Charges laid on swing stage collapse

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SafetyAtWorkBlog reported on a scaffolding incident in Queensland in mid-2008.  Charges have now been laid but not manslaughter charges as were called for at the time by the unions.

The workers were fatally injured on 21 June 2008 when the swing stage scaffold they were using to carry out concrete patchwork on the Pegasus high-rise, then under construction at Broadbeach, failed and fell 26 levels to the ground.

According to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland

Allscaff Systems Pty Ltd, which erected the swing stage, is charged with failing to ensure the plant was erected in a way that ensured it was safe when used properly.

Ralph Michael Smith, director of Allscaff Systems Pty Ltd, is charged with failing to ensure the company complied with its obligations under the Act.

Karimbla Construction Services Pty Limited, which built the high-rise, is charged with breaching obligations as a person in control of a workplace and as project manager.

Pryme Constructions Pty Ltd, which undertook the concrete patching, is charged with breaching its obligations to ensure workplace health and safety.

SsfetyAtWorkBlog will be following this case over the next few months.

Should OHS regulators be involved in the competence of professionals?

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WorkSafe and the Safety Institute of Australia are at the forefront of pushing for a defined level of competence for the safety professional.  WorkSafe identified this need many years ago and has been working on establishing alliances with safety professions since then to achieve its aims.

Significantly similar issues have been discussed in the United Kingdom over a similar period however, in that process the WorkSafe equivalent, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), have chosen not to participate.  According to a recent article in HEALTH AND SAFETY AT WORK, the HSE has stated its position

“Speaking at IOSH’s recent conference, HSE chief executive Geoffrey Podger was adamant that the general description of competence in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSW) Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) is sufficient. “I don’t think it helps the whole health and safety system if HSE tries to over-define the area,” he said, adding that there is still a “huge opportunity” for the professional bodies to work on their own definition.”

This position is considerably different from that in Australia where WorkSafe is now closely working (some would say too closely) with the SIA in developing standards and protocols that it and its partners want to operate nationally. Its aim seems to be similar to one the HSE and Health & Safety Commission established in 2007 – “Mapping Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Professional Body Activities in Scotland”.  It is worth looking at the page to see the list of safety professional bodies who are listed, the services offered and the membership databases.

Pages from externalproviders[1]A crucial HSE document is the “HSE statement to the external providers of health and safety assistance”.  Its statement that competence should be a goal rather than a benchmark should worry the Australian competence lobbyists.  In the Ponting article above, IOSH calls for more clarity but, as discussed elsewhere in SafetyAtWorkBlog, OHS legislation clearly states it is the employers’ ultimate responsibility to establish a safe and healthy work environment.  They may choose assistance from competent people but why should it be the regulator that establishes this?  The professional bodies such as IOSH and SIA have existed for decades.  Have they not determined levels of competency for their own members by now?

Geoff Hooke of the British Safety Industry Federation says

“when you ask how you measure competence, the simple answer is: with great difficulty”.

In general, shouldn’t the response from OHS professional associations be along the lines of

“we believe that all members of the XXX Association are competent within their fields and we would not hesitate in recommending our professional members in providing competent advice to companies…”?

These organizations who are calling for a clear definition are often the same organizations that are in support of “as far as is reasonably practicable”, a vague management concept that can be defined and re-defined depending on which judge hears which OHS prosecution. – the antithesis to the prevention principles of OHS.  One cannot call for certainty in one area while advocating flexibility in another.

The UK Works and Pensions Committee was right in saying that more control is required on external consultants and clearly lobbed the responsibility on the professional bodies.

Ponting’s article concludes that it is the job of the professional bodies to organize accreditation and the maintenance of that accreditation but acknowledges that it is politically fraught.  That is not enough reason to look to the regulator to solve the problem as it only makes the regulator the target of criticism over the process and the results.  The professional bodies themselves must work to a commonality of purpose and relinquish years of demarcation and, sometimes, schism.

The Australian safety professions would ultimately gain far more credibility for themselves and their professions if they too took it upon themselves to define accreditation, audit their members’ competencies and assist in the maintenance of skills.  In that way Australia may gain a safety profession of which everyone can be proud.

Kevin Jones

Many workplace deaths for BHP Billiton

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The Australian Workers Union are justifiably angry at the latest workplace death associated with BHP Billiton.   According to the company’s media statement on 19 march 2009

“We regret to inform that we have been advised by Mines and Port Development (a Joint Venture of Fluor and SKM), who manage our major construction activities, that there has been a fatal accident involving a John Holland employee at the construction site in Newman.”

The company’s own website provides the background to the union’s concern.

