ROPS and Quad Bikes – the failure of ATV manufacturers and OHS regulators 14

The Hierarchy of Controls has some questionable OHS applications to psychosocial hazards but it applies very well to “traditional” hazards, those involving plant.  The Hierarchy also emphasizes that the first step in any hazard control is to consider whether the hazard can be eliminated.  But what happens when the designers of equipment and plant know that a design can be made safer but do nothing to improve it?

For almost two decades some Australian OHS regulators have provided rebates to farmers to fit roll over protective structures (ROPS) to tractors to prevent deaths and injuries to the drivers from rollover or flips.  In 2009, one would be hard pressed to find a tractor that does not have its safety features emphasised as a sales benefit.  ROPS on tractors have been compulsory since 1998 in most States.

On 17 November 2009, Workplace Standards Tasmania issued a safety alert which, like the New Zealand ATV guidelines, advocates helmets and not ROPS even though OHS legislative principles say that elimination of hazards is the aim. The Tasmanian safety alert outlines the reasons for the safety alert

“Recent information shows there are, on average, 15 fatalities a year associated with using quad bikes in the Australian rural industry sector. Many more people are injured.

A recent coronial inquest into seven fatal incidents involving quad bikes (two in Tasmania and five in Victoria) has sparked a renewed call for improved safety on quad bikes.

As a result, Workplace Standards Tasmania has adopted a policy of zero tolerance of breaches of duty of care responsibilities with quad bikes.”

Zero tolerance of breaches of duty”?  The Tasmanian OHS Act places this duty on the designers of plant

(1) A person who designs, manufactures, imports or supplies any plant or structure for use at a workplace must so far as is reasonably practicable –

(a) ensure that the design and construction of the plant or structure is such that persons who use the plant or structure properly are not, in doing so, exposed to risks to their health and safety;…..

SafetyAtWorkBlog is awaiting comments from Workplace Standards Tasmania on the elimination of ATV rollover hazards.

As a terminological aside, there is a growing movement to rename All Terrain Vehicles as Quad Bikes because the fatality and injury data clearly shows that the vehicles cannot be driven in “all terrains”.

Five recent fatalities involving quad bikes, mentioned in the safety alert, should spark some investigation into whether the design of the plant contributed in any way to the fatalities.  Yet the safety alert makes no mention of design other than, tenuously, encouraging farmers to make sure

“…your quad bike is properly maintained and used according to the manufacturer’s specifications.”

This is a reasonable statement but if it was possible to make the vehicle safer, to save one’s own life and livelihood, by adding a ROPS, why wouldn’t you?

The manufacturer’s specifications are certain to be suitable to that quad bike but what if the quad bike design is itself not “fit for purpose”?  Plenty of other machines and vehicles are being redesigned to accommodate poor or inappropriate driver behaviour.  What makes quad bike so sacrosanct?

Victoria had a major opportunity for reform in this area through a parliamentary inquiry into farm deaths and injuries in August 2005.  Many farm safety advocates had high hopes for major change on ATV safety but design changes were not recommended.

According to the farm safety report

“Some witnesses suggested that roll over protection structures for ATVs should be made compulsory. Others, particularly representatives on behalf of the ATV industry, argued that fitting of a roll over protective structure to an ATV would adversely affect the handling and utility characteristics of these vehicles.”
Extensive research was undertaken by the Monash University Accident Research Centre which found
“…that, in the event of an ATV accident, “if the occupant is adequately restrained [with a suitable safety harness] within a protective roll over structure, the severity of [injuries caused during] the roll over event is dramatically reduced.”
Contrary evidence on ROPS was presented on behalf of the vehicle manufacturers.  The Parliamentary Committee understandably found
“To the Committee’s knowledge, there is no existing example of a roll over protective structure device that satisfies requirements for driver protection without substantially reducing the handling characteristics of ATVs. This report cannot, based on available evidence, make any recommendations concerning the fitting of roll over protective structures to ATVs.”
The UK’s Health & Safety Executive in 2002 undertook a detailed survey on the issue of ROPS and, among many recommendations said
“The use of the “safe cell” technology offers a number of imaginative approaches as alternatives to traditional structures, particularly for smaller machinery, and should not be overlooked.  Their contribution could be invaluable if relevant techniques were validated and became legally acceptable.”
Farmers, equipment manufacturers and OHS advocates are understandably confused when there is conflicting information (but then uncertainty breeds stagnation which is likely to advantage those who do not want change).
An investigation into ATV safety funded by the New Zealand Department of Labour in 2002 provided the following conclusion

