Roadwork zone speed limit enforcement Reply

At the Safety In Action Conference recently, Geoff Knox, CEO of Downer EDI spoke about the need to respect speed limits on roadwork sites.  He mentioned this because his company conducts a lot of this type of work, but anyone who has driven through such a zone at the reduced speed limit sees many cars and truck travelling much faster, and only metres away from workers. included a rumour in its 9 April 2009 bulletin that says on a stretch of the Monash Freeway that is being widened, that 

“..within the Vic State Government that there is a tacit understanding not to police this stretch of road outside of peak hours and that between 50% & 60% of drivers are speeding. “

There are many instances where “tacit understandings” evolve into, or are considered, corruption and it is very disappointing that speed cameras, or other speed enforcement tactics, are not being applied in a circumstance where the need has never been more obvious.

Police threatened a blitz on the Monash in November 2008 if speed was not reduced.

In typical Crikey styles, there is a suggestion that there is a political advantage in this for nearby shaky electorates but the rumourmonger’s final comment brought the rumour into our context.

Vicroads are known to be particularly concerned about worker safety, particularly at night when work is being undertaken. There is a tragedy waiting to happen, and the finger pointing after the fact will be most interesting.”

Kevin Jones

Death of a safety leader 2

Last weekend Dr Eric Wigglesworth passed away after a long illness. Eric was a strong advocate for safety education and research over decades in Australia. I heard Eric speak several times in my professional career and remember being taught about his incident theories at university.

Over the last few years his profile has increased in the public sphere as he was the (only) Australian expert on the issues related to level crossing incidents. More…

Video of Level Crossing Survivor 1

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has shown a remarkable video of a Turkish man who was involved in a level crossing incident and survived.  

Initially it is difficult to identify the man from the aerial perspective but the side view shows clearly how lucky the man is.

It is not the policy of SafetyAtWorkBlog to show gratuitous videos with no point.  That is a role, it seems, for the internet generally.  However this video has instructional uses beyond the “gosh” factor.

It is worth looking at the video and considering the following issues

  • Rail location
  • Visibility of truck driver
  • Isolation of pedestrians from rail and vehicular traffic
  • Signage

There are many other issues that could be pertinent but are not identified in the video, such as administrative policies, compliance, even behavioural safety.

In this instance it is highly unlikely that the worker complementing the hard hat with a high visibility vest would have made much difference to the outcome.  But then an unfastened vest may have presented its own non-visibility hazard as a catch point for the wheel structure of the truck as it passed over him.

Please note that it is his survival which makes this video of interest but there are clear safety improvements to be made.

The reality of First Aid Reply

Many employees undertake first aid training because it is a relatively easy training program to arrange, it is cheap and it provides skills that can be applied outside the workplace.  

But newly trained first aiders often leave training with an unrealistic feeling of empowerment.  Regularly, small businesses regret the disruption caused by the first aider’s evangelism for safety, particularly if the first aider was trained to provide some generalist safety presence in the company.  Similar disruption can result from health and safety representative training and perhaps that is why many small businesses are wary of this.

First aid trainers need to remind students regularly of the reality of first aid.  This reality is shown in the death of a truck driver in an isolated part of Australia on 9 January 2009.  First Aid is a terrific life-saving skill but the reality is that circumstances beyond one’s control may still result in a death.

In a class once, a student asked a first aid instructor what would happen if a farmer was bitten by a snake in an isolated part of the farm and the farmer  had no first aid skills or kit.  The trainer responded, “the farmer would die”.

The reality of living in a large country of isolated roads and small population is shown in the death of the truck driver.

The role of mobile telecommunications in the article is a distraction and relates more to the current political and commercial disputes between the Australian government and the telecommunication providers, than to the truck driver’s injuries.  

The article may lead to discussion on the poor emergency resources in rural and outback Australia.

First aid and emergency response has been revolutionised by mobile phone technology over the last 20 years.  Mobile phones have caused us to find lost bushwalkers and to get emergency ambulances to accident scenes much quicker.  Thankfully, a quicker emergency ambulance response shortens the time needed applying first aid.

It is a truism that no matter how much training we have, or how much technology we can access, death is a reality of life.

“Illegal” asbestos use in the Australian Navy 1

The defence forces operate with a different understanding of risk and safety.  In the past there are many instances where soldiers lives have purposely been sacrificed for the greater good.  This has been an integral part of many “heroic” battles. 

The Australian federal OHS authority, Comcare, is at the forefront of a clash between occupational safety and armed services culture.  The Age newspaper has revealed the Australian navy’s continued use of chrysotile asbestos in its ship and navy bases years after the substance was banned for use.  The newspaper says that a risk assessment report has found

..”the risk to personnel was significant, exposure to asbestos was almost certain and the consequences were “potentially catastrophic”.”

