In December 2011, SafetyAtWorkBlog reported on a serious misreading of workplace safety by the President of the Australian Hotels Association in South Australia (AHA/SA), Peter Hurley. The debate on new work health and safety laws in South Australia continues and on 7 September on radio station FIVEAA, according to an interview transcript (not available on-line), Peter Hurley continued to display his misunderstanding of OHS laws and principles even though SafeWorkSA responded at the time. The broader significance of his comments is that they could provide an example of the way that OHS myths are created through anecdote and misunderstanding.
Hurley reportedly said:
“..last year one of our hotels was subjected to some very aggressive inspectorate activity and among a myriad of other nit-picking things that we were instructed that we had to comply with was an instruction that we had to deck out our bottle shop staff in high vis apparel so if someone wandered in and wanted to have a discussion about the nuances of one vintage of Grange against another, they were going to have stand there and talk to a bloke who looked like he was working on a building site … when we were told ‘If you have an accident out here and someone gets injured, you’ll be to blame and we’ll take very severe action against you’. My defence was … drive-in bottle shops have been in Australia for in excess of 60 years, I’ve been operating them for well over 30 years and we have never had an accident. History will be our defence.”
If Hurley assessed the risks of his bottle shop workers, the “need” for high visibility clothing may not be necessary, or necessary all the time, and he may find that his companies would still be complying. Many Australian bottleshops have increased lighting for product display reasons and this lighting may itself increase worker visibility. Bottleshop workers often approach the driver to determine a purchase so the worker is moving amongst motor vehicles, often a criteria for high visibility clothing. However, the vehicles are usually stationery so the need for the clothing is lessened. These variations of work tasks would be considered in any risk assessment and may question the reliance on PPE when other control measures, perhaps a safer design of drive-throughs, may occur.
Pedestrians do access bottleshops via the drive-through but this has no relation to the use of high visibility clothing, it is an unhelpful non-sequitur.
However, the comment from Peter Hurley that is most worrying is that
“My defence was … drive-in bottle shops have been in Australia for in excess of 60 years, I’ve been operating them for well over 30 years and we have never had an accident.”
This may be true but it displays an attitude of managing safety through luck. It has not happened yet so it is unlikely to happen in the future. This could be true but good safety management, the application of risk assessments will reduce this likelihood and, perhaps most importantly to business owners, will reduce the substantial business costs that even one serious workplace incident will generate. If business owners are genuinely interested in increasing worker productivity, then an appropriate and active level of safety management is unavoidable.
Hurley’s attitude is genuinely concerning from a business owner but more so when he is speaking as a representative of the Australian Hotels Association.
It is a reality that over many decades the design and operation of drive-through bottleshops have changed. Lighting is mentioned above but these facilities almost always have speed humps, many have redesigned the site access so that speeds are further reduced. Hurley and others would be aware of these changes yet they choose to ignore the safety rationale for these workplace design changes. As mentioned above, a thorough risk assessment may reveal that high visibility clothing is no longer required in drive-through bottleshops but it seems Peter Hurley or the AHA/SA has not taken up this opportunity.
SafeWorkSA obviously believes that there is a risk of workers being hit by vehicles while in drive through bottle shops. Peter Hurley believes otherwise. As the head of AHA/SA, Peter Hurley is perfectly placed to establish the facts, to provide evidence to SafeWorkSA by using the risk assessment processes required by OHS laws, that substantiate his beliefs. A risk assessment of these premises in South Australia would not cost very much, would not take long and may, just may, provide evidence of unnecessary safety obligations or SafeWorkSA enforcement. The secondary, or primary, benefit could also be that the safety level of hotel workers is increased.
If I was a business owner, or head of an industry association, who was obliged by law to apply a positive OHS duty and satisfy my due diligence in OHS, I would be organising for that risk assessment rather than stirring the political pot on radio. It may also just provide me with stronger evidence for my ideological opponents.