“… it appears that the risk of using ATVs is significant, however there are some possible measures that could be put in place to reduce injuries, particularly those that are more severe and/or fatal. It seems that appropriate training is the most promising factor particularly because of the strong impact human behaviour has on the outcomes of the accidents.

In addition, the high risk for a fatal outcome when ATVs are rolled over, pinning the driver Reducing Fatalities in All-Terrain Vehicle Accidents in New Zealand underneath, suggests that further consideration and research is needed regarding the use of ROPS and/or any other measures that can prevent an ATV from rolling over.”

One Australian manufacturer accepted the challenge and has designed a ROPS for ATVs that shows enormous promise. QB Industries has developed the Quadbar, a passive roll over protection structure.  A demonstration video is available to view online.
It is understood that the Australian distributors of ATVs are not supportive of the safety innovation of QB Industries.  Apparently the distributors believe that the Quadbar increases the risk to the rider and that the safety claims are misleading.  The distributors are also concerned that the Quadbar may jeopardise the manufacturer’s warranty.
These concerns may be valid but surely these need to be independently tested and, if the device saves the lives and limbs of farmers and other riders, incorporated into the design in such a way that the vehicles become safer, regardless of the actions of the individual.  After all, the safer design of motor vehicles has progressed substantial from the days of Ralph Nader’s investigations in the 1960’s to such an extent that safety is a major sales strategy.
One independent test conducted for QB Industries by the University of Southern Queensland reported this about the QuadBar:
  1. The Quad Bar did not impede rider operation of the quad bike during normal operation (based on limited riding by the Chief Investigator).
  2. In low speed sideways roll over, the Quad Bar arrests the roll over and prevents the ATV from resting in a position that could trap and asphyxiate the rider.
  3. In higher speed sideways rollover, the Quad Bar impedes the roll over and prevents the ATV from resting in a position that could trap and asphyxiate the rider. In all tests the Quad Bar provided some clearance between the ground surface and the ATV seat so the rider would be unlikely to be trapped in this space.
  4. In all back flip tests, the Quad Bar arrested the back flip and the quad bike fell to one side.
  5. There were no conditions where the ATV with the Quad Bar fitted rested in a position that was more detrimental to rider safety than the ATV without protection.
If this device did not exist, the advocacy of helmets as the best available safety device  may have been valid but this design has the potential to eliminate the hazard and not just minimise the harm.  Surely it is better to have a farmer walk away from an ATV rollover that to break a neck or have a leg crushed.
The battle that QB industries has had, and continues to have, with quad bike vehicle manufacturers is beginning to reveal tactics by the manufacturers that are reminiscent of those of James Hardie Industries with asbestos and the cigarette manufacturers over lung cancer.
The approach of the OHS regulators to ROPS for ATVs must be reviewed because the dominant position seems to be that helmets are good enough, that no one is striving to eliminate the hazard or and that the Hierarchy of Controls does not apply.
QB Industries has followed the OHS principles and has designed a ROPS that warrants investigation, and the support and encouragement of OHS regulators.  The longer this investigation is ignored, the more people will be killed and injured when using these vehicles.  To not investigate this design would be negligent.

Working remotely does not mean it has to be unsafe Reply

Australia is a big country and people work in very remote locations.  However OHS obligations do not apply only when it is convenient.  The law and duties apply equally wherever work is undertaken.

One example of safety improvements for remote work has been illustrated by the Community & Public Sector Union (CPSU).  On 10 November 2009 CPSU informed its members of amendments to the “Remote Travel Standards Operating Protocols”.  Some of those changes include

“Travel is twin engine aircraft is usual practise, but staff may be required to fly in single engine aircraft from time to time.  Employees will have the choice not to fly on a single engine aircraft if they have legitimate concerns for their personal safety.”

