Standards are often developed without the aim of enforcement

[Expansion on recent SafetyAtWorkBlog article regarding Standards]

It’s always going to present complications when a tech standard is magically converted into law by incorporating it into a regulation. And that happens whether it’s an AS/NZ tech standard or one produced in Europe.

The fundamental problem is that tech standards are often not produced with enforcement in mind.

The core questions that drafters for each type of document have to ask are fundamentally different. The law drafter has to constantly ask: “What am I demanding and why? Does what I’m demanding fit sensibly and reasonably within the scope of the powers I have? How does a person comply with what I’m demanding? How do I prove that person is not complying?” Very few elements of those questions need to be addressed when developing a technical guidance document.

This is what leads me to think that it’s wrong to defer to incorporating technical standards in regulations. That’s not to say that it is always wrong. When a tech standard, or even a section of it that’s incorporated, includes the best thinking on achieving a good outcome, and that outcome is pretty well universally accepted as the right one and no issues of achieving or proving compliance crop up, then incorporate away I say.

But I think there are just too many good reasons to make the default option recommending tech standards or the type of standard setting body in a code of practice. The absence of mandatory requirements in a code stops the punter (or a regulator) being confused by trying to understand a technical guidance document in the context of mandatory requirements.

The code of practice route for applying tech standards also has that excellent element of letting the best thinking apply to a given problem; given that codes allow people to choose alternatives that are comparable to a tech standard recommended in a code. This is critical. When people know what type of standard or standard setting body an enforcement agency has confidence in, then the global state of knowledge can be brought to bear on a safety problem. That has got to be always a good thing.

I don’t see any reason for Standards Australia to give the game away because they are increasingly not having their productions transformed into law. All strength to their arm in fact. There’s no reason Standards Australia shouldn’t aim to be produce world’s best practice and thinking on safety solutions. Everyone gains from that.

Col Finnie

OHS writing is awful too often

We’ve all done it: slipped into auto-mode when putting together OH&S documentation for a punter.  Cut and paste, slam together a whole bunch of references, lots of assumptions that the reader will “get it’”. 

Cutting to the chase- April 2009 revision #2_Page_1And we’ve all probably seen one of those sets of OH&S documents for a safety management system that impresses only by its thickness.  Packed with stock phrases that make us OH&S lot feel all comfy, but leave the punter scratching their head over what the hell we are on about and what it is they are actually expected to do.

I plead guilty to having done that occasionally.  But it grates on me when I re-read something I’ve done from the past that has all those lazy characteristics that bad OH&S writing can drop into; particularly grating since I’ve becoming increasingly dismayed at the frustration punters have with OH&S and how it seems so impenetrable.

A few years ago I put together a guide on writing OH&S stuff (mostly focussing on guidance material).  I’ve altered it a bit to fit all sorts of OH&S writing but it is available for download (and free) by clicking on the image on this post.

Feel free to use it.  If you’re going to quote bits from it in your own stuff I just ask that I be acknowledged as the author.

Col Finnie

Guarding – last line of defence

Guards around power tools or over moving parts of equipment (e.g. covers over compressor pulleys) are there for seriously good reasons. Injuries and deaths from people getting cut or caught in machinery keep happening all the time.

It’s a common misunderstanding that bits of clothes caught in moving machinery can’t be that dangerous, after all cloth rips doesn’t it? Wrong.

A loose bit of overall sleeve caught in between a pulley and pulley belt is unlikely to rip. It will have an arm or hand mangled in a micro second. Nip points on equipment can catch skin.  A de-gloved hand, where a pinch of skin is caught in machinery and the skin is ripped off the hand is as ugly as it sounds.

Do regular checks of things like angle grinders and moving parts of equipment to make sure the guards originally fitted are still in place and doing the job they have to.  People will remove guards.

Have a policy that when guards are removed to do repair or maintenance work on equipment the guards are refitted as soon as those sort of jobs are done.

Monitor use of power tools in the workshop.  Stop any work being done with power tools when the guard has been removed.

Don’t consider that a guard isn’t necessary if an operator is using some other sort of personal protective gear (e.g. using protective eye gear with a bench grinder that has no fitted shield in front of the grinder wheel).  Treat safety as a thing that works best in layers. Murphy’s Law never rests.  One level of safety protection will always fail at the wrong time.

