Workers Compensation changes in Australia

In The Australian on 10 June 2008, Paul Kerin , Professorial Fellow of the Melbourne Business School writes on the rescuing Australia’s various workers’ compensation schemes by removing any state involvement in the insurance schemes.  He makes a strong case but writes a few peculiar comments that need consioderation. He says “US workplace deaths would be one-third…

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Economic fallout of Apache Energy pipeline explosion

 

According to an AAP report published in The Australian on 6 June 2008, Paul Adams, head of research at DJ Carmichael, spoke about the impact of the Apache Energy explosion.

“If damage to the Apache plant turned out to be significant, the incident had the potential to “hit WA’s mining industry hard”, Mr Adams said.

Apache could face a massive compensation bill if the incident was found to be the result of negligent maintenance practices, Mr Adams said.”

Further details emerged about the damage from the explosion.  Apparently at least three of Apache Energy’s online pipelines were on fire.  Apache could not say how long the shut down of the plant would continue for as the site needs to be further investigated.

Incident scene 5 June 2008

 

 

Two avoidable electrical fatalities

In February 2000, McDonald’s Australia Limited was fined $120,000 in the Industrial Relations Commission in Sydney and the lessor of the Wollongong restaurant, McDonald’s Properties (Australia) Pty. Ltd, was fined $150,000. Lyndhurst Trading Co Pty. Ltd, leased the restaurant and owned and operated the clamshell grills which electrocuted 19-year old, and was fined $40,000. 

According to a report by Jennie Mansfield, senior associate with Blake Dawson Waldron in October 2000

Michael Johnston was a 19 year old employee of Lyndhurst Pty Limited (the employer), a franchisee operating a McDonald’s restaurant in Wollongong on the South Coast of New South Wales. Johnston … was fatally electrocuted while cleaning behind a clamshell grill – standard equipment in McDonald’s restaurants.

Since installation, the grill had been pulled away from the wall every night for cleaning, and over time the cable attaching it to the power outlet contractors and fast food had become abraded. There was no accessible isolation switch in place and Johnston was electrocuted when he touched the exposed inner core of the cable while the power was still connected.

I was reminded of Michael Johnston’s death when I was told of a successful prosecution in New South Wales on 2 June 2008.

A Salamander Bay resort hotel has been fined $150,000 and its three directors $12,000 each following the electrocution of a 13-year-old boy at the hotel’s pool in December 2002.

The local boy and a friend were playing in the Salamander Shores Hotel pool without the permission of the staff when a tennis ball was thrown outside the pool fence.

The 13-year-old received an electric shock when climbing back over the pool fence to retrieve the ball, and died later of his injuries.

A WorkCover investigation concluded that the boy had stood on a corroded section of pipe carrying electrical wiring, which collapsed and cut through the insulation. 

Both situations involve a lack of adequate maintenance and equipment checking. Two deaths because of the invisible, but foreseeable, hazard of electricity and inadequate management.

Michael Johnstone had been a McDonald’s employee for 2 weeks. The 13-year-old was simply playing with a mate.

New York Crane Safety Podcast

On 3 June 2008, Brian Lehrer of radio station WNYC conducted a discussion on the issues of occupational health safety as it relates to New York City’s second crane collapse in a couple of months and a sharp rise in construction deaths so far in 2008.

The speakers are very critical of the Federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration and the resources provided to it by the Federal Government.  Speakers also raise the issues of the rate of construction, the skill levels of inspectors, shortage of building equipment, union membership, in passing, the legal status of migrant workers, and the assessment criteria of inspectors on construction sites.

The resource levels and strategic planning matters raised in this discussion echo many of the debates that are occuring in Europe and Australia.

The podcast is available for download by clicking HERE

Public Servant Workload – Part 2

In today’s Age newspaper Dr Mirko Bagaric takes the Australian Prime Minister to task on the matter of hypocrisy and how his actions now are beginning to reveal his character.  However Bagaric, makes some comments about public servant workloads that are relevant.

“Rudd has an important project. It is to run the country in a manner that best provides an opportunity for each of us to flourish. And he is passionate about his project. Last week he boasted that frankly, he does believe in “burning the midnight oil”. And good on him. That’s his choice.

But it is not his choice to expect others to share his fanaticism. Stung by leaks relating to the FuelWatch scheme and responding to complaints of overwork by public servants, he said: “I’ve got news for the public service — there’ll be more. The work ethic of this Government will not decrease, it will increase.”

Almost universally regarded as being overpaid, lazy and inefficient, public servants evoke no public sympathy.

Yet, they too have interests. They are public servants, not public slaves. Many of them have families. Many of them have other priorities.

Rudd has spectacularly failed the exploitation test.”

Cultural change is most effective when it is introduced from the top level of management.  The Prime Minister is displaying his own work ethic but, as Bagaric, states it is unfair to impose this on others. 

Pipeline Explosion in Western Australia

Western Australia’s gas supply has been disrupted due to an explosion at the Apache Energy off Dampier (shown below) on 3 June 2008.  Thirty per cent of the gas supply for that state is out of action.

There were no injuries and personnel were evacuated safely. The explosion site is pictured below.

This explosion presents important energy supply questions for the Western Australian government but, in the context of this blog, there are several paths to follow.  One will be to watch how Apache Energy handles the disaster management and business continuity.  The government will, undoubtedly, begin an inquiry and it will be interesting to note the assessment team structure and reporting lines. 

Another perspective will be to watch all of this evolve in comparison with the Esso Longford explosion in Victoria in 1998 which took out domestic and industrial gas supplies for almost two weeks. This incident lead to a Royal Commission. Compare and contrast.

