number of deaths the company has had over the last two years, attention on any safety issue at BHP is intense.  BHP’s short statement reads:

“It is with deep regret and sadness that BHP Billiton announces a fatal incident at its Khutala Colliery opencast operations in South Africa. At approximately 05:02 am on Tuesday, 20 October 2009 Gregory Goslett (27), Mining Operations Supervisor, was fatally injured whilst driving a light vehicle at the mine.

An initial investigation indicates that Gregory was travelling in a light vehicle when a piece of coal fell from a loaded 25 ton haul truck travelling in the opposite direction. The piece of coal went through the windscreen of the light vehicle and struck Gregory causing fatal injuries to him.

The company is offering all comfort, assistance and support to Gregory’s fiancée Tarryn, his parents and those affected at the operations. Our thoughts are with Gregory’s family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time.

Mining at the opencast area has been suspended and investigations are underway.”

The Age newspaper points out that

“The accident was of the type that BHP has previously moved to eliminate from its Pilbara iron ore mines in Western Australia after several deaths last year…..”

“A key safety change made by BHP in the Pilbara in response to last year’s run of fatal accidents was the improved management of the interaction of light vehicles with heavy vehicles.”

The circumstances of Goslett’s death illustrates the obligations, some would say challenges, that multi-jurisdictional corporations need to ensure that safety improvements are consistently applied across their workplaces, regardless of location or remoteness.

BHP Billiton has been tragically reminded of this but BHP is only one corporation in the global mining industry.  Safety solutions and initiatives must extend beyond jurisdictions, countries and commercial entities to each workplace where similar hazards exist.  (The oil refinery industry was reminded of this with the Texas City Refinery explosion) The communication and sharing of solutions is a crucial element of the safety profession around the world.

Kevin Jones

Road worker seriously injured at worksite 2

The Ambulance Service of Victoria, Australia reported the injury to a roadside worker on 19 October 2009.  Below is part of their report:

A road worker is in a serious condition after being hit by a car in a road works area this morning.

Advanced life support paramedics from Jackson’s Creek were called to Derby Street in Pascoe Vale at 11.40am.  Paramedic Chris Collard said they arrived within six minutes to find the man lying on the road being helped by an off duty nurse.

‘It appeared the car had been driven into the road works area and hit the man,’ he said. ‘The 33-year-old man suffered a head injury, deep cut to the back of his head and some leg pain…. We encourage drivers to slow down while driving through road works, obey the signs and be wary of the workers on the road.’

Working only a metre or two from traffic, even in a domestic area, like the case above, presents well-known hazards, at least well-known to the workers.

WorkSafe Victoria undertook an education campaign on the issue several years ago.  The remaining website continues some good information although it is a little out-of-date.

In 2005, the Roads and Traffic Authority in New South Wales reported

“… there were 603 crashes at roadwork sites in NSW.  Ten people were killed and 356 were injured.  Injuries to road workers in NSW cost more than $100 million a year, but the financial and human toll could be much lower if drivers slowed down and observed road work speed limits.”

In around 2006, the Highways Agency in the UK began a short campaign on improving the safety of roadworkers,  Some background and the action plan is available online.  As with many government campaigns and plans, it is difficult to quantify the success.

Comments from a spokesperson for the Minister for WorkSafe, Tim Holding, in 2005 illustrate the dominant political position on anything related to road safety be it level crossings or roadworker safety – change behaviour and save the world – and yet behaviour is probably the hardest (and costliest) element in this equation to change :

“…people should stay within posted speed limits. “. . . people should concentrate at driving at or below the speed limit and . . . spend less time worrying about how many kilometres they can drive over the speed limit without getting fined…,”

In 2005 there was a minor political kerfuffle when it was revealed that speed cameras could not be recalibrated to lower speeds for application in roadwork sites.

From experience, Australia is yet to use the portable traffic light systems widely that have been applied in the UK for decades and yet the advantages are that it formally establishes buffer zones, removes flagmen from the role of frontline control and builds on a cognitive language that almost everyone has retained from early childhood – the red, amber, green signage.

