Safety Convention becomes conventional

Dr Maureen Hassall (pictured below on the left)says that mining has done great work in improving safety but the fatality rate has not dropped even though there has been some fluctuation. And the catastrophes have had similar causes. So why are mine workers continuing to die?

hassell-sia-conf-2016Perhaps another question should be asked on whether the penalties for recurrent fatalities need to be escalated across the industry? Perhaps it could be possible to apply penalties across an industry sector, such as mining.

The Safety Institute’s Safety Convention is becoming more conventional where the radical discussions of the first session today are being diluted. A significant question asked was all of this information is available but so what? What do we do to use this disruption? Those questions are what persist in delegates as they move to diverse streams and back to traditional safety discussions.

Dr Hassall spoke about the importance of defining control mechanisms and the need to assess and investigate and that mine safety has focused on devices, plant and equipment. Her presentation was curious because some of the most exciting OHS issues in mining have involved safety management – Digging Deeper – or the mental health of fly-in fly-out workers. There was no discussion of these risks even though they contributed to work-related fatalities. (Maybe I was in the wrong session or frame of mind)

There is also confusion in the delegates over the role of the Hierarchy of Controls and Critical Control Management.  It seemed odd that a new approach, Critical Controls, was being proposed so many decades into OHS legislation when Controls were supposed to have already been well understood. Maybe disruption can come late to the party but still be effective.

Dr Hassall’s presentation supports the use of and collation of data digitally and in real time but the challenges that are present in mining, as identified by Dr Hassall needs discussion to clarify, which is one of the advantages of being at a safety conference.

Dr Gerry Ayers‘ (pictured above on-screen) presentation was all about death. He went through a list of construction industry deaths and importantly provided a personality to each of the deaths – who was left behind, who was affected by the death. Every safety conference needs this type of presentation to provide the real behind the theory.

Ayers’ presentation fits the theme of this conference because, as he says, there is nothing more disruptive than a workplace fatality. Some may see his presentation as focussing on the past with little pathway to the future and it would have been better to have Ayers in the audience so that he could contribute to the previous disruptive discussions, but his presentation was rightly described as sobering.

Trish Kerin (picture above, middle)of the Institution of Chemical Engineers Safety Centre spoke about the catastrophes in the process industries. To some extent, Kerin’s presentation illustrates the criticism of Dr David Borys about the gap between research dominated by inquiries into disasters and the safety management of the majority of businesses that exist in the small business sector. Disasters are politically significant so that is part of the reason.

The IChemE Safety Centre seems to be trying to redress the inhumanity that seems to have existed in process safety for decades. For a long time, process industry disasters have mostly been academic puzzles of what went wrong. Even when why what went wrong is considered, the attention was rarely on the leadership and executive (mis)management. This changed with Longford and Professor Andrew Hopkins’ report on the resultant Royal Commission. In the US, this changed with Texas City and Deepwater Horizon. It needs to continue more and before the next disaster.

This session has been very conventional compared to other sessions but the first session of the day did set an almost unreachable benchmark. It was one of those sessions whose importance is not realised until seen in the context of the whole conference.

Kevin Jones

Categories business, chemicals, conference, construction, death, disruption, engineering, montara, OHS, risk, safety

6 thoughts on “Safety Convention becomes conventional”

  1. I think there are two things I believe the mining industry has done poorly (and these will probably been seen as controversial… or perhaps ‘disruptive’).

    Linking safety with income is the first. Money is not a motivator (have a look at Dan Pinks Drive at Money provides negative incentives i.e. people are more motivated to maintain their income, than gain more income through effort, if their income level is such that it is acceptable to them. Also, if they achieve a ‘safety bonus’ without any significant added ‘personal’ effort then it becomes an entitlement rather than an incentive. That sense of entitlement can promulgate to be reason for not reporting incidents because ‘why should I lose my bonus just because you got hurt’. So potentially a secret squirrel mentality evolves because they don’t want to lose their stash of nuts. Money doesn’t translate to emotional investment and only incentive systems that promotes a meritocracy for positive safety behaviour, one not financially driven, can achieve a fundamental emotive investment by workers.

    Secondly, and probably the most controversial, is the promotion of ‘Zero Harm’. This gilded calf has been set as the goal of many large corporations, but none can provide reasoning for it beyond motherhood statements that seem more for the mouths of their executives than for the hearts of their workers. Zero as a target is as demoralising as setting a number for how many people you will injure this year… when you fail to achieve either, you are simply saying ‘no point in trying harder till next year then’ (or whatever the period of measurement may be). Setting a target of zero means it is a fait accompli that you will eventually fail and this can only demoralise those involved in trying to achieve that target. Drop the injury numbers game and focus more simply on things that will be effective in managing the risks… for example, look at where injuries are coming from and then set a target for the number of engineering solutions you can come up with to resolve risks causing the injuries (focus on eliminate, substitute or isolate… I know engineering is a 4th level control but the first three will probably need you to engage in some sort or engineering… of equipment; the workplace; the work processes; etc).

    Safety needs to challenge the status quo, even if that status quo is institutions it has set up in the past.

    Revise, rethink and reinvent.

    PS. Regards Critical Controls, this isn’t a new concept. It’s been a part of food safety for decades. Referred to as HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points). Rather than at controlling all risks, it looks at the fundamental junctures in a process where controls can be most effective in eliminating the most critical risks. My wife is a Catering Manager in the private health industry and if we think we have some legislative hurdles to jump over, believe me, theirs are much higher! To quote the below…
    Food poisoning results, on average, in 5.4 million cases a year (including 120 deaths), 1.2 million visits to doctors, 300,000 prescriptions for antibiotics, and 2.1 million days of lost work each year. The estimated annual cost of food poisoning in Australia is $1.25 billion.
    ‘Tis the season to get food poisoning | Australasian Science Magazine,…2012/tis-season-get-food-poisoning.html

  2. Thanks Kevin. it’s great to read your reviews on the conference. It certainly gets your thinking more deeply about safety in the workplace. I have been particular interested in the management strategies around the mental health issues around the “fly in Fly out”.

  3. Kevin, I’ve enjoyed your livetweeting and quick blogging of the event. I was in this session, and I was more than disappointed by the material. The UQ people have co-opted the idea of critical controls (focus on high consequence hazards) to reinvent Behavior Based Safety. Since most of the controls they discuss are operator acts, just replace “control” with “behavior” and we’re right back to observations, check boxes, and “safety conversations” that are anything but genuine two way communication with the workforce.

    This is not innovation. It’s regression – reinventing the square wheel.

  4. So again mining gets the rap for being dangerous, but the Safe work Australia has it in 6th place for the last few years and had it not been for ABS statistical changes some years ago it would be even lower down the list.

    Granted no fatality is acceptable, but when are we going to focus on the braoder bigger issues? If you look at the Safework Aust breakdown of causes, just count up how many in the top 15 have vehicles involve in them, both controlled and unattended – the unattended vehicles for work fatalities is really scary.

    We need to be mature enough in our profession to think more broadly. Imagine the howls and opposition if we imposed bigger penalties on agriculture, forestry, fishing, transport, warehousing, postal, construction, manufacturing – each group running mass protests – far better to have ciosnistent legislation.

    Maybe the requirement for senior personnel to keep up to date and adjust, amend, change processes, safety systems, etc., to take account of learning, as is essentially required under Harmonisation, is stillthe way to go- at least give it a chance to get bedded in.

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