Do regular checks on all guards on tools and equipment.  Make it a specific check. Include an evaluation of whether equipment that can catch clothes or part of a body is properly guarded.  Modern equipment designers are generally pretty good at making sure guards are fitted where they need to be, older gear is not so well designed.  If it seems entirely possible for a person to get caught by a moving bit of equipment look at having a guard made and fitted: use a specialist to do that.

Readers are at liberty to use this stuff as they see fit, but acknowledgement of the author and the source (i.e. SafetyatWorkBlog) is expected. Contact Kevin Jones first if ya wanna use it. Cheers.

Col Finnie

Insights into crisis decision-making and communications – Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission

There’s an opportunity to follow the hearings of the Victorian Royal Commission on last summer’s horrendous bushfires via a live web stream. Here is the link to the Commission’s home page: The “live stream” link on that page takes you to a live broadcast of the hearings underway at the time.

Fortunately, the catastrophe of the summer’s bushfires don’t happen often (unfortunately, the enormity of some people lighting fires does happen too often). What is even more rare is for us to be able to listen to first-hand witness experiences of decision-making in extreme conditions and to gain insights from listening to those experiences.

I often have the Royal Commission’s live stream running in the background while doing other work. I do that because I’d prefer to hear the witnesses reports directly. Of course, there will be a final report, but hearing the tone and context of the questions and answers are the sort of things that can be very difficult to recreate in a written report.

Monitoring the live stream is highly recommended for all safety professionals; doubly so for those people who work in larger businesses or organizations. A rare chance to observe and compare decision-making processes and lines of communication in complex situations to see what did and didn’t work.

Col Finnie

What a good safety management system looks like

I’m a big fan of minimising the rehashing of OH&S guides. In my WorkSafe Victoria days (the latter ones when I was doing guidance material editing) I did what I could to encourage adoption of other people’s good work.

cover indg275[1]And just today I found an example of a British Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guide on what a sexy SMS looks like that I think is about as good as it gets; particularly in the context of giving an OH&S newbie an excellent sense of what it means to deal with OH&S in a systematic way.

Loved the focus on critical questions to ask about key elements of an SMS; as opposed to a common bad habit of doing the thing I call a “knowledge dump” – asking every question you can think of that has any sort of relationship to the topic at hand.

Loved the way the guide related smart SMS evaluation to real-world business decisions. I gotta say (obviously with the benefit of hindsight) that governments are pretty hopeless at “relating” to business in guidance material. It’s a waste of white space to keep telling a reader why it’s awful to hurt workers. It’s a waste because the reader wouldn’t be a reader if they weren’t concerned about that.

The HSE guide takes the approach of comparing SMS decisions to day-to-day business decisions. Take for example these questions from the guide: “How much are you spending on health and safety and are you getting value for money? How much money are you losing by not managing health and safety?”  These are just a couple of examples of business-savvy questions in the guide. They show the author knows full well that crappy OH&S  management costs big bucks and they cut straight to the chase on questions about costs and losses. But, cleverly, the author leaves it at that, and includes other business related questions. A good move.

I’ve found (and I have to say I was surprised to find this out) that my clients – almost all small businesses – are not “consumed” by profitability. They want their businesses to work, they want to be able to pay their bills, but I’ve found that there is lots of angst about hurting workers. (Hmm…rather than go on anymore about this topic of small business motivators for safety, I think I’ll leave it for a separate post.) Back to the guide.

What is a real stand-out in the guide is the minimal use of the lazy adjectives like “suitable” and “appropriate”. We in OH&S-World use those mostly useless adjectives way too much in guidance material. The author of the guide avoids them like the plague. Grab yourself a free copy from ttp:// .

Col Finnie

Safety Innovation – doing the hard yards

Kevin’s stuff on the latest Safe Work Australia Awards got me thinking about an issue I have had a bee in me bonnet about for a while now.  It’s safety innovation, and the glaring hole in Australia for support for the hardest innovation of the lot – safety product development.  By “safety product” I’m specifically referring to development of equipment or systems intended for sale.

As far as I can discover, Australian OH&S awards tend to focus on the entirely worthy thing of endorsing solutions that are readily adopted and are ideas that have a record of successful implementation.  There is no doubt that the safety award system finds excellent ideas used all over the place.  But the key issue here is that these innovations, relatively speaking, sell themselves.  They have been implemented and are proven “winners” in the sense of being a successful safety idea.

