Impressions of Australian safety Reply

At the Safety In Action conference in Melbourne Australia, SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to catchup with John Lacey, a past President of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in England.  John has attended ten of the conferences and has some interesting comments on the conference, how Australian safety differs from the UK and who he would nominate as an example of safety leadership.

The short interview is available at delegate-day-1-02

Forklift truck safety marketing 2

hss0052-1rklifts-developing-0x167b100p-974trafficmanagement-08eb416clanOn 30 March 2009, WorkSafe Victoria released a suggested traffic management plan for forklift trucks.  It basically reiterates the regulators calls over many years of separating pedestrian walkways from traffic areas.

WorkSafe is, justifiably, concerned over this type of workplace machinery and the risks presented by its inappropriate use, as seen by its response to forklift high-jinks recently.

Tomorrow in the Safety In Action Trade Show there will be a forklift driving competition.  This will involve

“Obstacle course tests forklift driver hand-eye coordination and skills. Thousands in prize money”

and there will be 

“Colour, movement, competition, clumsy forklifts moving with grace and speed”

Let’s hope they move safely.

Kevin Jones

Safety conference protest 2

Janet Holmes a Court speaking at the Safety In Action Conference 2009  

 

 

Janet Holmes a Court speaking at the Safety In Action Conference 2009

On 31 March 2009, Australian trade unionists (pictured below)  protested outside the Safety In Action Conference.   The crowd was objecting to the presence of Ms Janet Holmes a Court, the chair of  John Holland, as a keynote speaker.  As Dave Noonan, CFMEU Construction Division national secretary, put it

“It is an outrage that a company with a dismal safety record is the key note speaker at a major safety conference,” Mr Noonan said. “John Holland needs to stop talking about safety and start working with the unions to make their worksites safe.” 

Many of the conference delegates who were attended a breakfast seminar were oblivious of the protest outside.  According to a media statement from the Safety Institute of Australia national president, Barry Silburn

“We share the same goal as the unions – to bring safety failures into the public arena and work towards preventing more deaths – so we wholeheartedly support their efforts and were pleased to see them at the conference today,” Mr Silburn said. “We certainly don’t condone the systems failures at John Holland. Janet Holmes a Court’s presentation was an opportunity to hear what went wrong and of her plans to improve those systems. She acknowledged that John Holland had made mistakes and gave delegates the opportunity to learn from them.”  

Recently, the trade union movement has become more strident in its protests about John Holland’s move to the national workers compensation scheme, the only construction contractor to choose this option.  The union argues that safety on John  Holland sites has deteriorated since the move.  They also complain over John Holland restricting union access to their worksites.

protest1mb-2

Safety In Action Conference – Part One Reply

Following two short messages from international representatives of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), the Governor of Victoria, Professor David de Kretser AC, officially opened the Safety In Action Conference for 2009.  The Governor made several pleas or suggestions.  One was for the application of a duty of care at music concerts towards patrons just as there is a duty towards members of the public at workplaces.  Another was that the contributions to reproductive ill-health from work practices be more thoroughly investigated and researched.

Barry Sherriff of Freehills law firm provided a personal perspective on the harmonisation of Australia’s OHS Model Law.  He spoke of the benefits of enforcement policies and resource sharing that could eventuate from the model law review, should the government accept the recommendations (a long way from a done deal from the rumours in the safety profession). 

It should come as no surprise that the major benefits from the review seemed to be for lawyers even though Barry insisted that the model law improved the application of OHS for the people.  It certainly sets the context for safety to be improved but there are so many political steps in the process before safety improvements flow from the model OHS law review through to the shopfloor.  There is still a strong disconnection between streamlining OHS law and implementing safety management.  There are codes of practice, state government sign-off, trade union acceptance  just to mention a few of the potential barriers to be overcome in the very tight implementation timeframe set by the Australian government.

What took the punch out of Barry’s presentation is the current silence on the model OHS law review from the government.

Kevin Jones

Mental Illness and Workplace Safety Reply

Reports in the Australian media this week indicated that “nearly half the population has a common mental health problem at some point during their lives”.  Safety professionals and HR practitioners should take note of these statistics and hope that it does not manifest in their shift, even though it is likely.