25 February 2009

It is with regret that BHP Billiton Iron Ore advises that an employee, Bob Blake, a track machine operator, aged 56, was fatally injured in a rail accident approximately 74km south of Port Hedland at 3.30am on Tuesday 24 February.

25 February 2009

It is with sadness that BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) advises that John Barker, an employee of Nixon Communications working at Blackwater Mine, was fatally injured in a motor vehicle accident at the mine late this morning.   

4 September 2008

We regret to advise that a fatality has occurred at BHP Billiton’s Yandi mining operations involving a HWE Mining employee.

26 August 2008

BHP Billiton Iron Ore regrets to advise that an incident occurred during the night at its Yandi mine site, which resulted in the death of an HWE Mining employee.

29 July 2008

BHP Billiton Iron Ore regrets to advise that an incident occurred at approximately 11.00am today at its Nelson Point operations in Port Hedland, which has resulted in the death of an employee.

17 January 2008

It is with deep regret that BHP Billiton reports that a fatality has occurred today at the Cannington silver, lead and zinc operation in north-west Queensland.

In the “Chairman’s Review” for 2008,  Don Argus wrote about the growth in demand for its products from the Asian region:

Our response has been to streamline our business to enable us to produce as much product as fast as possible within the non-negotiable framework of the highest safety and environmental standards.

The CEO, Marius Kloppers, states that even though the company has achieved its seventh consecutive year of “record attributable profit”

While we can report financial success, I regret to report we have not performed well on safety. In FY2008, 11 of our employees died at work. Many more lives will have been impacted, some forever, by these tragic and avoidable events. We have reflected deeply on what more we must do to reach our goal of Zero Harm. In FY2009, we are making even greater efforts to improve our safety performance.

As shown above, the FY2009 performance statistics are not looking too good.

In the 2008 Corporate Governance Summary, the Directors are lauded.

The non-executive Directors contribute international and operational experience; understanding of the sectors in which we operate; knowledge of world capital markets; and an understanding of the health, safety, environmental and community challenges that we face.

In its 2008 Annual Report under Risk Factors, safety is listed within assets.  It reads like an acceptance that contractors are not living up to their OHS obligations or BHP Billiton standards.  This rings hollow as contractor management should be an area that a company of such size, resources, longevity and experience, manages in an exemplary fashion.

Some of our assets are controlled and managed by joint venture partners or by other companies. Some joint venture partners may have divergent business objectives which may impact business and financial results. Management of our non-controlled assets may not comply with our management and operating standards, controls and procedures (including health, safety, environment). Failure to adopt equivalent standards, controls and procedures at these assets could lead to higher costs and reduced production and adversely impact our results and reputation.

Later in the Risk Factor chapter:

Despite our best efforts and best intentions, there remains a risk that health, safety and/or environmental incidents or accidents may occur that may negatively impact our reputation or licence to operate.

The company is active though.  It has a Code of Conduct that applies to everyone, including contractors.  In it there is a quick test:

If you are in doubt about what to do or whether to speak up, it may help to do the Business Conduct Quick Test by asking yourself some simple questions:

  • The values test: Does it fit with the values in our Charter?
  • The safety test: Could it directly or indirectly endanger someone or cause them injury?
  • The law test: Is it legal and in line with our policies and standards?
  • The conscience test: Does it fit with my personal values?
  • The newspaper test: If the story appeared in the paper, would I feel comfortable with the decision?
  • The family test: What would I tell my partner, parent or child to do?
  • The ‘feel test’: What’s my intuition or ‘gut feel’? If it ‘feels’ bad, then it probably is bad!

Failing any of the above ‘tests’ indicates that you need to talk with someone about the concern you have.

It’s not that BHP Billiton seems to have fallen into a heap in the last couple of years.  Following a major explosion in 2004 at its remote Boodarie Hot Briquette Iron (HBI) plant in Western Australia, it was fined $200,000 plus costs for “failing to provide and maintain a working environment in which employees were not exposed to hazards.”   The explosion killed one worker and injured several others.

The court case revolved around the May 2004 explosion at the Port Hedland Boodarie HBI plant where one man died, and others received severe burns.

The prosecution case was that BHP Billiton undertook two activities, with the potential to cause an explosion, together without a proper risk assessment. This was considered to be a serious and substantial breach of the obligation to provide and maintain a safe working environment.

There is much more OHS performance information available at the BHP Billiton website but it is worth ending this post with the OHS statement included in the Code of Conduct:

BHP Billiton is committed to achieving leading industry practice in health and safety.

In all cases, we will aim to meet or exceed applicable legal and other requirements, as we believe that all accidents and occupational illnesses and injuries are preventable.

