Insurance may diminish a director’s commitment to their positive OHS duty 3

Neil Foster of the University of Newcastle is known to SafetyAtWorkBlog for his work looking at the legal liabilities of company directors and officers.  Recently Foster released a paper called “You can’t do that! Directors insuring against criminal WHS penalties” which provides an additional legal context to an earlier blog article.

Foster acknowledges that

“…provisions of the criminal law imposing personal liability for company breach of workplace health and safety provisions provide one of the strongest ‘drivers’ for company officers to use due diligence to see to the implementation of company safety policies.”

and asks

“… what if the officer knows all along that, should they be subject to such a penalty, the company, or an insurance policy, will come to the rescue?”

This is a concern that relates to insurance policies or indemnities that are being offered in some industrial sectors.  Insurance could dilute the diligence of officers and directors on a range of matters including workplace safety. More…

Strengthening safety decision-making 5

Any professional sees elements of their profession in other walks of life.  Police notice infringements when they are off duty.  Teachers often continue to instruct or educate when outside of school.  Journalist’s conversations with friends often contain pointed questions.

Safety professionals, commonly, extend safety principles to their own behaviours and lives.  This can sometimes lead to a heightened intolerance of unsafe behaviour in others but also desires that life operated on safety principles.  Today I wondered about the application of the concept of “Reasonably Practicable” in prioritising corporate and personal safety objectives.

I simplified (bastardised, some may say) the Safe Work Australia guideline on reasonably practicable into questions that we should ask in our non-OHS lives but, most importantly, the priority of the reasonable practicable process is retained.  The questions, in order of priority are:

  • How important is it?
  • How harmful could it be?
  • What do we know about it?
  • How can we control it?
  • How much will it cost?

Self-help aficionados may see these as life lessons or criteria that can be applied to many decisions.  I agree to some extent but the priority of the questions is of most importance in the decision-making process because it places the issue of cost last. More…

Australia’s mining sector progresses safety but without effective accountability 1

In 2010 the New South Wales Mines Safety Advisory Council (MSAC) released its important Digging Deeper report, proving this industry sector is at the forefront of safety management innovation in Australia.  This month  MSAC provided an insight into “world-leading” safety with its report “Actions for World-leading Work Health and Safety to 2017“.

The report discusses five strategic areas for attention but of more interest is the elements that MSAC believes represents “world-leading WHS”:

More…

Reliance on PPE impedes safety progress 6

There is an increasing call for the mandatory wearing of high-visibility clothing for motorcycle riders around the world.  The reason is to make motorcyclist more visible to car drivers and other road users.  This sounds logical and sensible and is, in some way, based on the prominence of high-visibility clothing in  the industrial sectors of manufacturing, construction and others.  But is this a matter of policy based on evidence or a broad application of logic or a “common sense”?

As the requirement for high visibility clothing has been in workplaces longer than on motorcyclists it is worth looking for evidence of the effectiveness of high visibility clothing in workplaces.  A brief survey of some of the research literature has been unsuccessful in locating much research into this issue. (We always welcome input from readers on this). Wikipedia traces high-visibility clothing back to Scottish railways in the early 1960s, where

“Train drivers operating in these areas were asked their opinion as to the effectiveness of the jackets.”

It would seem the choice of high visibility clothing has stemmed from assessing a workplace, determining the dominant colour of that workplace or environment and then examining the colour wheel (above) to choose a colour of the greatest contrast, thereby providing a high visibility.   More…

A shaky start leads to a terrific book on incident investigation by Michael Tooma Reply

There is one word that should not be used as an adjective in relation to workplace fatalities – impacted. Workers fall from roofs and the concrete floor has an impact on them. Workers hit by mobile plant or crushed in machines die from the impact. An impact results from the transfer of energy and this transfer of energy in workplaces can kill.

“Impacted” is used by those who do not feel comfortable differentiating between “affect” and “effect” and it is surprising to find the term used in the opening chapter of Michael Tooma’s latest book, Due Diligence: Incident Notification, Management and Investigation.

“Unless you have been involved in a serious incident, you don’t really appreciate how an incident will affect you. For every worker killed at work, there is a grieving mother, father, spouse and/or child. Their co-workers are impacted. Their friends are impacted. Management, guilt-ridden as they are in the aftermath of an incident, sometimes for good reason, sometimes not, are also personally and emotionally impacted. The tragedy touches everyone. In the midst of it all, a group of people are tasked with managing through the chaos and trying to get answers for all those impacted by the tragedy. This book is for them.”

The sentiment is correct and true but read the paragraph aloud and it sounds absurd. And why the overuse of “impacted” when a perfectly suitable word, “affect”, was used in the first sentence?

And this clumsy opening does the book a disservice. Tooma has repeatedly stated that this is a safety book written by a lawyer and not a legal book written about safety. This is a major change from a major Australian OHS publisher. It is a recognition that the readership is not lawyers feeding on lawyers but people wanting to understand workplace safety. More…

Extraordinary duty of care prosecution over a near miss 3

Near miss events, or “close calls”, are important opportunities to review safety and work processes.  In fact they can be the best opportunities as the participants and witnesses are still alive and can provide detailed information on the mistakes, breakages or oversights.  But rarely are companies prosecuted for near misses.

In Western Australia, a company has been found guilty of breaching its duty of care after two of its workers were lost for almost a whole day, and was fined over $A50,000, the highest fine of this type.  The near miss is almost comical and at least one newspaper has described it as a “comedy of errors“, except that it could easily have resulted in tragedy.  WorkSafeWA’s (long) media release, provides the details:

MAXNetwork was contracted to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations to consult with disadvantaged job seekers, in this case through their office in Kalgoorlie.

