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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Two old SafetyAtWork podcasts remain relevant

Over the Christmas break I was cleaning out some files and found some old SafetyAtWork podcast files that used to be on iTunes around a decade ago.  The information and perspectives remain important and to preserve the files I have uploaded them to SoundCloud.

One is an interview with Professor Michael Quinlan shortly after the Beaconsfield mine inquiry.  The other is a presentation to the Central Safety Group by freelance journalist Gideon Haigh about the corporate approach to asbestos and compensation off the back of the publication of his Asbestos House book.

More will be posted over the next few weeks.

Kevin Jones

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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Cabbage Salad and Drugs

Episode 6 of the Cabbage Salad and Safety podcast is now available with the discussion centring on drugs and alcohol issues at work. For those looking for information on drug and alcohol testing, this episode is not for you.  We thought that the testing issue is dealt with in many workplaces through legislative and regulatory matters and you have to comply with what you have to comply. Continue reading “Cabbage Salad and Drugs”

Gender, violence, Batty, Hulls and business preparedness

Recently the Victorian Women Lawyers conducted a seminar into the outcomes of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence.  SafetyAtWorkBlog attended even though the topic seems, initially, to have a tenuous link to occupational health and safety (OHS).  Family violence is relevant to OHS through its influence on workplace mental ill-health, productivity and the need for cultural…

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Safety leadership through action rather than PowerPoint

The Spring 2016 edition of National Safety magazine includes a cover story on leadership written by me.  In it John Lacey insists that safety leadership begins at the top.  This position is supported by many business and occupational health and safety (OHS) advocates but this seems to me to be based on a misunderstanding of leadership.

nsca-mag-coverIn response to a question about leadership in small- to medium-sized businesses, Lacey said that leadership “applies to all”:

“[Leadership] is not different but how to apply it will be different. The start must be from the top down. The basic values, behaviours, knowledge and systems will be defined by the organisation no matter how large or small it is.”

This is remarkably like safety culture and my response is that leadership can be displayed by anyone at any level of a company or society and can manifest at any organisational level.  The fact is that it is easier to sell a commodified leadership to executives as they are expected to show leadership in times of crisis or stockmarket uncertainty and most of us translate that into leadership of safety.

Leadership, as with most elements of OHS, takes time and effort – sometimes over generations.  This is particularly so with anything concerning corporations that are wary of change unless that change supports profit and shareholder returns. (I would argue safety increases profits and company value but this is an argument than struggles for traction)

The most abused aphorism used to justify this focus on executive leadership is that “a fish rots from the head down”. Nonsense.  As this website states, it is the guts of a fish that rots first.

fish boneThe attention given to senior executive leadership is an organisational echo of the economic trickle-down theory which has been roundly dismissed as flawed and, in some instances, has contributed to increasing socio-economic inequality.

Lacey acknowledges that anybody within an organisation can lead although leadership starts from the top.  He supports my contention that leadership occurs at all levels of a business and that actions show leadership and safety, probably, more effectively and cheaper than any training session.  Lacey says

“…even the gesture of picking-up litter or wearing the correct [personal protective equipment] in front of others in the work team can be seen as a form of leadership. Leading by example is an old but such a true saying. 

These actions are the best way of improving workplace safety and showing leadership, and for the least cost.  Safety should be improved by actions rather than PowerPoint.

Kevin Jones

[Note: please support National Safety magazine if you can.  It is not available online and only through subscription but it is one of the few hard copy OHS magazines left in Australia and one of the few, if not the last, that actually pays its writers (not as much as we’d like but that’s the continuous battle of the freelance writer).  This stance is keeping advertorials at bay and gives National Safety an integrity that is often missing in other safety publications]

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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Labour Hire Inquiry recommends a licencing scheme

Following, ostensibly, the Four Corners exposé of labour hire exploitation in Australia last year, the Victorian Government established an inquiry.  That Inquiry’s final report has been released with lots of recommendations, several pertaining to occupational health and safety (OHS).  The Government’s media release response is HERE. The main recommendations related to OHS are: I recommend…

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Does accessing government assistance need to be so hard?

Nothing is ever easy in farming.  Several Australian States have introduced a rebate scheme to help farmers improve the safety of the quad bikes so the vehicles, also inaccurately called All Terrain Vehicles (ATV), should be made safer. The argument over safety has persisted for many years and has resulted, most recently, in rebates for safety improvements provided by the government.  However, two States – Victoria and New South Wales – have different processes to accessing these rebates and the NSW process seems to deter farmers from applying for the rebates.

caution ATV signThe Victorian Government’s rebate scheme is administered through WorkSafe who provides a Frequently Asked Questions which is simple and clear.  The dates of activity are listed and, primarily, proof of purchase is the main document for eligibility. Victorian farmers can obtain a rebate for:

“$1200 for the purchase of an alternate vehicle such as a side-by-side vehicle (SSV) or a small utility vehicle (SUV). The alternate vehicle must be designed for use in agriculture and at point of sale have rollover protection and a fitted seatbelt. Sport vehicles and small commercial vehicles, such as utes, are excluded.

Up to $600 for the purchase of up to two operator protection devices (OPD). The OPD must have been designed and manufactured in accordance with approved engineering standards and independently tested to be eligible for the rebate. There are currently two OPD devices that meet this criteria and are eligible for the rebate. They are the Quadbar™ and the ATV Lifeguard.”

The NSW process is funded by SafeWork NSW with a complex set of terms and conditions.  The purchase options seem narrower but the major difference in the two rebates schemes is New South Wales’ insistence that farmers must attend an “educative interaction”.  According to a SafeWork NSW FAQ farmers are required to:

  • “get along to a Farm Safety Day run by SafeWork NSW or one of its program partners
  • visit the SafeWork NSW stand at an Agricultural Field Days
  • request a free on-farm Workplace Advisory Visit and we will come to you
  • attend one of the 100 training events being offered by Tocal College.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog has been told that farmers find this to be condescending and are suspicious of SafeWork NSW’s intentions, particularly in relation to the “free on-farm Workplace Advisory Visit”. Such visits are likely to be SafeWork NSW’s preferred option as there are only a limited number of Field Days available every year. WorkSafe Victoria does not insist on educative interactions as part of the rebate scheme which increases NSW framers’ suspicions.

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) recently released a new video to support its claims that Operator Protection Devices (OPD) or Crush Protection Devices (CPD) “are not the answer“.  The FCAI has been out of step with the issue of quad bike safety for many years and it is difficult to sympathise with its position when governments are “endorsing” OPDs through rebate schemes.

The FCAI’s position seems to be shortsighted as the rebates are encouraging farmers to apply a Gordian Knot solution to the bickering over quad bike safety.   Both the NSW and Victorian rebate schemes encourage farmers to purchase side-by-side vehicles (SSV) which, due to the framework over the driver, have no need for the OPDs on offer.  SSVs are more expensive than quadbikes but can be seen as endorsed safer options by the regulators of safety in each of the States.

Having dug in to a contrary position of additional safety measures on quad bikes, the FCAI is getting more out of step with the regulators’ positions and the safe desires of farmers and farming families.  But perhaps criticising the FCAI is unfair, after all, it is a body representing the interests of automotive manufacturers.  Generations have grown up equating motor vehicle manufacturing with safety, ever since “Unsafe at Any Speed” was published in the 1960s, but the FCAI seems different.  It has its own definition of workplace safety that is not in step with government or safety regulators.

Farmers, like all business operators, need to decide for themselves who they trust more for their own safety – regulators or salespeople.

Kevin Jones