Practicable or practical – let’s call the whole thing off

Jargon can help create a subculture.  This can be positive for those on the inside but relies on excluding others.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) is no different and one of the best illustrations of OHS jargon is “practicable”.  This was emphasised recently in a document released by WorkSafe WA where “practicable” had lost out to “practical”.

The guidance also omitted the duties of builders for the health and safety of those affected by their work.

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Poor worker safety through gov’t disinterest and high unemployment

Dhaka, Bangladesh – April 29, 2013: A view of collapsed Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh. Over 1,130 workers of apparel factories were killed and 2500 others were injured when the eight-storey factory build collapsed on the outskirts of Bangladesh capital Dhaka in 2013. Bangladesh is one of the major countries supplying ready-made garments to leading apparel brands of USA and Europe. Bangladesh also earns over US$ 28 billion a year by exporting apparel items.

The current edition of SouthAsia magazine has a short report on occupational health and safety (OHS) in Bangladesh that illustrate the political and social challenges for workers and citizens in a country. The article, “Poor Workplace Safety” (not available online) states that government data for 2016 list more than 1,225 workers killed and over 500 injured.  After these figures, and the fact that Bangladesh has a history of  catastrophic workplace disasters, the author, Mohammad Waqar Bilal, states

“In fact, the issue of workers’ safety has never been considered by the government on a priority basis.”

Continue reading “Poor worker safety through gov’t disinterest and high unemployment”

“Every death is manslaughter”

The South Australian Branch of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) held a protest rally in Adelaide on 15 February 2017 in response to the political negotiations in Australia’s Parliament about the reintroduction of, what the union sees as, anti-union legislation.  Throughout the rally’s presentations (available online through the CFMEU Facebook page), the issue of occupational health and safety (OHS) was raised and it is worth looking closely at what was said and the broader political and safety context.

The issues to be addressed in the protest rally included Senator Nick Xenophon’s “deal” with Prime Minister Turnbull that the CFMEU claims will:

  • ” Make our workplaces less safe
  • Put more overseas visa workers on our building sites
  •  Cut the number of apprentices in South Australia
  •  Threaten job security and increase casual jobs
  •  Fail to mandate Australian made products on construction sites”

After Joe McDonald opened the rally, the Secretary of the CFMEU SA, Aaron Cartledge (pictured above), spoke about how workers in South Australia had been dudded on safety because the health and safety representatives (HSRs) cannot call on external safety advisers to help them with an OHS matter.  This may be the case but Cartledge’s comments illustrate a common perspective of trade unionists – a reluctance to consider safety management strategies other than those dependent on HSRs.

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Union may have overstepped and weakened its case

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is one of the most militant trade unions in Australia.  That it angers many Australians by its strong support for its members is unarguable.  Yet recently it has seemed to overstep the mark on its protest against the Australian Government’s introduction of legislation that the CFMEU sees…

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How much attention should we give to gender in OHS?

I once had to stop a potential fight on a construction site between a works supervisor and a safety professional.  The verbal abuse and niggling occurred for several minutes before the men’s chest were inflated like roosters and it was at this point I stepped in to diffuse the situation by asking some questions as…

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Trump, Puzder and workplace safety

Occupational health and safety (OHS) law in the United States has little impact on that of any countries outside of North America. But the response to those OHS laws by US and multinational companies indicates corporate approaches to workplace safety and this can spread round the world.  The anticipated strategy to worker safety under the Presidency of Donald Trump is expected to be harsh, if he attends to it at all.

Brad Hammock, Attorney at US workplace law firm, Jackson Lewis P.C. (pictured right), told SafetyAtWorkBlog that

“There is a dominant view that there will be a weaker OSHA under the Trump presidency. This is driven largely by historical analyses of past Republican administrations and President Trump’s anti-regulatory rhetoric. I anticipate that OSHA will continue to be active, but will emphasis cooperative and voluntary programs over enforcement. In addition, I anticipate fewer large safety and health standards being issued under a Trump presidency. “

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Health, safety and climate change

Sydney, Australia - October 19, 2016: Construction workers set up scaffolding in a construction site.
Sydney, Australia – October 19, 2016: Construction workers set up scaffolding in a construction site.

In a small article on the ABC news site, Professor Peng Bi of the University of Adelaide said occupational health and safety laws needed a review to accommodate the changing climate and

“I reckon some regulations should be set up to get employers to pay [fresh] attention to the occupational health and safety of their employees…”

Contrary to Professor Peng Bi’s request, Australian worksites have done much to accommodate the changing climate conditions and to maintain productivity, primarily, in relation to excessive heat exposure by working within the existing occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation.  This is not to say more should not be done.

The risks associated with working in heat are well established and recognised by Safe Work Australia and State safety regulators but the advice often focusses on personal changes such as ensuring there is adequate hydration or that jobs should be rotated or that long-sleeved shorts are worn.  The amplification of these conditions due to climate change is foreseeable so what should employers, companies and OHS regulators do?

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Not all deaths are “newsworthy” but they are all important

As Australia’s Safe Work Month closes, the media is focussed on the four fatalities at Dreamworld theme park in Queensland.  That situation is complicated as, although the incident is being investigated partly under Work Health and Safety laws, the decedents were visitors to the workplace. On the other side of the continent in Perth, prior…

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Criticism of “safety differently” rebuffed

UCATT (Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians) has been a regular critic of the construction company Laing O’Rourke over safety issues.  Recently UCATT took aim at the “safety differently” approach to occupational health and safety (OHS) of which the Laing O’Rourke’s HSE Director European Hub, John Green, has been a leading advocate.  UCATT has…

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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