What seems to be missing is support for a small-scale product developer who has an excellent product prototype that hasn’t the convenience of a proven safety track record.  I’ve had the privilege (and sometimes the terrible angst) of trying to help out safety product developers, solo- or micro-businesses that are plugging away at getting a marketable product up and running.

Any product development is expensive, and in the absence of a larger company budget to “take the hits”, the small operator has to wear lots of pain to get a product to the point that it can be put on the market.

General support for all sorts of product development is often made available by various government agencies.  In Victoria, Innovic is the government organization that does good work in helping promote good ideas.  They have a specific award program for very new ideas called “The Next Big Thing”.  

It’s a great system, that invites applications from around the world but it’s still limited, by virtue of it (like the current OH&S regulator safety awards) being mostly an endorsement.  And, sure, a developer can benefit from endorsement. But from my experience, the small operator is mostly in need of advice and funding to keep a product idea alive.  This is where I think the OH&S regulatory agencies could really have a positive impact on safety product innovation in Australia.

I’m suggesting that contributions from each of the Australian OH&S agencies to a fund to support safety product developers with a specialised new product award could be managed by Safe Work Australia.  That fund would have to be fair dinkum.  It would need to have the resources to draw on expertise from product development specialists.  It would have to have prizes that matter.  Options could include funding to have winners attend the very excellent programs much like the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS) provided around Australia.) The award system could include in the prize a fully funded 12-month part time course that does a similar thing to NEISS. 

But that is all very well, but a good idea is a worthless idea if it can’t be funded.  Cash is the thing a product developer needs.  Ten thousand dollar prizes is about the sort of cash I think would start to come close to being useful.  Keep in mind that taking out second mortgages on homes and other severe financial burdens are par for the course for a product developer.  Ten grand is not going to keep a developer afloat, but it may well be the difference between an idea withering vs it being made available to everyone.

And I recognise this sort of support for people trying to get a product on the market is high risk.  If a product development program got up there’s bound to be some failures and that has to be accepted as the cost of taking risks.  But maybe it’s time for the OH&S regulators to stick their neck out in this area?  Australians have had a pretty good history of coming up with new ideas, and there is lots of rhetoric about backing product innovation. It would be excellent to see more examples of regulators being prepared to do the hard yards on safety product development.

Col Finnie

Falling under the safety radar

The tricky thing about getting safety right is making sure you are on top of where the dangers are. One danger that seems to be consistently “off the safety radar” for lots of workplaces, particularly small businesses, is falls.

Here’s some key stuff you need to be looking at:

  1. Rule #1 for all safety problems is to try and eliminate the danger first. For fall hazards this means; have you exploited all the available storage space that can be reached from the ground (i.e. without the need to use a ladder)? Lots of places have all the ground level storage space they need, but because of its convenient access that space gets filled with junk. Turfing out the junk to exploit the ground level storage areas is the key thing to do. Ground level storage – good. Elevated storage spaces – not so good.
  2. Step ladders are used a lot to get access to high shelves, and the ordinary type of step ladder is notoriously unstable the further up the ladder you go. If people have to be on the last couple of steps, or worse still, right on top of a step ladder to retrieve stuff from high racking, then you have a serious injury or fatality waiting to happen at your business. (WorkSafe Victoria has reported deaths of workers who have fallen off step ladders.)
  3. Consider reconfiguring your storage racking so that the highest shelves are all the same height so you can use a proper order picking ladder to get access to those high shelves (i.e. ones at 2 metres or above). (WorkSafe has a guide on order picking) Consider getting lower versions of this type of ladder for middle height racks.
  4. Most Australian laws will say you have to do very specific things about stopping falls if workers are working at 2 metres and above. But keep in mind deaths have happened for falls as low as 1 metre, they are more common than you’d think.
  5. Lots of workplaces use mezzanine or above-room spaces to store things. First, see tip #1. If you have to use those spaces make sure a) that the floor of those spaces are safe to walk on; b) have guard rails around the perimeter; and c) that the way to get up to those space is as safe as it can be. It’s not safe to have only one hand free to get up or down a ladder.

Preventing falls is an excellent example of why the common legal duty to first look to eliminate a hazard or risk is a clever thing. I get the sense that lots of people quickly dismiss elimination as a viable option; it shouldn’t be the case. Hard thinking about elimination solutions needs to be first cab off the rank in risk control decisions, particularly when it comes to preventing falls.

Col Finnie