Kevin Jones

SafeWork Australia releases six workplace statistical reports Reply

In early September 2009, Safe Work Australia released four national statistical reports.   On 19 October 2009 a further six in the 2005-06 stats series were released:

It is not possible to provide the executive summaries of each report in this instance but there were several issues of particular interest as listed in the media release that Safe Work Australia:

  • “part-time workers in the retail trade industry recorded a frequency rate of injury nearly double that of full-time workers
  • agriculture, forestry and fishing workers experienced the highest rate of injuries, with 109 injuries per 1000 workers
  • employees in the construction industry recorded a similar rate of injury to self-employed workers. Similarly there was little difference in rates of injury between those working on a contract and those not working on a contract
  • young workers (15 to 24 year olds) in the manufacturing industry recorded an injury rate 44% higher than the corresponding rate for young workers in the Australian workforce as a whole, and
  • transport and storage workers aged 35 to 44 years recorded an injury rate 75% higher than the rate recorded by all Australian workers of this age.”

Kevin Jones

GHS is coming to the United States Reply

On 30 September 2009 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the United States said in a media statement:

A proposed rule to align the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) with provisions of the United Nations Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) will be published in the September 30 Federal Register.

Jordan Barab, acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA said

“The proposal to align the hazard communication standard with the GHS will improve the consistency and effectiveness of hazard communications and reduce chemical-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities…… Following the GHS approach will increase workplace safety, facilitate international trade in chemicals, and generate cost savings from production efficiencies for firms that manufacture and use hazardous chemicals.”

Pages from DraftApprovedCriteriaOn 6 October 2009, Safe Work Australia released the draft  “Australian Criteria for the Classification Hazardous Chemicals”.

The closing date for comments is 18 December 2009.

Safe Work Australia stresses what the draft is not and the web page on the issue is very important to read.

Safe Work Australia says it

“…will be preparing guidance material for different audiences on the GHS and introducing two training courses (as basic and an expert one) to understand GHS classification.”

It should also be noted that the draft Classification Criteria is being revised in the context of the OHS harmonisation program of the Federal Government.

Kevin Jones

New Australian Embassy in Laos creating traffic safety issues. 2

The new Australian embassy located on Route Thadeua, the major arterial through Vientiane, is set in a high security compound, somewhat out of keeping with the slow pace of Laos.  Some say that the PDR after Laos comes from Please Don’t Rush.

When the Japanese upgraded Route Thadeua, the major route out of the city to Thailand, they put in a central median strip without turn lanes so any turning traffic forces the traffic behind to swing into what is now unofficially the motor bike lane closest to the curb.  Motor bikes vastly outnumber cars in Laos, one of the worlds least developed countries and governed by a hard line and corrupt Government.

Openings in the strip are irregular, but inevitably one is always situated outside embassies.

The traffic engineers installed concrete blocks around 75 centimetres long along the edge of the road which means that off street parking is virtually impossible.  Some businesses have subsequently demolished the blocks.

Footpaths were not part of the Japanese aid package

The Australian Embassy has a nice strip of suburban lawn outside the high walls but have chosen to retain the concrete blocks, meaning that the lines of cars outside while their owners are meeting or making entreaties to the Embassy staff, ostensibly block one of the two available lanes.  The Please Don’t rush adage only stands when a person is working and not mounted on a machine.  Laos are largely inept drivers with no idea of consequence. They are like a nation of probationary drivers.

Impatient and opportunistic and accidents are put down to supernatural forces such as in Luang Prabang, the World Heritage city where a spate of fatal accidents was said to be caused by a ghost women motorcycle rider.

Of course, the opening in the island is right outside the embassy.  Late last week the traffic was backed up at the beginning of peak hour and motor cycle riders were being inched off by impatient drivers trying to squeeze through between a line of U-turning traffic and the cars parked outside the embassy.  Other motor cycle riders were risking their lives and cheap Chinese motor bikes by dodging through any narrow spaces in front of cars that had just got through and accelerating out.