A number of employment consultants work at the Kalgoorlie office, and they regularly travel to remote areas – some accessible only by dirt roads and narrow tracks – to work with job seekers.

In December 2009, two of the company’s Kalgoorlie area employment consultants were instructed to do an “outreach visit” to the remote community of Tjuntjuntjara, around 600km north-east of Kalgoorlie in the Great Victoria Desert.

The two consultants departed Kalgoorlie in a Toyota Prado leased by MAXNetwork at around 6.00am on a journey estimated to take nine to ten hours on a road with no signs that was a narrow track in some places.

The women were not provided with a map, GPS or any other navigational aid, and consequently they became lost. They had received no training or instruction on travelling in remote areas, and so did not know what to do in the event of becoming lost.

The satellite telephone provided to the consultants did not work, and management was aware of this prior to the trip. In addition, there was no schedule for regular contact with workers in remote locations so no-one realised the women were overdue. More…

Unnecessary pissing contest in the Western Australian safety profession 11

In Western Australia in 2010, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) conducted its conference, the WA Safety Show, at the end of August.  In 2011, the SIA did not hold a conference in that State but in 2012 the WA Safety Show returned to Perth however it was oddly rescheduled earlier in the month, August 7-9.  Curiously there is another safety conference occurring in Perth on those very same days, only 500 metres away and it happens to be conducted by Safety In Workplaces Australia (SIWA), a recent safety professional association that emerged from disenfranchised SIA members.

The 2010 WA Safety Show was organised by the then secretary of the WA branch of the SIA, Gavin Waugh, who is now the President of SIWA.  In 2012 there is both a WA Safety Show and a WA Safety Conference happening on the same days within 500 metres of each other but run by different safety professional organisations.

What the ??? More…

Vulnerability and arrogance 15

“How can this be allowed to happen nowadays?” the distressed wife of a seriously injured worker asked me recently.  Her husband was sitting next to her, his eyes still victims of the recent terror that nearly killed him.  She saw that and struggled to join him in his very dark and personal space.  This now would become a life time job for her.

This meeting captured for me one of the most fundamental factors at most workplaces.  That workers’ most common feeling at work is that of vulnerability.  Of course many workers find comfort and pride in their job.  Of course it feeds them and their families.  Of course it can provide personal identity and purpose.  And of course there are many managers who understand all this.

But it’s also true that much too often this is not the case.  That’s one reason why when suddenly factories or mines close, or car manufacturers ‘shed’ 200 workers, or car part factories go bust workers are not only shocked, but it substantiates their sense of vulnerability, “What a shock, I thought they loved us!”

Not only is this painfully evident when a negligently poor H&S standard results in crippling a worker for life, but is typically present on a daily basis.  Permanent fear of job loss results.  The fact that a worker can be disciplined or sacked for a number of events that can be defined and redefined by creative managers feeds that feeling.  That’s another reason why so much bullying and humiliation occur and so much stress is experienced. More…

New book on OHS laws challenges current understandings of workplace safety 2

With the change of political heart from some of Australia’s state governments over the harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws, many academic and legal publishers revised their book plans as the national market was less national. However, some continued to publish understanding that although OHS harmonisation had a political deadline of 1 January 2012, refinement of the laws would continue for several years.

Federation Press has released a new book by prominent labour lawyer, Michael Tooma, and academic, Richard Johnstone, called “Work Health & Safety Regulation in Australia – The Model Act“. The title states an immediate limitation that other publishers squibbed at. The book is based on the Model Work Health and Safety Act and not, necessarily, the versions of the Act implemented at State level. Production timelines are responsible for this but it makes it even more important to follow the writings and research of Johnstone and Tooma to understand developments.

The Social Context of Safety

The authors reiterate an important element of the WHS Act in their introduction:

“[the laws] are no longer workplace or occupationally based, nor predicated on the employment relationship; rather the laws protect persons involved in ‘work’ in a business or undertaking, and, in addition, protect ‘others’ whose health and safety is affected by work. Consequently the scope of the Model Act is limited only by the imagination of those entrusted to interpret them and to enforce them.” (page 3)

This paragraph summarises well the elements of the laws that are causing so much fear in the Australian business community. More…

An Olympic first really worth celebrating. 4

Just over a coupla years ago I waved optimistically in the Twitterverse with “14 Athens, 6 Beijing, 43 New Delhi. How about the London Olympics uses the slogan: “No one had to die to make this happen Games”?

Well, they done it! No work oriented fatalities recorded and a record-breaking drop in injury rates. (I did see that there was a death of a crane driver on one of the sites, but it seems it was subsequently revealed the chap died of a heart attack.)

A fantastic achievement, and the British Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is justifiably proud of their role; and bravo to them.

Better still, you can find a whole bunch of research and analytical papers based on the things learned from the very deliberate and measured work safety approaches used.

I’ve only had time to have a quick squizz through the host of papers available. But it does seem that the use of a systematic approach to managing contractors, support for supervisors, a major engagement of workers to improve safety outcomes – all those things contributed to an excellent safety result. In other words, they implemented the work safety principles that have been bandied about for years, and it worked beautifully.

Here be a bunch of handy links on the outcomes and findings, there’s lots to use in this stuff:

Lessons for industry from the HSE site: http://www.hse.gov.uk/aboutus/london-2012-games/lessons-for-industry.htm

A news release from the British Institute of Occupational Safety and Health; a handy summary of outcomes with other links: http://www.iosh.co.uk/news/latest_news_releases/31_olympic_build_research.aspx

Col Finnie
finiOHS