This acknowledges that in the Outback there are not always options but that union members can exercise whatever is available.  This also supports the individual’s OHS obligation to keep themselves safe.

Vaccinations for Hep A and B will be offered to employees before their first field trip, during orientation to remote servicing.

This is a standard travel safety option but often applied only for international travel.  To offer this domestically is sensible.

The union has also managed to introduce a

Dedicated section in the post trip report for all OH&S issues, including issues in office accommodation, and living quarters.

Traditional wisdom is “be seen, be safe” but this also applies to reporting an OHS matter.  If a form does not state that OHS is included, then it is increasingly likely that an incident or issue will not be reported.  Organisations also cannot be seen as deterring the reporting of hazards and incidents.

The next option is curious and a trial seems appropriate

Management agreed to a 3 week trial beginning the 6 December 2009 for the use of personal alarms in case employees are confronted with acts of customer aggression, or other dangers in the field. Management will be asking staff for feedback on this, which will inform their decision on whether to provide or not provide personal alarms to employees into the future.

The issues of safety when travelling remotely have been negotiated for many months and the CPSU website posted regular updates on negotiations.

CPSU members and public servants need to travel to remote locations to provide a range of services.  For instance, Centrelink’s Annual Report for 2008-09 says that

“Centrelink Mobile Offices, including the Murray-Darling Basin Assistance Bus, continued to travel around rural Australia to provide information and assistance to farmers and small business owners, their families and rural communities.”

These mobile offices covered 40,000 kilometres in one year.

Australia is a big country and urban safety professionals and policy makers need to be regularly reminded that a desk in an office is not a default workplace.

The “Remote Travel Standards Operating Protocols” are not publicly accessible by SafetyAtWorkBlog will provide a link, whenever possible.

Kevin Jones

This may not work for OHS but why not? 1

On 9 November 2009 public submissions close on Australia’s model OHS Act but the move for harmonisation and, hopefully, a simplification for business and government continues in other areas.

The Australian Transport Council (ATC) met on 6 November 2009 and agreed on many Council of Australian Governments (COAG) matters concerning unnecessary bureaucratic duplication:

“ATC agreed to recommend to COAG that South Australia would be the host jurisdiction for the national rail safety regulator.

ATC also agreed to recommend to COAG that a host jurisdiction for the national heavy vehicle regulator be agreed, noting that New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland have expressed interest.

It was agreed that the Australian Maritime Safety Authority will be the national regulator for maritime safety, responsible for regulating commercial vessels. This is a significant step towards national uniformity.”

There were several other initiatives mentioned – level crossing safety, a National Road Safety Council, minimum standard for taxi drivers.

But the recommendations above decentralise some of the bureaucracy.  At the HR Leaders Awards recently, the CEO of Carnival cruise liners, Anne Cherry, said that many public servants exist in a unique policy environment of the capital city, Canberra, and the policies reflect this.

SafetyAtWorkBlog would like to suggest a change that could occur within the enforcement parameters of the OHS model law review.

Let’s consider a national mine safety regulator with offices located in each of the mineral resources regions of Australia.  Could transport regulators have offices within, or just outside, major port facilities?  Major hazards regulators in major hazards zones?

There is much information bandied around about flexible working arrangements and the use of new technology to unite isolated workplaces.  How radical would it be to split the centralised OHS regulators’ offices into hazard-based offices in rural, regional and suburban locations?  The inspectors would be adjacent to the hazard locations for enforcement and the advisers are on hand for assistance to industry.  The locations could even be seasonal to deal with seasonal industries and labour forces.

OHS enforcement policies would remain the same, only the place of implementation and coordination would change.

Most OHS regulators already have a a couple of regional offices but mostly these remain in the outer suburbs of the capital cities.  Some entire departments have relocated to satellite towns for cost reasons but also to provide employment opportunities outside the major population centres.

Could OHS be regulated and enforced across a country the size of Australia and through the major industrial and resource structures, without the concentrations of policy-makers and inspectors in city offices?

Kevin Jones

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