The absurd “2-metre rule”

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Recently a colleague spoke to me about the absurdity of the OHS regulations on falling from heights. Australia has a “default” position that, in reality, establishes a 2 metre benchmark for fall prevention initiatives. In practice, workers take it that any work on a ladder where the “grounded” foot is higher than 2 metres from the surrounding area as requiring a risk assessment and, most likely, some fall protection equipment.
My colleague argued that the benchmark should be where a worker’s head is over 2 metres above the floor when working in an elevated position. This is based on the logic, my colleague says fact, that when someone falls, serious injury and death usually result from the worker’s head hitting the floor.
The advocation of a 2 metre criterion operates contrary to the hierarchy of controls which sets the aim of eliminating the risks associated with working at any height. If Australia is moving to a regime of nationally uniform OHS legislation, these laws should be reviewed so that there is also national consistency in safety advice.
As in many other circumstances the UK’s HSE seems to have its act together on this workplace hazard by emphasising the work tasks rather than getting bogged down on a measurement – a measurement that seems to have little science or logic to support it.

Politicians, Stress and Bulimia

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Overnight English MP John Prescott “came out” as a bulimia sufferer. Or so the story goes in the British press. But the real story for the occupational health and safety profession is that Prescott’s doctors suggest the contributory factor – stress.

The Telegraph is a little more precise and says that it is unclear why bulimia occurs, that there may be a genetic trait and it often exists “alongside other mental health problems, for example, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and anxiety”.

The Telegraph also lists potential risk factors as “social and cultural pressures regarding appearance, bullying, low self-esteem and family dysfunction”.

Our reactions to the supposed link between stress and bulimia needs to be carefully considered given there are considerable contrary, or complementary, factors. We should bear this in mind when dubious workplace well-being promoters come knocking on the office doors.

I would suggest that Prescott’s main control measure for bulimia, stress and a range of health issues, including diabetes, was that he left the front bench in 2007.

On the other factors of bulimia, the social and cultural pressures, outside of Britain, Prescott is still only known as that guy who punched someone in a crowd, and that had something to do with food as well – a far more telling manifestation of a stress response, I would have thought.

Is tripartite consultation still the way to go?

Australia's recently announced review into model OHS laws is firmly bound by the tripartite consultative structure formalised by Lord Robens in the early 1970s and comprising government, uniuons and employers. This is a sensbile structure as it involves all of the major influences in Australian workplaces. But just how relevant is it now, thirty years later?

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Australia’s recently announced review into model OHS laws is firmly bound by the tripartite consultative structure formalised by Lord Robens in the early 1970s and comprising government, uniuons and employers. This is a sensbile structure as it involves all of the major influences in Australian workplaces. But just how relevant is it now, thirty years later?

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Safety, Maintenance and Business Continuity

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America and Europe have a huge advantage over Australia – they know how to respond to a broad range of disasters. Australia has had its share of bushfires and cyclones but because the country is so large and the geology so stable, the large metropolitan centres of Sydney and Melbourne have been spared. This stability has led to less emphasis on the fragility of infrastructure by business operators than there should be.

America and Europe have a huge advantage over Australia – they know how to respond to a broad range of disasters. Australia has had its share of bushfires and cyclones but because the country is so large and the geology so stable, the large metropolitan centres of Sydney and Melbourne have been spared. This stability has led to less emphasis on the fragility of infrastructure by business operators than there should be.

In the Herald-Sun newspaper on 12 April 2008, there was a cover story on the organizational neglect of the State’s electrical infrastructure. This was emphasised recently when it took 6 days for many homes to have power restored after a serious storm, a storm that was of the level that Sydney experiences regularly and that the tropical areas of Australia and designed to withstand.

A government inquiry will be held into the delay but this is unnecessary. Privatised corporations are notoriously neglectful of the need to maintain infrastructure services as there is little profit in holding resources in reserve for large-scale disasters. Numerous inquiries into the disasters on the privatised rail networks in England have shown the corporate values of privatised transport companies, some of whom have investments in Australia.

The poor and unsafe conditions of the infrastructure are not the fault of the companies if we take it that their raison d’etre is to make profit. But we cannot extend the same understanding to governments who forsake the public good for the sake of an improved bottom line.

Poor maintenance leads to unsafe conditions which lead to disasters. As safety professionals we need to stress that adequate levels of maintenance are a core part of any preventative strategy. Not only will it reduce the social impact of any disaster but it maintains a robust corporate economy, reduces employees’ exposure to trauma and establishes a company as an important community asset.

Safety Professionals and Social Safety

Many OHS professionals however come from academic, or office or technical backgrounds, who have mostly experienced industrial relations as barriers to the sensible safety control measures they recommend. Frequently union and employee stances don’t make OHS sense but they make perfectly sound IR sense. It is this dichotomy that is behind those safety professionals and employers who accuse unions of “using” OHS to further industrial relations ends.

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Many OHS professionals however come from academic, or office or technical backgrounds, who have mostly experienced industrial relations as barriers to the sensible safety control measures they recommend. Frequently union and employee stances don’t make OHS sense but they make perfectly sound IR sense. It is this dichotomy that is behind those safety professionals and employers who accuse unions of “using” OHS to further industrial relations ends.

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