Blue Card training needs a review

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Most workers meet OHS training through short courses, perhaps even inductions.  Few have the time, the desire of the finances to pursue a tertiary qualification.

Australia has recently achieved a uniformity in its “card system” of OHS training for construction workers.  The card concept originated from the Safety Passport used in some European industries and is intended to provide a common set of OHS skills to workers so as to reduce on-site induction time and costs.  It is a worthy initiative and has improved safety awareness on work sites however any training program needs to include self-improvement.

(A national OHS induction system should be part of the Australian Government’s response to the recommendations of the model OHS law review panel.)

Current training seems to have reached the point where too much is trying to be done in too little time. Blue Card training can be undertaken in 6 hours and covers over 50 workplace issues!!  Yes the training is only for “safety awareness” but 50 issues in around 5 hours is absurd unless the training runs something like

  • Smoking in the Workplace – DON’T DO IT
  • Job Safety Analysis – GOT TO HAVE ONE
  • Fatigue Management – GO TO BED EARLY

One would have to ask if this training is really worth it.  The main reason the training is offered at all is that it is a mandatory requirement for many worksites and the construction industry.  But what good is having a Blue Card if the training is too simple, too generic?

A universal/national level of safety awareness or induction would be ideal but the current system and its implementation leaves a lot to be desired.  Let’s hope that reform of this process is on the agenda of the new Safe Work Australia organisation.

Kevin Jones

Below are the components of a Blue Card safety awareness training program currently offered in Australia: 

Module 1: OSH – The Law, Your Employer and You

  • legislation, regulations, codes of practice, guidelines and standards
  • right to refuse work
  • responsibility for regulation by WorkSafe
  • general duties of care – public safety, employee, employer, manufacturers and suppliers
  • safety and health representatives and safety and health committees
  • resolution of safety and health issues
  • workplace policies and procedures
  • reporting of serious occurrences, injuries and hazards
  • workers’ compensation

Module 2: Managing Risks in the Workplace

  • understanding the meaning of hazard and risk
  • risk assessment/management
  • control methods for managing risks
  • job safety analysis worksheets
  • five steps to complete a JSA
  • emergency procedures and response plans
  • emergency situations
  • emergency response training

Module 3: Staying Safe in the Building and Construction Industry

  • employee responsibility
  • effects of shift work
  • how to manage the effects of shift work
  • fatigue
  • your personal alertness
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • depression
  • safety management systems
  • benefits of a safety management system
  • examples of safety rules – equipment and tool safety
  • performing high risk work
  • housekeeping
  • personal protective equipment
  • prevention of skin cancer, eye damage and mosquito born viruses
  • safe manual handling
  • alcohol and other drugs at the workplace
  • smoking
  • alarm systems and emergency exits/escape routes
  • responding to emergencies
  • fire equipment
  • first aid

Module 4: Environment and Other Considerations

  • the working environment and weather conditions
  • heat stress
  • hypothermia
  • safety signage
  • tag and lock out isolation procedures
  • environmental issues and responsibilities
  • vegetation
  • native fauna
  • water pollution
  • atmospheric pollution
  • entry into confined spaces
  • working at heights
  • safety rules for working on ladders
  • electrical safety
  • hazardous substances

Influenza – dilemma for OHS regulators

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SafetyAtWorkBlog has no expertise in the control of infectious diseases.  Any enquiries received on the issue are directed to the official information on government websites such as Australia’s Dept for Health & Ageing or the US Centre for Disease Control, or international authorities such as WHO.


But this creates a dilemma for OHS regulators.  If the regulator does nothing, it is seen as inactive – a bad thing.  Or the regulator can issue its own guidance on infection control – a good or bad thing.  It is an unenviable choice.

WorkSafe Victoria took the latter choice and issued their “OHS preparedness for an influenza pandemic: A guide for employers” in early May 2009.  The guide is not intended to be definitive and may be useful in the future but infectious outbreaks can move rapidly and, to some extent, this document is shutting the door after the horse has bolted, in expectation of the next “door”.

The guide mentions the following sources but it could be asked what is gained by contextualising these Australian documents? Why not just direct companies to the  raw documents?

pandemicinal-7091883e-236bready1The trap for producing localised guides is that recommendations may be made that are out-of-place, difficult to implement and, ultimately, question the credibility of the document.  WorkSafe fell for this trap by specifying some recommendations for the legitimate control measure of “social distancing”.

In its employers guide it makes the following recommendations:

“A primary transmission control measure is social distancing, that is reducing and restricting physical contact and proximity. Encourage social distancing through measures such as:

  • allowing only identified, essential employees to attend the workplace
  • utilising alternative work options including work from home
  • prohibiting handshaking, kissing and other physical contact in the workplace
  • maintaining a minimum distance of one metre between employees in the workplace (person-to-person droplet transmission is very unlikely beyond this distance)
  • discontinuing meetings and all social gatherings at work including informal spontaneous congregations
  • closing service counters or installing perspex infection control barriers 
  • using telephone and video conferencing.”

nap-cover1The guide does recommend social distancing as part of a risk management process but “prohibiting handshaking, kissing and other physical contact in the workplace”? “Discontinuing … informal spontaneous congregations”?

How is a business expected to police these sorts of measures?  Have someone walking the workplace reminding workers of the new “no touchy” policy?

The Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza talks repeatedly about social distancing in workplaces, the community and families but never goes to the extent WorkSafe has.

The National Action Plan for Human Influenza Pandemic (NAP) defines social distancing as:

“A community level intervention to reduce normal physical and social population mixing in order to slow the spread of a pandemic throughout society. Social distancing measures include school closures, workplace measures, cancellation of mass gatherings, changing public transport arrangements and movement restrictions.”

NAP does not mention kissing, nor does the Business Continuity Guide For Australian Businesses .

WorkSafe WA has not issued anything specific on pandemic influenza, nor has SafeWorkSA,  WorkCover NSW defers to NSW Health (which has a lot of information and a reassuring video from the health officer), and Queensland’s OHS regulator defers to its State health department.    

Social distancing is an appropriate hazard control measure amongst other measures in an influenza risk management plan but the current WorkSafe Victoria guidance seems to be an unnecessary duplication, and on the matter of kissing, silly. Why, oh why did WorkSafe Victoria think it necessary to publish anything?

Kevin Jones



Fatigue is the biggest threat to a person’s safety

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Not so long ago, it was considered a legitimate criticism to blame the individual for “doing the wrong thing” at work.  Depending on the type of worksite, this was considered “human error” or “bloody stupid”.

Fatigue is an interesting illustration of how occupational health and safety must cope with new perspectives on established hazards.  Australian OHS legislation operates on a responsibility to manage the systems of work in a workplace, of which only one element is the worker.

A good incident investigation goes beyond the incident to see what led up to a worker acting the way they did, the reasons behind the decision.  Instead of “tell me about your childhood”, OHS practitioners can legitimately ask “tell me about your sleep patterns”, or “tell me about your second job”, or “tell me about your relationship with your partner”, as these can be contributory factors to the decision made on the day or the work environment at the time of the incident.

Some recent AAP articles provide interesting examples of the different contexts in which fatigue as a workplace issue can manifest:

Ambulance Employees Australia (AEA) said weary paramedics had fallen asleep at the wheel and administered wrong drugs because they did not have enough time off between shifts.

They have called for a minimum 10-hour break between shifts, compared with eight hours under the current award.

But Ambulance Victoria has said the fatigue issue was one of 175 union claims, which it said sought $800 million from pay talks.”

Investigators examining the near-catastrophe at Melbourne Airport last month are exploring whether fatigue was a factor after being told the pilot had barely slept the day before the flight.

Emirates pilots are permitted to fly a maximum of 100 hours each 28 days and the pilot was also almost at the legal threshold of the number of hours he was able to fly.

Emirates has issued a statement saying safety was a top priority for the airline.”

A higher priority than a good night’s sleep apparently!  Clearly it is the spread of hours that is the issue not the total over a fixed period.

Both these examples relate to workers’ interactions with the public and reflect the complexity of OHS’s spread to public safety.  

It seems that every investigation now automatically assesses the fatigue level, or impairment, of the participants in incidents in the same way mobile phone records are checked in car accidents and blood-alcohol levels or drug testing in some industrial events.

If your OHS professional does not consider psychosocial issues in developing safety management plans or incident investigation, seek a second opinion, or better yet, make sure the first opinion is comprehensive.

Kevin Jones

Workplace safety can be funny

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This week workplace safety on a building site received a much needed dose of humour.  The Australian show “ThankGod, You’re Here” had a comedian enter a pretend building site and have to face questions from an OHS inspector as if he was the owner of the site.

The sketch has added impact because of its timing.  It is hard to imagine this occurring ten years ago in a society and industry where OHS compliance was less valued, when hardhats were considered optional and when brightly-coloured vests looked stupid.  That the sketch is funny is a measure of how OHS regulation and enforcement has matured and just how successful the OHS regulators have been in changing the society’s attitudes to workplace safety in Australia.

Also, it shows something more illustrative of comedy, more true.  In the sketch there are some wonderful stunts done by a small earthmover.  Only last year there was outrage, and fines, over some forklift stunts done for real by a young driver in Melbourne.  The environment makes the difference between laughter and outrage.

The success of the TV show’s concept is also indicated by the issue of the 12-year-old welder on the building site.  The comedian, Merrick Watts, removes the issue of age by insisting the young boy is actually in his fifties and just looks younger.

WorkSafe Victoria, whose logo is worn by the pretend inspectors in the sketch, have said that they did not pay for brand placement and that the show did not belittle the work they do.  In fact the show “actually showed that we have a job to do and that there are good reasons for it.”

Kevin Jones

The value of brevity in government submissions and business reports

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In Australia, at the moment, there are several governmental inquiries that could involve safety management issues.  Submissions to inquiries can often be bloated with information that a review panel already knows or can be off topic.  Frequently, relevant but not essential information is included in the body of the submission where it could be just as easily included in an appendix.

Past experience in handling Cabinet submissions has indicated that a brief listing of the recommendations or requests is best, as this makes it much easier for the review panels to digest.  People tend to forget that their submission is going to be one of, perhaps, hundreds, and that brevity is highly valued in the public service (except perhaps in their own publications and reports?). 

This position on brevity is one that should also be applied to client reports concerning workplace safety.  Many consultants forget that their clients are already very familiar with their own workplace and don’t need to be shown “how to suck eggs”.

Kevin Jones