It would take very little for the embassy to create a car park outside.

The grass is nice but safety would be better.  The excuse may inevitably be security and the blocks do deter any potential car bomber.  But this is Laos not Iraq, and it seems to be an act of stupidity to pass on risk to the Lao public on a permanent basis for a risk that may or may not arise.

Vientiane is a land locked and hot city and getting hotter.  It has few swimming pools that aren’t in private hands. On top of the decision to close the Australian Recreation Club pool and sports facilities to the general public, a move that was wildly unpopular, and left this great facility for the sole use of a few (7-9) embassy staff, the cocktail party chat is not flattering.

By an Asian reporter

When ATV helmets are “best practice” 3

A recent media statement from the New Zealand Department of Labour on all-terrain vehicle (ATV) safety is annoying and disappointing.

On 15 September 2009, the Palmerston North District Court today fined farmer Trevor Mark Schroder $25,000 and ordered him to pay reparation of $20,000 to his employee John Haar over an  ATV accident on 26 November 2008 that left Mr Haar with serious head injuries.

Dr Geraint Emry, the DoL Chief Adviser for Health and Safety, says

“…Mr Haar was riding an ATV supplied by Mr Schroder when he apparently drove into a wire used to direct cows into specific areas of the farm.  Mr Haar had not been wearing a helmet and the severity of his injuries increased as a consequence.  Nor had he been told that the wire he rode into had been put across the race.”

atvguide2 coverThe statement goes on to state

“The Agricultural Guidelines – Safe Use of ATVs on New Zealand Farms – advise that the wearing of helmets by quad bike riders is considered best practice.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog strongly knows that New Zealand is very active in ATV safety but finds it hard to believe that the “wearing of helmets…is considered best practice”.  This admits that, in using ATVs, personal protective equipment is the best hazard control option available.

The guidelines mentioned above are from 2003 and do mention ROPS:

“Until such time as there is evidence to the contrary, farmers have the right to choose whether or not they fit ROPS to their ATVs.”

The NZ DoL and, by inference, the Chief Adviser are quoting a 2003 guideline as best practice in 2009?!

Relying on helmets may be the reality but is also an admission of defeat with ATV designers and manufacturer.  In many circumstances ATVs cannot be fitted with roll-over protective structures (ROPS) due to the nature of the work – orcharding for example.  But Australia and New Zealand insist on ROPS for tractors, with similar criteria and exceptions to ATVs.

VWA Farm_ROPs coverIn one ROPS FAQ from the NZ DoL it says

“Evidence both in New Zealand and overseas has shown that the risk of injury in a tractor overturn can be substantially reduced when the tractor is fitted with ROPS of the appropriate standard.”


“Where the nature of the operation makes it not practical for ROPS to be fitted to an agricultural tractor, then, under the terms of this code of practice, the General Manager, Occupational Safety & Health Service, may issue a notice excluding the tractor from the requirement to have a ROPS.”

Some States in Australia have had rebate schemes for ROPS for many years.

It is suggested that a better level of driver protection from rollovers is evident on forklifts through the use of seatbelt and an integrated protective structure.  Applying logic to safety is fraught with danger but the rollover hazard is the same whether in a warehouse or a paddock and having only a helmet for a forklift driver would be absurd and unacceptable.  Why is only a helmet considered best practice for ATV drivers?

Rather than comparing ATVs to motorcycles as in this 2003 report, the comparison should be between ATVs and tractors or, maybe, forklifts.

The New Zealand Transport Agency says this about ROPS and ATVs in June 2008:

Many ATVs have a high centre of gravity, and are prone to tipping over when cornering or being driven on a slope. Rollover is the leading cause of injury associated with ATVs – riders can be crushed or trapped under an overturned machine.

If you attach a rollover protection structure (ROPS) to your ATV, make sure it’s securely fastened, doesn’t interfere with rider mobility and doesn’t raise the ATV’s centre of gravity. Contact OSH for guidelines on how to fit ROPS safely, and make sure the ROPS is strong enough to protect you.