    

 

Roadside drug testing of commercial drivers

On 1 June 2008, the South Australian Minister for Road Safety, Carmel Zollo, announced an increased enforcement campaign against drug-affected drivers

In her media statement, Ms Zollo says

“When people take drugs and drive, they are taking a deadly risk – and the worst possible outcome of such irresponsible behaviour is a tragic crash. Drug testing is relatively new and we need to do all we can to change attitudes – we need people to know they will pay a price, one way or the other – and we need to convince them the best thing to do is to stay off the roads.”

Given the large number of commercial vehicles and drivers on the road, I asked the Minister’s office how this enforcement process and increased fines would apply to drivers who are found to be drug-affected in a work vehicle or undertaking work tasks.  I haven’t had a response from the Minister but I put the same scenario to the SafeWork SA.

A spokesman for SafeWork SA told me that “the situation regarding the new drug driving laws in SA doesn’t change a whole lot as far as [SafeWork SA is] concerned. Such offences would fall under the Road Traffic Act in the first instance, and would be handled by SA Police.”

He emphasises that this issue 

“…is another compelling reason for employers who do have staff on the road to ensure a policy is in place regarding alcohol and other drugs in the workplace. This will ensure that all workers are clear about what expectations exist in relation to drugs and alcohol on the job, and what the consequences will be for any breaches.  Such a policy would assist employers in managing their legal obligation to identify hazards, assess risks and implement appropriate control measures for those risks.”

I agree and appreciate the fact that he did not say, as many employees and managers assert, that having a policy makes the workplace safer. Having a policy does not even imply compliance, only action and enforcement can achieve that.

What his comments do indicate though is that a workplace hazard that OHS professionals are expected to manage goes through several processes before it reaches, if at all, the relevant OHS authority and regulator.  Is it any reason that the drug driving of workplace vehicles gets little attention when a major motivator of change, legal OHS action from a government regulator or at least the threat of action, is not occurring in the OHS context.

The driver penalty structure only applies within the general driving conditions controlled by the Road Act even though a driver could be severely impaired in a mobile workplace. The workplace context applies in other safety legislation such as rail safety and mining safety, why is not the work context of a positive roadside drug test being applied?  On the issue of impairment, there is little difference between a white delivery van driver and 18-wheeler.  Both can kill others and themselves.

Perhaps the Australian National OHS Review can consider occupational issues in other traditionally public areas of safety – security staff in nightclubs? level crossings?

New seismology report on Crandall Canyon mine disaster

I reported on the August 6 2007 Crandall Canyon mine disaster in my OHS publications last year as there seemed to be some similarities between that disaster, in which 6 workers and 3 rescuers died, and the events at Beaconsfield Mine in Tasmania of April 2006.  At the time seismological events were mentioned as a possible cause of the mine collapses.

According to an August 17 2007 AFP report in Safety At Work magazine:

“Controversy has swirled over the precise cause of the initial cave-in, with mine owner Robert Murray insisting it was the result of a powerful 3.9 magnitude earthquake. However, scientists at monitoring stations in Salt Lake City have suggested the seismic activity was caused by mining excavation.

The University of Utah Seismograph Station said the cave-in yesterday had been recorded as a 1.6 magnitude event at 6.39pm (1239 AEST). Spokesman Lee Siegel told the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper the nature of the seismic waves measured indicated it was a “mining-induced settling of the mountain”.

A seismological report dated May 2 2008 says that there are indications

“…that most of the seismic wave energy of this event was generated by the mine collapse rather than a naturally-occurring earthquake.”

A June 2 2008 TV report on KSL shows old footage of the mine owner, Bob Murray, denying that the seismic event was made by minework processes. There is now a mountain (or coalmine) of evidence to the contrary.

Of interest on this issue of mine safety are two general statements issued by the CEO of CONSOL Energy shortly after the mine collapse and later to the Utah Mine Safety Commission in January 2008.

Law Review or Safety Review

The issues paper of National Review into Model OHS Laws is a peculiar beast for several reasons. Firstly, it is a review of legislation and restricts itself to the OHS Act. However it wants submissions on other safety legislation that has“interdependence” such as road safety, rail safety and others. That is a very big ask…

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Times when work/life balance should be sacrificed

Further to my post on public service workloads, the Finance Minister, Lindsay Tanner, author of the 2003 book on work/life balance, has stated on television (if you get through the fuel price discussion) that 

“There’s always going to be some disgruntled people in a large organisation,” he said. “Whether there’s truth in what they say, who knows. You just don’t know. But I believe that things will settle down to a degree. We’ve got a big agenda, we expect a lot of ourselves, we expect a lot of people working with us but it’s for the betterment of the nation, it’s for getting better outcomes for Australia.”

The challenge facing the government at the moment is that it is confusing productivity with hours of work. And I don’t accept that there is a difference between those who work in the civil service and those in private companies in terms of the health and safety risks associated with hours of work.

In today’s The Australian newspaper, John McDonnell, a public policy consultant, mentions the inconsistency in the government’s approach in passing.  He says

“leaving aside the inconsistency between the Government’s view of work-life balance for the public service as opposed to that for the rest of the community…”

Lindsay Tanner has written about work-life balance yet is not prepared to apply his knowledge to the industry he works in.  His comments above, and similar ones from his colleagues, are the first time that I have heard patriotism used in relation to workload. I wonder when the public service workers compensation claims begin to appear for stress-related disorders and depression, whether they will be rejected on the basis of “working for the betterment of the nation”.