There is increasing attention being given to the preparation of Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) in Australian OHS laws. Amongst many purposes, SWMS should provide a basic risk assessment of tasks being undertaken, usually, that day. Often SWMS are too generic by being prepared days or weeks earlier, often SWMS miss the big risks by looking at the small risks. A New South Wales Workcover news release on 9 December 2011 indicates the potential inadequacy of risk assessment.
The media statement reports on a $A99,000 fine against Bulk Maritime Terminals Pty Limited (BMT).
“On 17 September 2008 two employees were unloading 25 to 30 bulk bags of clay powder into a tanker truck for transportation. Each bag weighed approximately 900kgs.
One employee was using an overhead gantry crane to lift each bag from the floor of the warehouse to the height of the tanker. The second employee was harnessed to the top of the tanker truck to open the spout on the bag.
After being lifted off the ground, one of the bags fell off the crane hook, knocking the operator of the crane to the ground.
The 900kg bag then landed on top of the worker, who sustained significant injuries and required multiple surgeries.
The Industrial Court found that BMT had failed to develop a safe system of work for the lifting and decanting of the bags into the tanker.”
In relation to risk assessments and SWMS,
“The Court also found that while the company had carried out a risk assessment, it was inadequate to identify the risks of lifting such large bags.
BMT had also failed to supply its employee with adequate information, training, and instruction on how to use the crane, and how to properly load the clay bags.”
Many people believe that SWMS are only relevant for the construction industry due to the emphasis on SWMS by Australian regulators and the Federal Safety Commission, but the case above illustrates that risk assessments of work tasks are required in all workplaces, particularly, for high-risk activities.
The most effective SWMS are those that are undertaken on the day of a work task, at the specific work location and, perhaps most importantly, with the full cooperation and understanding of the workers undertaking the task. This combination of elements constitutes the type of consultation required by some current and upcoming OHS legislation in Australia.
And when people complain about the red-tape associated with workplace safety, think of this prosecution and how better quality risk assessments could have saved a worker from serious injuries and saved a company around $A100,000.