On 7 December 2011, the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper included an article entitled “Hotel chief attacks our nanny state” in which the President of the Australian Hotels Association in South Australia (AHA/SA), Peter Hurley, seems to have been inspired by the same lunacy and misunderstandings as Jeremy Clarkson on matters of occupational health and safety.

The article reports that

“HOTELS Association chief Peter Hurley addressed Premier Jay Weatherill wearing a high-visibility vest yesterday in a provocative protest against a culture of over-regulation.

“It’s the decade of the rise and rise of the fluoro high-vis jacket,” he said, targeting State Government SafeWork SA. “An audit visit from Work Safe SA (sic) is the only thing that makes you wish you were at the dentist having root canal work.”

He said he had been told drive-in bottle shop staff had to wear high-visibility vests.

“Then the guy delivering bread started arriving in high vis. What took the cake recently was the bloke who tops up the condom vending machine arrives, gets out with his case of rubbery delights, resplendent in a high-vis vest. Maybe the topless waitress is next?””

As the opportunity for the comments was the AHA/SA Christmas function and the association developed its influence through alcohol, one could excuse Hurley’s comments as inspired by the event but he produced a fluorescent vest as a prop so his comments appear premeditated.

Not only did he criticise the South Australian Government in front of that State’s recently appointed Premier, Jay Weatherill,  SafetyAtWorkBlog has been informed that the Workplace Relations Minister, Russell Wortley, was also in the audience.  Hurley picks his moments well.

SafeWorkSA is not impressed.  It has advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that:

“Peter Hurley’s words and implied attitude to workplace safety are disappointing to us.

SafeWork SA seeks to work cooperatively with employers to demonstrate the benefits that safe workplaces can offer both to the wellbeing of staff and others, as well as the business bottom line.

Precautions such as high-visibility vests have come about because workers have been injured, sometimes fatally, by moving vehicles where the operator has been unable to sight people nearby.

Anything which can help catch the attention of the operator of a forklift or a truck alerting them to the presence of a nearby worker may well be the difference between life and death.

Employers who cut corners, take shortcuts, make assumptions or rely on luck, sooner or later get caught out – and it’s usually their workers who pay the heaviest price.”

Peter Hurley’s motivation for the speech is unclear but his attempt at criticising the “nanny state” through ridiculing high visibility personal protective equipment (PPE) illustrates his ignorance of OHS, an ignorance that seems to be increasing in the Australian business sector.  It may also be part of the larger lobbying agenda of the AHA/SA as the accusation of the “nanny state” is being used to criticise increased liquor licensing.

Personal Protective Equipment

The core OHS issue in the Advertiser’s article is that an unspecified someone has told the workers at his drive-through bottle shops that high-visibility vests are to be worn.  (According to some workers SafetyAtWorkBlog spoke with this evening, Woolworths, one of the two largest supermarket chains in Australia, has a policy of PPE for its bottle shop workers.)  The usual rationale for this type of PPE is to increase personal visibility when working in close proximity to vehicles, a constant scenario for bottle shop workers.

But what Hurley does not acknowledge is that PPE for bottle shop employees is only one of the control measures implemented to stop workers getting hit by by vehicles.  Many bottle shops have speed humps at the entrance and exit in order to reduce the speed of vehicles in the area shared by personnel and cars.  The ubiquitous closed-circuit television cameras are usually in place, predominantly, for after an incident.  Driveways are brightly lit, mostly for marketing purposes one imagines, but this also allows for easy identification and may deter attacks.

If the world of OHS has lost its “common sense”, as many Conservatives in the United Kingdom believe, how has the workforce been able to accept and internalise safety clothing as an automatic part of their working lives?  Isn’t the widespread practice of wearing PPE to work an example of the common sense that they claim is missing?

If individuals need to be more accountable for their behaviours and the work choices they make, surely, the personal use of PPE should be supported by business leaders, and not ridiculed.

Kevin Jones