Craig Donaldson interviewed Joydeep Hor, managing partner of Australian law firm Harmers on employment issues related to the swine flu outbreak. Joydeep rightly points out that HR and OHS processes should not differentiate between swine flu and other workplace illnesses. Hor briefly discusses the employers duty of care and how to question one’s traditional approaches to the “sniffles” at work.
Of course there is also the much under-enforced obligation of the employee not to put their work colleagues at risk – the major argument against presenteeism.
On the eve of the ACTU Congress, the construction unions have threatened disruptions to building sites in, not surprisingly, New South Wales. This State was always going to be the one with the most to give up for the sake of national harmonisation of OHS laws.
It is reported in the Australian Financial Review on 2 June 2009 (page 11, not available online) that the CFMEU acting state secretary, Jim Tulloch, has said
“This is a line in the sand issue for trade unions……There’s a lack of leadership at the federal level and lots of states have been coerced into signing something that they are going to be held accountable for.”
This may be the case and the CFMEU may be positioning themselves prior to the ACTU Congress but the disruption is a risky strategy. Not only would any of the action be illegal, the Federal Government has yet not abolished the draconian Australian Building & Construction Commission (ABCC). Union protesters are likely to find themselves again in front of the ABCC being forced to answer questions.
The national OHS system is still being finalised but the union action will serve little purpose other than confirming the political perspective that the New South Wales government is overly influenced by the union movement. Surely by now the union movement has learnt there are other ways to achieve aims than by confrontation.
Guards around power tools or over moving parts of equipment (e.g. covers over compressor pulleys) are there for seriously good reasons. Injuries and deaths from people getting cut or caught in machinery keep happening all the time.
It’s a common misunderstanding that bits of clothes caught in moving machinery can’t be that dangerous, after all cloth rips doesn’t it? Wrong.
A loose bit of overall sleeve caught in between a pulley and pulley belt is unlikely to rip. It will have an arm or hand mangled in a micro second. Nip points on equipment can catch skin. A de-gloved hand, where a pinch of skin is caught in machinery and the skin is ripped off the hand is as ugly as it sounds.
Do regular checks of things like angle grinders and moving parts of equipment to make sure the guards originally fitted are still in place and doing the job they have to. People will remove guards.
Have a policy that when guards are removed to do repair or maintenance work on equipment the guards are refitted as soon as those sort of jobs are done.
Monitor use of power tools in the workshop. Stop any work being done with power tools when the guard has been removed.
Don’t consider that a guard isn’t necessary if an operator is using some other sort of personal protective gear (e.g. using protective eye gear with a bench grinder that has no fitted shield in front of the grinder wheel). Treat safety as a thing that works best in layers. Murphy’s Law never rests. One level of safety protection will always fail at the wrong time.
Do regular checks on all guards on tools and equipment. Make it a specific check. Include an evaluation of whether equipment that can catch clothes or part of a body is properly guarded. Modern equipment designers are generally pretty good at making sure guards are fitted where they need to be, older gear is not so well designed. If it seems entirely possible for a person to get caught by a moving bit of equipment look at having a guard made and fitted: use a specialist to do that.
Readers are at liberty to use this stuff as they see fit, but acknowledgement of the author and the source (i.e. SafetyatWorkBlog) is expected. Contact Kevin Jones first if ya wanna use it. Cheers.
The 2008 Safety In Action Conference in Melbourne Australia included a single-day stream of prominent CEO’s talking about safety.
I suggested to the stream host that it would be a good idea to have each of them respond to a question-without-notice in order to personalise each speaker. This video shows Dr Ziggy Switkowski‘s response.
Australia’s National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority (NOPSA) has released a report of its own OHS performance based on data from 2005 to 2007. NOPSA has been in the public eye far more than normal due to the Varanus Island explosion and the various investigatory reports.
The report seems to indicate that, as a regulator, NOPSA is performing to expectations. NOPSA’s CEO John Clegg has acknowledged that the industry is below the level of its overseas counterparts. This is peculiar given that other Australian resources industries, like mining, are ahead of other countries and that safety in the offshore industry has had a high profile ever since Piper Alpha.
The report identifies challenges that are difficult but not very surprising:
- improving leadership – strong leadership is required for the Australian industry to move to the next level
- dealing with a shortage of skilled personnel
- managing ageing facilities and minimising gas releases
It will be very interesting to watch the benchmarking of NOPSA and its future role through the OHS harmonisation process that Australia is undergoing.
Below is the full report and the performance summary.
Some time ago SafetyAtWorkBlog was critical of OHS regulators releasing swine flu information because the advice was not being easily translated in the workplace, and some of the advice was just silly.
Much better advice is available from the New South Wales government however, curiously, the Workplace Guide to Managing Influenza Pandemic has been issued by the Department of Commerce. The department’s Office of Industrial Relations has released the document which makes more sense however the release seems to be contrary to WorkCover New South Wales who defers to the NSW Health Department, surely the most logical central point for communication on this public health issue.
