Asbestos – out of sight but not out of mind in Asia

By Melody Kemp

Hmong uplander with child. Source: Melody Kemp

Asbestos resembles polio. Just when you think it’s beaten, it returns like some ghoul. If you think this is overly dramatic, last year Laos was struck by a polio outbreak. This year we learned that Laos now ranks amongst the globe’s major importers of asbestos. And it’s driven by cynical market forces targeting poorer nations, inadvertently promoted by international aid. Continue reading “Asbestos – out of sight but not out of mind in Asia”

OHS and Professor Lin Fritschi

Professor Lin Fritschi is a cancer epidemiologist with a particular interest in occupational causes of cancer. Lin’s work often pops up in the occupational health and safety (OHS) sector and research journals but SafetyAtWorkBlog has never met her and wondered what she thought about OHS.

This article is the latest in the series of hearing different voices from academics and prominent workplace safety people.

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Safety Roadshow provides good OHS tips

Last week Australia benefited from a safety roadshow based around screenings of the Deepwater Horizon movie and post-film discussions with Cheryl MacKenzie who was appointed as the lead investigator by the US Chemical Safety Board, and by Peter Wilkinson, an adviser to CSB’s investigation of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The seminars were popular with full sessions in some capital cities.

The format of such seminars is attractive as the film can be used as an icebreaker and/or the pivot point for discussions.  MacKenzie and Wilkinson’s discussion focused on oil and gas safety scenarios but there was enough non-specific information for take-aways.

More such events would be a good idea perhaps using a range of the available safety-related documentaries that are released, almost, ever year such as

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OHS and Marcus Cattani

Marcus Cattani at the cricket
Marcus Cattani at the cricket

Dr Marcus Cattani, is a Senior Lecturer in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) within the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University and a leading Australian OHS consultant. SafetyAtWorkBlog endeavoured to glimpse the person behind the qualifications by asking Dr Cattani some safety-related questions and he was kind enough to respond.

What attracted you to looking at workplace health and safety?  Did you fall into it or always have an interest?

I was lucky enough to find out about WHS when I was around 20 years old, during my environmental science based college course.  At that time, in the late 1980’s the trend for people finishing my course was to work in asbestos management or in Council environmental teams, neither of which really excited me!

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Smart drinks may be dumb safety

Puzzle head brain mental health symbol idea conceptFatigue and impairment are two of the most difficult workplace hazards to address.  These are further complicated when they are contextualised in workplace mental health.  So it is concerning when an entrepreneur produces a product that is meant to help address mental fatigue but that may also mask occupational health and safety (OHS) actions that are required to provide truly sustainable workplace improvement.

The Australian Financial Review (AFR, $), on 12 December 2016, reported on the establishment of a “smart drinks” company called Shine+.  AFR reporter Misa Han, wrote:

“Shine+ is one of many companies who are trying to take advantage of professionals and students who take drugs in order to enhance their performance and brain functions.”

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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

SWMS on hairdressing is not enough

Part of the reason that workplace safety seems complicated to many business owners is that, sometimes, occupational health and safety (OHS) consultants over-complicate safety.  Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) are safety documents designed for high risk work activities that this blog has written about previously. Recently SWMS have begun to be sold through a major office stationery…

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Front page drug testing article is marketing

An article last week touched briefly on the issue of the effect of synthetic drugs in the workplace in the context of drug and alcohol testing.  The Australian newspaper on 28 September 2015 contained a front page article (paywalled) about mining company concerns over synthetic drugs at work, however it is an article that deserves greater analysis before anyone considers this as part of an evidence base as it is creatively constructed and relies on statements from a toxicologist working for drug testing laboratory. Continue reading “Front page drug testing article is marketing”