The difficulty with trying to manage or anticipate mental health issues is that they seem to have evolved over time and multiplied.  There is the common phrase of “trying to herd cats” and it seems that mental health issues are the cats.  One could apply lateral thinking and propose the solution is to get a dog but will the dog herd a cat that doesn’t look like a cat, smell like a cat, or worst scenario of all, a cat that resembles a dog!

Because of the fluctuating psychiatric states of everyone everyday how does one recognise when a mood swing becomes a mental health issue.  Does one take everything as a mental health issue and waste time on frivolous matters?  Or is there no such thing as a frivolous matter?

In the one article there are these confusing and inconsistent terms for mental health:

  • “common mental health problem”
  • “mental condition”
  • “non psychotic psychiatric problems”
  • “mood disorder”
  • “anxiety disorder”
  • “mental health disorder”
  • “substance abuse or dependency”
  • “mental disorder”
  • “mental illness”
  • “psychiatric condition”

In this report it is unlikely that the synonyms have been generated by the journalist as the data quoted is from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, but it indicates the confusion that safety professionals can feel when they need to accommodate more recent workplace hazards – the psychosocial hazards.

The list above does not include the “established” hazards of bullying, occupational violence or stress.  The fact that there may be a clear differentiation between mental health symptoms and mental disorders but that needs to be clearly communicated to those who manage workplaces so that control resources can be allocated where best needed.

The article referred to above provides interesting statistics and there are gems of useful information in the ABS report but the article provides me with no clues about how to begin a coordinated program to address the mental health issues in the workplace.  It is an article without hope, without clues, without pathways on which the professional can act.

There is no doubt the psychosocial hazards at work are real but the advocates of intervention need to clarify the message.

Kevin Jones

(This blog posting does not discuss the recent changes to compensation for defence personnel and soldiers for mental health from combat, but mental health in that “industry” is a fascinating comparison to what occurs in the private sector.)

Many workplace deaths for BHP Billiton 2

The Australian Workers Union are justifiably angry at the latest workplace death associated with BHP Billiton.   According to the company’s media statement on 19 march 2009

“We regret to inform that we have been advised by Mines and Port Development (a Joint Venture of Fluor and SKM), who manage our major construction activities, that there has been a fatal accident involving a John Holland employee at the construction site in Newman.”

The company’s own website provides the background to the union’s concern.

25 February 2009

It is with regret that BHP Billiton Iron Ore advises that an employee, Bob Blake, a track machine operator, aged 56, was fatally injured in a rail accident approximately 74km south of Port Hedland at 3.30am on Tuesday 24 February.

25 February 2009

It is with sadness that BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) advises that John Barker, an employee of Nixon Communications working at Blackwater Mine, was fatally injured in a motor vehicle accident at the mine late this morning.   

4 September 2008

We regret to advise that a fatality has occurred at BHP Billiton’s Yandi mining operations involving a HWE Mining employee.

26 August 2008

BHP Billiton Iron Ore regrets to advise that an incident occurred during the night at its Yandi mine site, which resulted in the death of an HWE Mining employee.

29 July 2008

BHP Billiton Iron Ore regrets to advise that an incident occurred at approximately 11.00am today at its Nelson Point operations in Port Hedland, which has resulted in the death of an employee.

17 January 2008

It is with deep regret that BHP Billiton reports that a fatality has occurred today at the Cannington silver, lead and zinc operation in north-west Queensland.

In the “Chairman’s Review” for 2008,  Don Argus wrote about the growth in demand for its products from the Asian region:

Our response has been to streamline our business to enable us to produce as much product as fast as possible within the non-negotiable framework of the highest safety and environmental standards.

The CEO, Marius Kloppers, states that even though the company has achieved its seventh consecutive year of “record attributable profit”

While we can report financial success, I regret to report we have not performed well on safety. In FY2008, 11 of our employees died at work. Many more lives will have been impacted, some forever, by these tragic and avoidable events. We have reflected deeply on what more we must do to reach our goal of Zero Harm. In FY2009, we are making even greater efforts to improve our safety performance.

As shown above, the FY2009 performance statistics are not looking too good.

In the 2008 Corporate Governance Summary, the Directors are lauded.