There are too many “experts” on the workplace impact of swine flu influenza and pandemics. SafetyAtWorkBlog has kept out of this issue as we share the position of WorkCover NSW – defer to the State or National authorities.
However, some companies feel obliged to be seen to be doing something, anything, about swine flu and their half-cocked measures are discrediting their overall process of safety management.
One national company recently issued a new policy advice to all staff on swine flu. The policy was little more than a cut and paste from an official fact sheet. It added little to the employees’ knowledge of the hazard and in no way answered staff questions such as
- If my child’s school is closed due to a swine flu threat, what type of leave am I entitled to take?
- The company has provided annual influenza vaccinations. Will I need re-vaccinating in the event of swine flu and will the company cover this cost?
- In what circumstances can my employer send me home?
Not only was it next to useless, the company had the cheek to include its own corporate logo on the policy. Public health and OHS information is usually flexible in its reuse but somebody in the company looks like they are empire-building rather than managing their staff.
People want advice on how swine flu will disrupt their lives and working lives, not information on swine flu itself. Employers should leave the health information to the health authorities and concentrate on the management of the disruption and potential health threats within their area of expertise, their own workplaces.
If employers raise expectations by issuing policies in areas outside of their expertise, they begin a spiral of the demand for information that it may be impossible to satisfy.
The West Australian government has finally decided to prosecute Apache Energy over the Varanus Island explosion in 2008. Many people are asking if the effort is worth the bother as the maximum penalty possible is a measly $A50,000.
Comparing the disruption to the state’s gas supply to the Esso-Longford explosion, which generated a Royal Commission in Victoria, it illustrates the difference in having an explosion in an isolated area, that does not kill or injure, and that allows a government to ensure domestic gas supplies. One could argue that a major difference was also that WA did not rely solely on a single gas source.
According to one media report
Apache spokesman David Parker said it would vigorously defend the matter. “The explosion was an unfortunate and unforeseen event”.
Explosions often are unfortunate and usually unforeseen but adequate maintenance requirements of pipelines are foreseeable, just not often profitable.
Apache Energy, a subsidiary of the US energy giant Apache, has not been the most transparent and helpful corporate citizen as it has taken Federal Court action that impedes the government’s investigations.
More on the Varanus pipeline can be read by searching for “Varanus” in the search function to the right of this blog page
In 2005 I had the great opportunity to spend some time with Peter Sandman, a world renowned risk communicator. We spoke about worst case scenarios and risk communication in those times of avian influenza and smallpox threats. The interview has gained additional poignancy in this time of swine flu.
Although the audio is “noisy” as Collins St in Melbourne had more traffic on a Sunday morning than I expected, I think some readers may find this excerpt very useful at the moment.
Click on the magazine’s cover image below to download the interview transcript.
[For Peter Sandman’s current commentary on swine flu, see http://www.psandman.com/index-infec.htm#swineflu1 and especially http://www.psandman.com/col/swinecomm.htm]
or Peter Sandman’s current commentary on swine flu, see
The SafetyAtWorkBlog article on OHS professional competence has generated some lively debate on a discussion forum of the American Society of Safety Engineers. Jim Leemann makes a fundamental point
“Determining if someone is competent to do a job is totally different from determining if someone has mastered the competencies to do the job”.
This is an important element in the discussion on qualifications versus experience. Often it is the case of the technical qualifications gaining one an audience but experience that keeps the audience listening. Jim expresses it this way
“My empirical research on competencies that distinguish superior performance has revealed that performance is driven more by behavioral competencies than technical competencies. In fact, mastering technical competencies only earns an OHS pro a seat at the decision-maker’s table; it has nothing to do with distinguished superior performance. In fact, technical competencies do not do anything to distinguish superior performance because decision-makers expect OHS pros to have mastered their technical competencies before engaging them in any decision-making processes; hence the reason they have been invited to the decision-making table.”
One engineer expressed views that often come up in discussions in this area – the feeling that experience is less valued than technical qualifications or, in some cases, one’s sphere of influence.
“…I have been in the EH&S field in some form or another for 25 plus years. I believe there is much to be said of the school of hard knocks or on the job learning. Bottom line I would find it very hard at least in North America to have a new regulator show up at my door with text books in hand and try and explian(sic) some of the regulation that I have worked with for years and determine I don’t know my job.“
Jim’s points may be the issues that have underpinned concerns about the Australian processes for establishing a safety profession.
There is nothing uniquely OHS about this dichotomy but because health and safety in Australia has not matured to the extent it has in other countries the conflict is continuing. Australia needs, and deserves, someone to cut through the political and personal agendas to implement much needed reform. A good opportunity could have occurred with the establishment of Safe Work Australia but the heavy reform agenda of the Rudd government means that no department is going to taken on more than they have to.
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.