Below is a guest post from long time SafetyAtWorkBlog reader, Marian Macdonald.
“If you need to use that, you’ll almost certainly die,” says fall prevention expert Carl Sachs, pointing to a guardrail on the rooftop of a multi-storey Melbourne office block.
Fixed to flimsy aluminium flashing, the guardrail flies in the face of several mandatory and voluntary standards but Sachs says non-compliances are more the norm than the exception on Australia’s rooftops. The problem, he says, is that height safety equipment installers need no training or qualifications and nobody is checking that their work really is capable of saving lives.
“Australians wouldn’t accept unqualified electricians wiring our houses but, as it stands, all you need is a ute, a credit card and a cordless drill to install the safety gear that stops us falling off skyscrapers,” he says.
It’s a concern echoed by, plumbers, building surveyors, facility managers and builders.
Paul Naylor of the Master Plumbers Association of NSW, says plumbers risk deadly falls daily.
“Whilst due diligence principles can be applied and all care taken to ensure that height safety systems are adequate, without some form of regulation or certification, workers are placed at risk of serious injury everyday due to a lack of knowledge and regulation specific to fall prevention,” Mr Naylor says.
SafetyAtWorkBlog has written previously that the term “safety” seems to have fallen out of favour with some preferring terms such as “zero harm”. In November 2012 I wrote:
“In some ways, “safety” has become an ineffective term, even a negative term in some areas. It is understandable that some companies and safety professionals would wish to rebrand their skills or activities as something else, like Zero Harm, but a more sustainable strategy would be to work on having Safety regain its credibility.”
I was reminded of this when reading an article in the latest edition (71) of Industry Update, a safety equipment publication that publishes many advertorials. Dr Marcus Cattani wrote:
“I don’t use the “safe” word anymore! The “s” word has such a poor reputation I find it can turn people away.
If people turn away from “safe” as a word this places great pressure on the safety strategies of OHS regulators and governments. Does the community believe that safety is different from what the regulators believe? I don’t think so and reckon that the success of the fundamental social values espoused through the various incarnations of WorkSafe Victoria’s Homecomings advertisement illustrates the common understanding of safety. More…
Following on from a look at the workplace safety-related elements of the current policy document of the Australian Labor Party, it is the Liberal Party of Australia‘s turn.
Liberal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott
The Liberals, currently lead by Tony Abbott, are the Australian equivalent of the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom and the Republicans in the United States and follow many of the free market principles that support capitalism. In terms of workplace safety, commitments are less obvious than those from the Left side of politics. Often workplace safety is wrapped in other concepts and there is an expectation that benefits to workers will somehow flow on from those benefits granted to employers and business, benefits frequently termed as part of productivity.
The Liberal’s policy document entitled: Our Plan, Real Solutions for All Australians lists the following productivity improvements: More…
Every year, around this time, the mainstream media reports on the findings of employee surveys of the Victorian public service. Each year the statistics on workplace bullying are featured. (The Age newspaper reported on the latest survey on 31 March 2013.) But the approach to an understanding of workplace bullying has changed over the last fifteen years or so. A brief look at the March 2001 Issues Paper on workplace bullying, released by the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA), is useful to illustrate the degree of change but also the origin of some of the contemporary hazard control themes.
The VWA Issues Paper was always intended to lead to a formal Code of Practice but due to belligerence from various industry bodies, no code eventuated and Victoria had to make do with a guidance note. This effectively banished workplace bullying to a nice-to-manage rather than an essential element of modern management. Significantly, Safe Work Australia intends to release a model Code of Practice on workplace bullying shortly. Perhaps the employer associations’ attitudes have mellowed. Perhaps it is the decline of trade union influence since 2001.
The Issues Paper roughly defines workplace bullying as:
“…aggressive behaviour that intimidates, humiliates and/or undermines a person or group.” More…
Australian research has provided an important additional element to discussions on the safety of using quad bikes as work vehicles on Australian farms. According to a media release to be published on 3 April 2013 from the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety (ACAHS):
“This conservative estimate draws on deaths data from the National Coroners Information System and includes projected losses in future earnings, impacts on household contributions, insurance payments, investigation and hospital costs…. The average cost was $A2.3 million, with the highest average being in those aged 25-34 years at $A4.2 million”.
