What’s the fuss? Stay focused on safety

The debate about quad bike safety has gone global with the United States telling the World Trade Organisation that the imposition of operator protection devices (OPDs) on general quad bikes (those not used for recreation or sport) may be a trade barrier. To some this would appear silly, and the argument has little to do with worker safety, but this action by the US impedes progress on safety.

Recently the Victorian Coroner made findings into the quad bike-related death of 69-year-old farmer Gustaav Walta in September 2017. The finding is not yet publicly available but the story of Walta’s death sounds very familiar.

One evening around 6pm Walta advised his friend that he was putting the sheep away. His friend did not receive the regular phone call the next morning and drove to the property finding a quad bike that had rolled over and Walta’s body in an adjacent paddock. It was determined that Walta had died from severe chest injuries caused by the quad bike incident, that he had been ejected from the bike, the bike rolled over him and he then had tried walking to a neighbour’s property before he collapsed and died.

The chronology in the Findings is not very clear on Walta received his chest injuries but what is clear is that, like so many before, the quad bike had not been fitted with an OPD and that Walta had not been wearing a helmet.

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Suicide Prevention, Genders and Workplace Interventions

Allison Milner speaking at the 2019 National Suicide Prevention Conference

2019 was always going to be a Year of Mental Health for Australians as there are various official inquiries and investigations occurring. Last week alone, the Royal Commission into Mental Health Systems focused on suicide prevention. This overlapped with the National Suicide Prevention Conference (NSPC) and on Friday one of Australia’s National Mental Health Commissioners, Lucinda Brogden, spoke at a VIOSH 40th anniversary seminar.

The “evidence” of Lived Experience dominated the Conference and has been a regular feature of the Royal Commission, but the much more robust evidence of work-related mental health has also been on show. This evidence supports the harm prevention strategies advocated by occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals, researchers and Safe Work Australia and continues its peer-reviewed strength, even if the audience seems less than it should be.

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Queensland’s ‘Safety Reset’

Queensland is undertaking a “safety reset” following several recent deaths in the mining and quarry industry. This government initiative has the backing of the resources sector and has collated a good amount of safety resources in support of what is a mandatory exercise.

What is a little different in this initiative is that it reinforces that the primary responsibility for occupational health and safety (OHS) rests with the employers and company owners. In the past, government initiatives have tended to take on the responsibility for the OHS changes or imply that it is the government’s job to fix the situation and the relative safety cultures, as if it was government (in)activity that caused the problem.

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Industrial Manslaughter concerns of the Victorian government taskforce

In April this year the Victorian Government’s Workplace Manslaughter Implementation Taskforce raised the following issues in its Criminal Law Reform Consultation Paper, seen by the SafetyAtWorkBlog:

  • the definition of “person” in the OHS and proposed Industrial Manslaughter laws
  • the establishment of negligence and the standard of care expected by the reasonable person
  • the extension of Industrial Manslaughter offence to the deaths of members of the public
  • whether a decision or act causes the death or only contributes to it
  • exceptions to the laws beyond just volunteers
  • inter-agency cooperation and coordination for effective prosecutions.
If you have any information about safety-related issues or incidents, remember that SafetyAtWorkBlog operates a confidential and anonymous information line at https://safetyatworkblog.whispli.com
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Suicide Differently

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Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard (with a signing interpreter) speaking at the National Suicide Prevention Conference

Over 600 delegates at the National Suicide Prevention conference in Melbourne in July 2019 heard one speaker almost invoke the “Safety Differently” concept to suicide prevention (Hands off, its ours, Ed.). This showed that suicide prevention approaches are maturing, but that advocates continue to operate in a public health/mental health silo.

Several speakers acknowledged that the suicide prevention strategies in Australia over the past few decades have failed to reduce the suicide rate. This has been known for some time as evident from this statement by Emeritus Professor Ian Webster in a 2017 publication “Postvention Australia Guidelines”:

“Prevention has always been part of the national suicide prevention strategy but its contribution is even more important now as some of the past initiatives have not been as effective in reducing suicide rates as we had hoped.”

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