Managing on luck is not managing safety

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.

Kevin Jones

11 thoughts on “Managing on luck is not managing safety”

  1. Managing safety through luck is definitely not a good idea. This is called gambling on safety. And the fact that the accident didn\’t happen before is not a guarantee it won\’t happen in the future. The negative attitude some people have about safety is probably caused by the complications and paperwork it traditionally resulted in. It\’s time to make safety simple and make it that bond uniting everyone in the company team.

  2. Hi Kevin, I am inclined to agree with the gist of Hurley\’s argument.

    Do they work? High visibility vests aim at one type of injury and that is being hit by a moving object being controlled/driven by someone who has line of sight to the victim but does not notice that they are present but would have if they had a vest. This is a fairly limited form of mechanism. The proof is in the pudding. Over 2000-01 to 2008-09 \”being hit by moving objects\” (the key target of the growth of wearing of high visibility vests) has remain unchanged yet broadly claims are down 6.5%.

    A significant problem with a focus on superficial safety is the false sense of security that the problem is solved. I don\’t think it is out of the bounds of possibility to say that high visibility clothing could give an impression that everything is under control. Thus resulting in an absense of attention on the more important things about the design of places where vehicles (and other things) can interact with people. I don\’t think it is an unreasonable hypothesis that in many places we would be better off if it was not used.

    John

    1. John, I suspect that a risk assessment may remove this sore point for Hurley but he seems uninterested through his inaction over many months.

      I also suspect that SafeWork SA (if it was the source of the hi-viz demand which is unclear) erred by quoting a safety regulation that may or may not exist (I suspect not).

      From various media reports and statements.many people have the impression that SafeWorkSA is responsible for safety in workplaces and therefore gets criticized for issues beyond its control.

      Russell Wortley reiterated the point in Parliament last week that employers have the primary duty for providing safe workplaces in South Australia. No Minister should need to make such a statement after decades of OHS legislation that has clearly included this duty.

      The Hotels Association would benefit greatly by verifying, or contesting, the need for PPE in its bottle shops through a risk assessment. In this way it could be generating positive safety changes to the industry rather than using OHS as an issue of ridicule.

  3. Typical \”plod\” minded response by some to innovation in safety. They look at the supposed down side before exploring the obvious opportunities that might be available, such as promotional branding opportunities on the Hi-Viz vests, thus removing any cost of vests and possible income raising opportunities as well.

  4. It would,not take much to have a reflective vest that also incorporates the company logo and looks professional made up ,am I allowed to mention stubborn set in their way dinosaurs if not dont read this

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