Prevention is better than cure

The Hazelwood Mine Fire was a public health tragedy with an occupational context beyond the prosecution by WorkSafe Victoria. A clear example of the workplace risks was the fire-fighting efforts and the subsequent health impacts of David Briggs. According to a media release from the Maurice Blackburn law firm, Briggs had his successful WorkCover claim upheld by the Victorian Supreme Court last week.

Briggs has been mentioned several times in this blog’s coverage of the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry and the writing of Tom Doig on the catastrophe. His case should cause some very uncomfortable questions.

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WorkSafe Victoria intends to change the farm safety culture

WorkSafe Victoria has launched a new campaign about health and safety on farms. Safety and health in this sector needs constant promotion as high rates of death and serious injury persist. The latest video campaign deserves a broad audience and hopefully is pushed heavily on television in rural areas and through local newspapers (what’s left of them) as these media continue to be major influences.

Farming is one of the hardest industries in which to achieve tangible change in occupational health and safety as discussed only recently on this blog. This latest campaign is fresh and looks good but the message is confusing if, as WorkSafe Victoria claims, the aim is to affect cultural change in the agriculture sector. The video takes a narrow focus on the male farmers implying they are the major cause of injuries. (Gender is a sensitive issue in farming, even though the statistics show older male farmers continue to be at high risk of injury) There is a little bit of “blame the worker” which is contrary to most strategies for cultural change.

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Is WorkSafe jumping the gun?

In mid-February 2021, WorkSafe Victoria issued a media release informing the community that it has charged a contractor following a worker’s death at a residential building site in Ballarat. Informing the community in such an early stage of a prosecution raises the issue of fairness and, according to one prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) lawyer, appears a little “unseemly”.

The revelation of legal action in any area of enforcement is tricky, with each case raising unique combinations of concern. Does the accused know of the prosecution? And before anyone else is told? Is the revelation in the public interest? Does it taint any future hearing or court appearance? Does it affect the chance of a successful prosecution or a successful defence? All of these are valid questions that need asking and answering in each case. Worksafe would surely have considered these matters before the February 2021 media release, but let’s look at the release in a different context.

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Ask not what WorkSafe can do for you, but what you can do to improve safety

One of the most difficult industries in which to achieve occupational health and safety (OHS) improvements is farming, especially in areas where farming continues to be done by small family units. The safety culture of farming is unique as the workplace is embedded in community and rural culture. Some people believe that OHS regulators have given the agricultural industry an easy run for too long, as stated by Mick Debenham in a recent opinion piece in The Weekly Times (paywalled), but farmers should perhaps ask themselves why people continue to die on their farms and what they can do to change this.

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Fire Flood Plague OHS

2020 is a year of continuing social change, so a book of essays that reflects on 2020 seems a little presumptuous. But just because we are in a state of social flux does not mean we must wait for stability before examining the process of change.

This December Random House Penguin will publish “Fire Flood Plague“, a collection of essays from prominent Australian writers about what Tim Flannery calls the three catastrophes:

“…the unprecedented, climate-fuelled megafires that were extinguished by damaging, climate-influenced floods. Then, in March, the COVID-19 pandemic…..”

page 69-70

There are some parallels between how people responded to these disasters and how workplace safety and health is managed. But more than that, the essays provide an insight into how others feel about what is happening, and these writers’ thoughts will reflect the thoughts of those with whom we work, with those we are obliged to manage and with those whose physical and mental welfare we are obliged to improve.

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Noisy Buggers in the Post-COVID world

Guest Post by Melody Kemp

In my more bizarre moments, I can imagine the cockpit conversation:

‘Hey Bill, there’s the blue and white house. We turn left here’
‘Bob, Copy. Over.’

Of course, it’s nonsense to think that the complexities of aircraft take-offs and landings would depend on visual cues, rather than complex technology, weather and fuel economy.  In fact, it’s the very technology that allows communities to track and identify aircraft and the noise level as they pass overhead.

But I have to admit that, particularly at night, when I see the queue of aircraft waiting to approach, their starboard and port lights blazing into our living room, it’s hard not to go out and shake an impotent fist at the crew.

As I completed this third paragraph, a Jetstar plane flew overhead. I measured the roar at 76DbA, another app told me it was slightly less than 1000 feet above my roof.  As it continues to descend, it passes over the densely populated parts of the city that follow the Brisbane River, including New Farm and Doomben, well known to race goers. What was that old saying about don’t scare the horses?

I work at home. My concentration and the paragraphs I write, come in lumps divided by the passing of planes. Some, like the Flying Doctor prop-jets, make, in objective terms, little noise (around 58dBA), but if one is sensitised to the noise in general, they become yet another psychological hazard. Evidence for aircraft noise exposure being linked to poorer well-being, lower quality of life, and psychological ill health is reflected by the responses to my questions and Facebook comments posted by concerned residents (some are included below)

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Will IR reform again ignore OHS?

Government policies that directly affect occupational health and safety (OHS) have been determined on a tripartite structure for many decades. This model comprises of representatives from business groups and trade unions in a consultation usually led by the government representatives. SafetyAtWorkBlog believes that this structure excludes important voices and is outdated, especially in a time when technology and the internet allows for a much broader consultation.

The limitations of the tripartite structure were on display recently when the Australian Government released the names of the organisations involved in the review of the industrial relations system. It is worth reading the list for you to understand who will be deciding your working future. It is also worth considering whether the negative OHS impacts of job and employment structures will be given the attention they deserve.

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