New Zealand railways, red tape, politics and workplace deaths

cover of NZ RailOn 28 April 2013, New Zealand lawyer, Hazel Armstrong, published a 48-page book on how workplace fatalities and the management of the NZ rail industry has been related to politics and economics.

This is an ideological position more than anything else and the evidence is thin in much of this short book but there is considerable power in the description of the manipulation of occupational health and safety regulations and oversight during the political privatisation of the NZ rail sector.  Many countries have privatised previously nationalised, or government-owned, enterprises usually on the argument of productivity and efficiency increases.  Armstrong argues that these arguments were used to justify breaking the trade union dominance of the rail industry. Continue reading “New Zealand railways, red tape, politics and workplace deaths”

National Workers Memorial opens

Yesterday Australia opened its National Workers Memorial in Canberra.  The Workplace Relations Minister  Bill Shorten, spoke at the ceremony with, largely, an edited and reduced version of the speech he presented in Brisbane earlier last week.  The Canberra speech dropped  all the ANZAC Day references and spoke about the importance of remembering.

“By erecting this monument, we tie the lives and memories and families of thousands of Australians to this place.  We stand here in this place as a mark of respect from a civilised community as an expression of failure and regret.  That’s what all memorials are, and this one is no different.  This is a symbol of the mourning for those lost too early from our tribe Australia.” Continue reading “National Workers Memorial opens”

How can one learn from OHS mistakes if those mistakes are hidden?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) regulatory agencies have existed for decades, originally with an enforcement role but increasingly aimed to prevention and education.  It is fair to say the “2nd generation” of OHS regulators in Australia appeared in the 1980s.  It is also fair to expect to be able to readily access the corporate memory and prosecutorial activity of the regulators, particularly since the growth in the Internet. Very recently WorkSafe Victoria reviewed its online database of OHS prosecutions excising prosecution summaries prior to 2012.  This decision is a major weakening of the “state of knowledge” about workplace safety in this State, a decision that some have described as outrageous.  How can one learn from mistakes if those mistakes are not made available?

Continue reading “How can one learn from OHS mistakes if those mistakes are hidden?”

Social media manipulation of OHS statistics

Recently SafetyatWorkBlog criticised the focus on fatality statistics as a measure of success. Workplace fatalities are a convenient measure but can seriously misrepresent the status of workplace safety by ignoring psychosocial hazards and occupational illnesses. An infographic came through the SafetyAtWorkBlog inbox this weekend which illustrates the unhelpful obsession with fatalities but, perhaps more importantly, the risks of social media.

OSHA-edited-v5This infographic from US firm Compliance and Safety (purposely unlinked) is slickly produced for social media and blogs but is fundamentally invalid. The title at the top is a ridiculous comparison. “Is OSHA a wasteful regulatory nightmare or common sense that saves lives?” The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may be wasteful but how can this be compared to the amorphous and self-serving concept of “common-sense”? The implication is that common sense equates to a free-market regulation of workplace safety. The failure of the free-market approach to occupational safety, and to the environment, many decades ago is exactly the reason why regulations were introduced. There were too many businesses exploiting workers and the environment by creating harm without accountability. Continue reading “Social media manipulation of OHS statistics”

The smell of ‘corruption’

Such are the warning signs

It stopped at 2.32 pm of an ordinary day.   One string of events ended abruptly at the pinch point of a groaning conveyor belt when his arm was ripped off.  Do you think of Swiss cheese models of risk alignment?  Of complexity or failure to learn?  Of the Moura coal mine disaster, the Longford oil and gas plant disaster, the Baker report and the BP Texas City refinery fatalities, of 29 miners killed in the desolate and terrorising Pike River coal mine, NZ, 2010?  Do you think of precariousness lurking at work, of leadership, of productivity?

For me this was the 5th arm I was personally aware of disappearing violently at work, generating years of withdrawal and solitude unrecorded in any OHS statistics.  In that time I had also observed hundreds of missing or useless machine guards.  Such a well known and easy hazard to fix.  What exactly is the problem, what does it indicate about OHS generally, and what may go some way towards practical improvements? Continue reading “The smell of ‘corruption’”

It can take a long time to learn how to manage workplace safety

On 21 December 2012 in the South Australian Industrial Court, Amcor Packaging (Australia) was fined $A96,000 over a breach of the occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.  That type of sentence appears frequently in SafetyAtWorkBlog but the difference this time is that it is the third similar OHS prosecution and fine applied to Amcor in South Australia.  Amcor Packaging has had similar OHS problems in Queensland and Victoria.

According to a SafeWorkSA media release (not yet available online), the latest prosecution involved an incident in November 2010 where:

“Two workers were walking on conveyor rollers to guide an unstable stack of cardboard when one inadvertently stepped into a gap between the rollers. The female worker was then struck by the arm of an automated pallet sweeper, sustaining multiple fractures to her lower leg and ankle.”

Cover  from 2012_sairc_59In his judgment on the case, Industrial Magistrate Stephen Lieschke said there was no risk assessment at the plant and a lack of engineering controls.  The two previous Amcor offences in South Australia also related to inadequate engineering controls.


Magistrate Lieschke also said that

“The two prior offences are highly relevant to this sentencing process, as the court is left with a low level of confidence that Amcor will not commit any future offences…..,”

In June 2008 law firm Holding Redlich mentioned an increase in an OHS penalty against Amcor by the Court of Appeals: Continue reading “It can take a long time to learn how to manage workplace safety”

The safety role of the Construction Compliance Code Unit

Recently SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to spend some time with the Director of the Victorian Government’s Construction Compliance Code Unit (CCCU), Nigel Hadgkiss. The CCCU and Hadgkiss have been in the Victorian media recently in terms of the CCCU investigation of industrial relations matters in several Grocon construction projects and some discussions with LendLease but an often overlooked, yet significant, element of the Construction Compliance Code is the occupational health and safety obligations. The CCCU has been working on early drafts of a Health and Safety Management Plan (HSMP) with which all those operating under the Code will need to comply.

Many of the questions SafetyAtWorkBlog posed stemmed from a presentation Hadgkiss made at a breakfast seminar on which SafetyAtWorkBlog previously wrote. That article is recommended for background and context.

Nigel Hadgkiss advised that since 1 July 2012 71 companies and associated companies have “signed up” to the Compliance Code with a full awareness that OHS is a key element of compliance.

OHS obligations of unsuccessful tenderers

The Code requires companies tendering for Victorian Government construction work to follow specific OHS obligations, whether they are the successful tenderers or not. In some ways this seem unfair.

Hadgkiss believes that the tenderers to government contracts are well aware of the safety obligations from the outset. From that point they are contractually bound whether they are successful or not.

Continue reading “The safety role of the Construction Compliance Code Unit”

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