On January 30 2020, the Victorian Trades Hall released a new “approved safety standard” on air quality risks for outdoor workers. It is the latest of a series of alerts and guidelines generated by the persistence of bushfire smoke in urban areas of, especially, New South Wales and Victoria. Bushfire smoke is only going to become more frequent in Australia, and its persistence over weeks, requires a coordinated discussion on how Australian workplaces and practices need to change to adapt to the new climate.
On January 23 2020, WorkSafe ACT released a curious safety alert. It was not about scaffolding, bushfire smoke, PPE, but about “safety systems on worksites”. It was not about things but about process.
I am entering the last of my four week’s work on a construction site in Sydney. In my first week, the city was blanketed with thick smoke from nearby bushfires and all construction sites closed early for a day because the air was deemed hazardous. That smoke has persisted for all of my time in Sydney. Last Friday I was on site when the occasional piece of ash fluttered on to me. The bushfire situation is unprecedented and my experience has shown me that Australia and Australian companies seem to struggle with how to operate in a disaster that will undoubtedly return.
Some time ago I had a run-in with a worker who repeatedly chose not to wear his hard hat. He reasoned that as there were no overhead or head-high hazards in the work area the personal protective equipment (PPE) was not necessary. He applied what some would call a risk-based decision and he was right. But the worker was dismissed from the project (not by me) over his decision and because of his belligerence and verbal abuse over the matter. The reality was that he showed disrespect to his employer (a subcontractor) and disregard to the safety rules of the contractor thereby eroding the safety culture that the contractor was trying to establish and maintain in order to, ultimately, satisfy the client.
There has been an increasing amount of discussion in the occupational health and safety (OHS) sector about trust. There is little chance of achieving any change in a workplace without first of all establishing trust between the stakeholders, or at least a little bit of trust. But part of this trust is also respect. And part of this trust is that it should be earned… by everyone. Continue reading “How much is safety a choice?”
Helen Lingard and Ron Wakefield have published one of the few books to look at how occupational health and safety (OHS) is structured and managed in government-funded infrastructure projects in Australia. Their new book, “Integrating Health and Safety into Construction Project Management” is the culmination of over a decade’s research into this area. The book is both a summary of that research and a launching pad for designing OHS into future infrastructure projects.