OHS standard practice is to identify the control of hazards in line with the Hierarchy of Controls which seems to have been done as the newspaper reports

“A ban on the use of and import of asbestos-containing materials in Australia came into force on January 1, 2004. But the ADF [Australian Defence Force] requested and won an exemption [page 5 of the SRCC 2005-06 Annual Report] to continue using chrysotile asbestos parts until 2007 on two strict provisos: that the parts were “mission-critical” – meaning their absence would ground equipment and jeopardise a mission – and that no non-asbestos replacement parts could be found.”

So the hazard can’t be eliminated or substitutes found.  That’s the first two levels of the hierarchy down.  The report goes on to assert that the (in)action of the Navy could be illegal and says the exemptions were renewed for another three years (page 81 of the SRCC Annual Report 2007-08)

The remaining levels of the control hierarchy are not addressed in recent media reports or documents available through Comcare’s website but the continuing cases of asbestos-related diseases reported by the lobby groups would indicate that personal protective equipment may not have been used or used appropriately. 

Most organisations are aware of the hazard of asbestos if not how the hazard relates to the specific circumstances.  The Navy cannot claim this as it has specifically claimed exemptions for the hazard. 

The current Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, took action on the defence force’s use of asbestos products almost 12 month’s ago and even though it was reported that he gave the Defence chiefs a “dressing down” over the issue, circumstances seem not to have improved. 

“But Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, who first accused the Defence Force of lethargy in its efforts to remove asbestos in 2007, when he was in opposition, said despite the massive cost of ridding the ADF of asbestos, its continued use was unacceptable.”

For those who habitually argue that worker safety is not affordable, the Minister’s quote above shows commitment.  Sadly it is these types of comments that can come back and haunt politicians.

It is suspected that the Minister or the Navy is receiving letters about non-asbestos gaskets from keen equipment suppliers as you read this blog.  But that raises the problem of the labyrinthine issues of defence equipment procurement.  Perhaps the fact that anti-asbestos campaigner and former trade union leader, Greg Combet, is now the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Procurement may fast-track the issue.  It is hoped that on the issue of asbestos in the defence forces, Greg speaks up soon.

Kevin Jones

Political argy-bargy on level crossing safety Reply

Earlier this week Queensland MP Tim Nicholls, of the Liberal-National coalition gave the Queensland Transport Minister, John Mickel, a serve over the $10 million program on level crossing safety by calling the response “window dressing”. 

Nicholls seems more interested in political point-scoring than safety but he asks

“What has happened to all their much vaunted safety studies over the last decade.  It’s about time this Government came clean and explained whether it would actually commit new funding, what ongoing rail safety programs, if any, it has and whether today’s announcement will mean money is redirected from other maintenance and safety programs.”

He points out that

“Railway level safety was included in the National Road Safety Action Plan in 2003 and the Australian Transport Council has previously described railway level crossing crashes as ‘one of the most serious safety issues faced by the rail system in Australia'”

Today, Shadow Transport Minister Fiona Simpson got the focus back to safety for political procrastination and funding arguments describing the Queensland Government’s staunch defence of its “risk model” for determining upgrades was “dangerous“.

The Transport Minister has responded with political bluster but within John Mickel’s bluster is some points worth noting.

“For example, she [Fiona Simpson] might want to familiarise herself with the research which shows that the overwhelming number of level crossing accidents are caused by road driver behaviour, and how more than half of the accidents happen at crossings where there are boom gates or flashing lights.”

Mickel goes on to say

“Under this [uniform national assessment] process a review of level crossing characteristics such as topography and visibility takes place, which is then combined with the volume of road and rail traffic. The assessed level of risk is then used to prioritise any work that needs to be done.

The approach developed by Queensland forms the basis of what is known as ALCAM – the Australian Level Crossing Assessment Model – which has now been accepted by all state Transport Ministers as the method to be used to evaluate railway level crossings across Australia.”

ALCAM is receiving a great deal of attention through the Victorian Parliamentary investigation into level crossing safety. 

The need for uniform assessment processes is worthy but decisions on upgrading government infrastructure always considers the political imperatives, some would just, just as strongly as independent scientific advice.

Over decades workplace safety has developed assessment processes based on a range of techniques from plain observation to QRA, FEMA and many others.  Only recently has OHS got to the point of realising that greater and longer-lasting safety can be achieved through designing workplaces safely from the beginning rather than trying to achieve safety through retrofitting.  Recently in Australia, there is a growing movement to apply safety case techniques to workplaces that are not high-risk organisations.