Our priority is to ensure that all our people – regardless of where they work or what they do – return home safely.

Kevin Jones

Morality in business

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A good safety manager is one who is aware of the social context of the job and the social consequences of injury on employees.  The manager also needs to consider the operational parameters of the company.  This is a difficult balancing act that many spend their careers trying to attain.  But what if morality or legislative obligation was removed from the workplace, or was never there in the first place.  How would employees be treated then?

GHOSTS is a movie, ostensibly, about one person, Ai Qin, who travelled illegally from China to England in order to earn a living, a living that she believed she could not achieve in China.  As the opening scenes of the film show, she, and many others, are drowning in Morecambe Bay when the tide comes in rapidly while they are picking cockles.  The reality behind this fictional film radically changed England’s approach to gangmasters and resulted in prosecutions of the operators of the cocklepicking business.  Those operators were found responsible for the deaths of 23 cocklepickers in 2004.

ghosts-19to-the-beach-close-low

As with many memorable films, the story of a single individual can fascinate and shame us at the same time.  GHOSTS is not an enjoyable film as the hardship and the choices faced are uncomfortable to watch but it is an important film for many reasons. One is that gangmasters, and immoral companies, do not exist in a vacuum.  Minor bribery, institutional ignorance, laziness and a disregard for human life are shown by various characters throughout the film.  There are combinations of these elements which push Ai Qin into certain decisions where others would be provided with options.

Another is that we need to be reminded of these events.  Often workplace tragedies fade as quickly as the media’s interest in them.  People often follow events only as long as they are on the telly but this habit provides an extremely skewed view of reality.  People are not expected to follow all issues, or be passionate about all the issues.  That way lies madness, confusion and inaction.  It is necessary to filter our ideological passions while retaining an interest in other related matters.  We categorise our priorities in relation to our resources, emotions and circumstances at one particular time.

But investigations take time and the truth often appears years later, sometimes when the heat in an issue has diminished, or we have had to reprioritize, or the media is looking elsewhere.  Outrage is always more attractive to the media than reason but we need to follow issues to their conclusion.  This is why families revisit the heartache of a fatality by sitting through coronial inquests or prosecutions.  They need to know the truth and find some answer to why the world has turned out as it has.

The conditions for trafficking, illegal migration and unregulated work continue in England today, just as they do in most countries.  GHOSTS is not a film about sex trafficking.  But whether people are being trafficked for sex, fruit picking, working in supermarkets or in take-away kitchens, is irrelevant.  Trafficking is inhumane and must be actively discouraged.

The issue will grow in its economic, human rights and political significance.

It may be heresy to apply the hierarchy of controls outside the workplace safety domain but if safety professionals investigated the contributory factors behind trafficking, it would be hard to argue against the elimination of the hazard for a lower order control measure.  If all physical journeys begin with a single step, then cultural change can begin with a single thought.

Kevin Jones

Victim support fund – http://www.ghosts.uk.com/

Successful appeal in finger injury case

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SafetyAtWorkBlog mainly keeps away from referring to specific court decisions on OHS Prosecutions because, to a large extent, these are decisions of law rather than safety management.  The judgements also require clear legal interpretation so that any management lessons of the judgement can be extracted.

Another reason is that SafetyAtWorkBlog intends to be a FREE conduit for OHS discussion and news. We don’t agree that blogs should refer to information that can only be accessed through subscriptions.  That approach renders a blog advertising which is contrary to what we believe a weblog should be.

In this context some readers may be interested in reading the judge’s decision in an appeal case that has appeareed on several Australian OHS sites in the last day.

According to a judgement in the South Australia Industrial Court:

Adelaide Industrial Labour Service Pty Ltd (AILS)… is a labour hire company which employed John McCutcheon on 19 May 2005. At the time Mr McCutcheon was eighteen years old and had no trade qualifications or experience.
On 19 May 2005 AILS sent Mr McCutcheon to work for Dagenham Pty Ltd (trading as Link Plus) as a labourer.
On 20 May 2005 Mr McCutcheon whilst operating a pipe bending machine which was unguarded, sustained serious finger injuries to both hands. Mr McCutcheon had not received adequate instruction or training to operate that machine.
Dagenham was charged with a breach of s 19(1) of the Occupational Health Safety and Welfare Act 1986 (the Act) and was sentenced on 18 December 2006 by Ardlie IM to a penalty of $12,000, discounted on account of its guilty plea to $9,000.

The court has reduced the fine by $3,000 and has found that the Industrial Magistrate in the initial case made a defective decision.

The full decision is available for download HERE