Local safety article reflects bigger issues

Workplace safety hardly ever gets a mention in the daily newspapers unless there is a big corporate name involved or a record fine.   Local newspapers often provide more coverage of workplace incidents because the local angle allows for the reporting of the social and familial impact of an incident within days of it occurring.

The 9 February 2011 edition of the Melbourne Times Weekly included a feature article – “Risky Business” by Genevieve Gannon.   The existence of any media mention of workplace safety is of note in itself but Gannon’s article, with assistance from the always-helpful WorkSafe spokesperson, Michael Birt, does not only focus on the fatalities (23 in 2010) but also on the maimings.   Around 70 people had life-threatening injuries in Victoria in 2010 and 20,000 were seriously injured.

On the basis of the statistics alone, serious injuries have a major social, personal and familial cost that is simply not being considered when planning for safe workplaces.   This element should always be borne in mind when discussing occupational safety.   Dr Yossi Berger has, for a long time, emphasized that workplace illnesses must be considered in determining the extent of the impact of workplace incidents but the lack of statistics has also weakened his case ion some policy-making sectors.  Serious injuries and illnesses are debilitating, often permanently so.

This argument is echoed by Frank Fairley, Victorian OHS Officer of the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union.   Many union OHS people are at the site of workplace incidents or respond very quickly and so they often see the immediate aftermath of an incident.   Fairley believes that OHS regulators, like WorkSafe, should make inspections unannounced so that they can see the reality of workplace safety and not just the manicured facade.   Perhaps inspectors schedule inspections as far as is reasonably practicable?

As discussed previously in SafetyAtWorkBlog, even the Hazardous Chemicals Audit Team in the early 1990s only provided around 12 hours notice.   We knew that in some workplaces that 12 hours would include feverish activity in anticipation of the inspection.

Birt describes giving employers plenty of notice of inspections and “heaps of information” and yet safety breaches are still being found.   This must say something about employers’ attitudes to safety, the information being provided, the way inspections are scheduled and conducted and a broader definition of “safe system of work” to include the “system of society”.

Gannon’s article diverts from the OHS “line” by discussing short cuts in production.  Her diversion is supported by Fairley who acknowledges that workers will “cut corners to get a job done faster…” Fairley describes this in one case as “cheating”.

It could be argued that local newspapers are local no more when their content is available on the internet as the Risky Business article shows.  The article is a good example of thinking  (not-quite) global and writing local.  The local context, in some ways, makes the theme of the article more poignant.  The elements covered reflect several prominent challenges in safety management

  • whether to focus on the big risks or the small risks;
  • how can the safety behaviour of workers be changed;
  • the role of the safe system of work;
  • the social impacts of workplace injury and illness;
  • complacency.

The only perspective I missed in the article was that of an employer.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories community, death, government, law, media, OHS, risk, safety, Uncategorized, WorkSafeTags , , , , ,

2 thoughts on “Local safety article reflects bigger issues”

  1. I was tempted not to provide a comment, however I have commented on numerous occasions about the need for proactive high volume inspections without notice, accompanied by substantial on the spot fines which can only be contested in a court of law or paid to expiate the offence.

    The hip pocket nerve always gets those responsible for worker safety\’s attention.

    Why would you provide any notice to potential offenders, it would be like putting a sign up 1 km prior to a Random Breath Testing station that drivers would be tested.

    The law is in place, the will to inspect and prosecute via proactive unannounced no second chance policy is most definitely not. I thought that was what these departments were charged with.

    Whose son or daughter will be maimed tomorrow because bureaucrats continue to sit on their hands. It is time to get very tough on every day simple safety non compliance, there are millions of issues every day relating to non compliance and injury risk and all we are doing is tinkering around the edges for very little effect and how do we know this? The current unfunded liability of our workers compensation schemes and volume of claims that continue to rise year after year.

    I am not much concerned about votes on my contributions, however I am frustrated when I see articles that should be at the front of everyone\’s mind and common knowledge, yet we still need to keep chewing over the same old arguments without acting in any effective manner.

    Yossi Berger\’s comments and articles are like a breath of fresh air.

  2. The sad truth is that no one consider workplace safety as news worthy until there is a workplace incident or workplace fatal. Yet here in South Australia the number of workplace incidents has remain static regardless of all the safety training and workplace safety information that is posted up in workplaces.
    Even sadder is that there were 7 workplace fatal incidents for the calendar year 2010.
    Alas we have no way of knowing how many workers died due to illness or disease as a direct result of the workplace.
    Likewise we don\’t know how many road deaths were also actually workplace deaths.

    Every year on International Day of Mourning Work Injured Resource Connection plants trees in the Deceased Workers Memorial Forest and each year we hope in vain that there will be no trees to plant in the coming year.

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