Level crossing incidents, as do workplace fatalities, indicate that there was something not right with the initial design or that necessary safety improvements were permitted to lag behind the status and technology of the users of the facilities.  The fact remains that there are too many unsafe level crossings in Australia and each fatality is generating a reactionary government response rather than instigating true leadership.

Defibrillators in public places Reply

official20portrait_oct07_sm-brumbyThe Victorian Premier, John Brumby, “unveiled” publicly accessible defibrillators at the Southern Cross station in Melbourne on 6 January 2008.  Australia has been relatively slow in the take-up of defibrillators as part of the non-professional first aid role.  Partly this was due to the initial expense of each unit but also because workplace first aid legislation took some time to accommodate technology.

In most States of Australia, this was exacerbated by the emphasis on allocating first aid resources on the basis of need rather than a prescriptive basis and, anyway, how can you gauge where people will have heart attacks?

SafetyAtWorkBlog is wary about relying on technology to solve problems simply because it seems simpler.  In the long-term, technology can be become cumbersome, unnecessarily expensive to maintain and often increasingly unreliable.  It is suggested that a cost/benefit exercise of the new defibrillators in Southern Cross Station would show them to be an unnecessary expense.  Direct cause and effect in terms of first aid is difficult to quantify.  But then again, according to the Premier’s media statement:

“In the 2007/08 financial year, Ambulance Victoria responded to 133 emergency cases at Southern Cross Station, including five cardiac arrest incidents.”

Defibrillators were obviously not applied as quickly in those incidents as can be in the future but for those first aiders in this blog’s readership the following statistic can be quite useful.

“Victoria has the best cardiac arrest survival rate in Australia, with 52 per cent of patients arriving alive at hospital.”

Let’s hope that these defibrillators will stop the Southern Cross Station from being a “terminal”.

Kevin Jones

Different political approaches to level crossing safety 1

In the Melanie Griffiths movie, Working Girl, her character gained inspiration by linking an article in the social pages of a newspaper with a business article in the paper, much to Sigourney Weaver’s professional embarrassment.  This week SafetyAtWorkBlog received a similar confluence of information.

Following a fatal level crossing collision in Queensland between a passenger train and a garbage truck, the latest in several crossing incidents, the Queensland Transport Minister, John Mickel, issued a media statement outlining his plans.

QR [Queensland Rail – a government-owned rail company] will target priority level crossings in North Queensland with $10 million approved today to start work immediately on implementing improvements identified by a joint QR Task Force involving train drivers and rail unions.
QR will also step up its community education and public awareness campaigns about the need for motorists to be vigilant when using level crossings.
Transport Minister John Mickel said the urgent funding allocation and expanded community education campaigns would put greater focus on the on-going issue of level crossing safety.

A similar type of announcement was made over 12 months ago by the Victorian Transport Lynne Kosky.  In The Age on 6 January 2009, an article reported that the government has agreed to provide the roads authority with a $700,000 grant to paint 

“new yellow markings at more than 50 intersections around the city.”

Connex [a private rail company whose contract is up for renewal] has reported a big increase in near misses at level crossings in 2008 at the same time it

“demanded the Government prevent cars queueing dangerously on roads at rail crossings after drivers and other Government agencies reported the rising problem.”

The yellow markings are to “indicate cars must not stop there”.  

Apparently the government believes that drivers who push through traffic and get stuck on a clearly signposted level crossing are more likely to change their behaviour because there are now yellow lines painted on the road.  The hierarchy of controls is not big in government policy thinking.

The New South Wales government (the State between Queensland and Victoria) instigated a program of grade separation in the 1930’s almost eliminating the problem of collisions.  This required a vision of the future that is no different from the current circumstances – more people, more vehicles, more demand for public transport.  That government chose to plan for the long-term benefit of the community that live beyond the next election cycles.

Let’s hope that the Queensland government looks for sensible safety planning from the State next door and not the one down South.

Kevin Jones

The following links on Victorian rail crossing incidents can be used as a starting point for a greater understanding of the safety and political issues:

St Albans

Ambulance Officer


Kerang Investigation Report

Drug abuse at work – podcast interview with Professor Steve Allsop Reply

The editors of SafetyAtWorkBlog produced SafetyAtWork podcasts several years ago.  These interviews deserve some longevity even though some of the references have dated.  In this context, SafetyAtWorkBlog is re-releasing a podcast from September 2006 on the management of drugs in the workplace. (The podcast is available at SafetyAtWork Podcast – September 2006 )

Professor Steven Allsop is a leading researching on the use of drugs at work and socially.  Steven is also the Director of the National Drug Research Institute.  In this interview he discusses amphetamine use, how to broach the issue of drug use with a worker and drug policies in industrial sectors.

Please let SafetyAtWorkBlog know of your thoughts on this podcast.

Kevin Jones