This estimation is shocking but refreshing. Shocking in that the cost is so high but refreshing because the data is not based, as so much OHS data is, only on workers compensation claims data More…
The leadership squabbles in the Australian Labor Party (ALP) have diminished for the moment, and the next Federal election is set for September 2013. Most everyone is tipping the ALP to lose the election. The verb “lose” is specifically chosen, for the opposition Liberal/National coalition will probably win “by default”. Whatever the electoral outcomes, the major political parties in Australia have current positions and policies on workplace safety. Six months out from an election, it may be worth looking at those policies, as they currently stand. The first is that of the ALP.
The ALP has an extensive National Platform that was presented at its National Conference in 2012. Below are some of the statements from that document as they pertain to occupational health and safety (OHS). Some commentary is offered on these statements.
“The Labor Government places the highest priority on worker safety, particularly miner worker safety.” (page 42) More…
The Australian Government has released its report into a review of its national workers’ compensation scheme, Comcare, and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (SRC) Act. Some of the media (and politicians), as it often does, has focused on the seemingly absurd compensation claims. Few cases have gained the same degree of national and international attention as the sex case for instance, and although most workers’ compensation reports focus on post-incident treatments, there is a glimmer of hope on occupational health and safety (OHS) in this latest review.
The report, the latest undertaken by Peter Hanks QC, states that one of the guiding principles of the SRC Act should be an acknowledgement that
“The benefit and premium structure should promote incident prevention and reduce risk of loss.” (page 25)
This would be a wonderful benchmark to apply but is likely to be overshadowed by the compensation and rehabilitation issues of the review, unless OHS professionals and practitioners continue to remind regulators that prevention is better than cure.
Peter Hanks admits in a 2012 video interview on his review that injury prevention is not part of the terms of reference but there are elements of his report that require serious consideration by OHS professionals in consultation with their Human Resources (HR) colleagues. More…
In November 2012, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government released “Getting Home Safely“, a damning report written by Lynette Briggs and Mark McCabe, into the safety culture and performance of that territory’s building and construction industry. But the Master Builders Association of the ACT has rejected several recommendations and questioned many others, yet refuses to release the evidence that it is assumed would support their position.
In February 2013, ACT’s Minister for Workplace Safety and Industrial Relations, Simon Corbell, accepted all 27 recommendations of the report, much to the surprise of some of us. Corbell said in his media release that
“It is no longer acceptable for people in the construction industry to say there are safety issues in construction sites and then do nothing about them. This report compels unions, employers and government to stand up and actively promote a culture where everyone looks out for their mates, and everyone can go home safely every day…”
“As the report highlights, this is not simply an issue for Government. Safety is an issue for every person on a construction site with principal contractors, sub-contractors, workers, unions and the Regulator all working together.
“The Government expects employers and unions to demonstrate leadership on this issue.”
Safety Leadership or Conspiracy Theory
Today the Master Builders Association of the ACT released its response to “Getting Home Safely” (the Gower review). That response indicates that not all Minister Corbell’s expectations are going to be met with the MBA. In some ways this confirms many of the concerns in the report. More…
Occupational health and safety has many examples of addressing small or short-term issues rather than facing the difficult and hard, but more sustainable, control measures. I was reminded of this by a recent media statement from the United States Chemical Safety Board (CSB) in relation to fatigue management.
In 2007 the CSB recommended that, following the Texas City refinery fire,
“the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the United Steelworkers International Union (USW) jointly lead the development of an ANSI consensus standard with guidelines for fatigue prevention in the refinery and petrochemical industries.” [links added]
The progress of API and USW in developing the 2010 ANSI-approved Recommended Practice 755 (RP 755) has been reviewed by the CSB staff and they have found the following disturbing problems:
- “The document was not the result of an effective consensus process, and therefore does not constitute a tool that multiple stakeholders in the industry can “own.” It was not balanced in terms of stakeholder interests and perspectives, and did not sufficiently incorporate or take into account the input of experts from other industry sectors that have addressed fatigue risks. More…
It is common to use a self-commissioned survey to market one’s services but sometimes the evidence does not support some of the marketing statements. The latest survey by St John Ambulance is a good example of this.
According to St John Ambulance’s media release on 13 March 2013:
“Only 13 per cent of Australian workplaces know how to keep their employees safe according to new research released … by … St John Ambulance Australia.”
This is reworded in the report (page 2) as
“…only 13% of Australian businesses are compliant with the new [First Aid in the Workplace Code of Practice]’s requirements…”
The survey sample does not support the generalisations above. More…