The non-executive Directors contribute international and operational experience; understanding of the sectors in which we operate; knowledge of world capital markets; and an understanding of the health, safety, environmental and community challenges that we face.

In its 2008 Annual Report under Risk Factors, safety is listed within assets.  It reads like an acceptance that contractors are not living up to their OHS obligations or BHP Billiton standards.  This rings hollow as contractor management should be an area that a company of such size, resources, longevity and experience, manages in an exemplary fashion.

Some of our assets are controlled and managed by joint venture partners or by other companies. Some joint venture partners may have divergent business objectives which may impact business and financial results. Management of our non-controlled assets may not comply with our management and operating standards, controls and procedures (including health, safety, environment). Failure to adopt equivalent standards, controls and procedures at these assets could lead to higher costs and reduced production and adversely impact our results and reputation.

Later in the Risk Factor chapter:

Despite our best efforts and best intentions, there remains a risk that health, safety and/or environmental incidents or accidents may occur that may negatively impact our reputation or licence to operate.

The company is active though.  It has a Code of Conduct that applies to everyone, including contractors.  In it there is a quick test:

If you are in doubt about what to do or whether to speak up, it may help to do the Business Conduct Quick Test by asking yourself some simple questions:

  • The values test: Does it fit with the values in our Charter?
  • The safety test: Could it directly or indirectly endanger someone or cause them injury?
  • The law test: Is it legal and in line with our policies and standards?
  • The conscience test: Does it fit with my personal values?
  • The newspaper test: If the story appeared in the paper, would I feel comfortable with the decision?
  • The family test: What would I tell my partner, parent or child to do?
  • The ‘feel test': What’s my intuition or ‘gut feel’? If it ‘feels’ bad, then it probably is bad!

Failing any of the above ‘tests’ indicates that you need to talk with someone about the concern you have.

It’s not that BHP Billiton seems to have fallen into a heap in the last couple of years.  Following a major explosion in 2004 at its remote Boodarie Hot Briquette Iron (HBI) plant in Western Australia, it was fined $200,000 plus costs for “failing to provide and maintain a working environment in which employees were not exposed to hazards.”   The explosion killed one worker and injured several others.

The court case revolved around the May 2004 explosion at the Port Hedland Boodarie HBI plant where one man died, and others received severe burns.

The prosecution case was that BHP Billiton undertook two activities, with the potential to cause an explosion, together without a proper risk assessment. This was considered to be a serious and substantial breach of the obligation to provide and maintain a safe working environment.

There is much more OHS performance information available at the BHP Billiton website but it is worth ending this post with the OHS statement included in the Code of Conduct:

BHP Billiton is committed to achieving leading industry practice in health and safety.

In all cases, we will aim to meet or exceed applicable legal and other requirements, as we believe that all accidents and occupational illnesses and injuries are preventable.

Our priority is to ensure that all our people – regardless of where they work or what they do – return home safely.

Kevin Jones

Safety In Action Conference Reply

For three days next week, SafetyAtWorkBlog will be reporting from the Safety In Action Conference in Melbourne. This is the 12th annual conference and it remains the dominant OHS conference on the Australian circuit for duration, affordability and credibility. More…

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…

Writer and commentator services Reply

Thanks to all those readers of SafetyAtWorkBlog, particularly those who make the effort to comment.

As well as these blog postings you will see articles appear in RTWMatters in support of its relaunched website as well as through the LabourStart website, a news site primarily for trade unionists and labour advocates.

There is also a nanotechnology safety article coming up in Safety Solutions magazine and some regular news contributions to the Employment Law Bulletin.

I am also proud of an article that was published by a prominent Australian business website Business Spectator and for the republication of a blog article to do with the Beaconsfield Mine at Crikey.com.

This may sound a lot of work but there is always room for more business and clients and as there is also a company to run.

On 19 March 2009 I spoke with Stephen Mayne (below on the right) at the 12th Annual Freelance Journalism Convention .

(L-R  Stephen Mayne and Kevin Jones hosting a workshop discussion athe 12th Freelance Journalism Convention on 19 March 2009)

(L-R Stephen Mayne and Kevin Jones hosting a workshop discussion at the 12th Freelance Journalism Convention on 19 March 2009)

If you like what you have read and have the opportunity for my writing services, please email me.

Kevin Jones