So why aren’t ROPS considered best practice by the DoL?

The ATV injury case quoted above is unlikely to have occurred if the ATV had some form of structure around the driver or, admittedly, the wire was more visible or known to the driver.  The relevance in this case was that the helmet most probably reduced the severity of the injury but would not have avoided contact with the wire.

Research is occurring on ROPS for ATVs but the rollover hazard has existed for as long as ATVs have existed.  Are ATVs simply unsuitable for the work they are being used for?  Is the design wrong for workplace use?  Are they being advertised or promoted for inappropriate use?  Should farm workers be encouraged legislatively or financially to fit ROPS?  Perhaps the only safe ATV is a tractor?

Is the requirement for ROPS for tractors, but only helmets for ATVs, an acceptable double standard for workplace safety?

Kevin Jones

Finger injury causes hefty new safety agenda for John Holland Rail 3

Comcare has instigated a hefty list of enforceable undertakings (EU) against John Holland Rail (JHR) after a contractor, Jack Wilmot, needed a finger amputated after a workplace injury.

According to the report on the Comcare website

“…an apprentice boilermaker was involved in an incident which resulted in crush injuries to his left index finger at a JHR facility located at Kewdale, Western Australia.”

Cover John_Holland_enforceable_undertaking_legal_documentComcare’s investigation report

“found that JHR failed to ensure the apprentice, had received adequate training, supervision and instructions in the task he was undertaking when injured.”

Stephen Sasse, Director of John Holland Rail, signed off on the enforceable undertaking at the end of August 2009.

Below are some of the mandatory safety improvements

  • maintain the new supervisory structure implemented at the Kewdale facility shortly after the incident
  • implement and adapt the safer systems of work across JHR workplaces within two months of signing the EU
  • conduct a risk assessment of all major activities undertaken by JHR to determine and identify those which should be classified as ‘high risk activities’ (HRAs) within six months of signing the EU
  • eliminate where reasonably practicable to do so, all HRAs and otherwise apply appropriate control measures to the balance of the HRAs, within six months of signing the EU
  • provide training regarding safer systems of work to all JHR employees who undertake rail plant maintenance activities as part of their duties within eight months of signing the EU
  • commence implementation of the Rail Safety Business Plan 2009 at all JHR workplaces by 31 September 2009 including commencing work on each of the 28 strategic initiatives within the stated timeframes.

Some of these tasks would be impossible to undertake from scratch.  A response from John Holland Rail and/or John Holland Group is being sought.

Enforceable undertakings are a feature of financial and OHS legal processes.  In Queensland and Victoria an EU is

“… a legal agreement in which a person or organisation undertakes to carry out specific activities to improve worker health and safety and deliver benefits to industry and the broader community.”

John Holland Group has been proud of its OHS record for many years and has had the benefit of Janet Holmes a Court as a safety champion within and outside the company.  Holmes a Court spoke of her commitment to safety at the 2009 Safety In Action Conference which was hosted by the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) of which John Holland is a Diamond Corporate Partner ($A25,000 minimum donation).

Only last week the SIA, proudly announced a Diamond Corporate Partnership with John Holland Group which commits the company to, amongst other commitments,

  • “Act and work responsibly and competently at all times to improve health and safety in workplaces and ensure they do no harm.
  • Give priority to the health, safety and welfare of employees, employers and other workplace health and safety stakeholders in accordance with accepted standards of moral and legal behaviour during the performance of their duties.
  • Ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees, employers and other workplace health and safety stakeholders takes precedence over the professional member’s responsibility to sectional or private interests.
  • Ensure work by people under their direction is competently performed and honestly and reliably reported.
  • Ensure they do not engage in any illegal or improper practices.”

It is suggested that for next year’s Safety In Action Conference, the SIA asks a JHG representative to discuss the above enforceable undertakings as a case study of inadequate safety management and the related organisational and financial costs.

Kevin Jones

[Note: Kevin Jones was involved in the promotion of Safety In Action 2009]