Is capitalism anti-safety? Systemic failures in oil industry

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The Wall Street Journal and other media around the world have reported on systemic failures of the global oil industry and government regulators identified by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.  These articles are based on the release of a single chapter, Chapter 4, of the final report due for release on 11 January 2011.

A media release from the Commission includes the following findings from Chapter 4

“The well blew out because a number of separate risk factors, oversights, and outright mistakes combined to overwhelm the safeguards meant to prevent just such an event from happening.  But most of the mistakes and oversights at Macondo can be traced back to a single overarching failure—a failure of management.  Better management by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean would almost certainly have prevented the blowout by improving the ability of individuals involved to identify the risks they faced, and to properly evaluate, communicate, and address them.”

“. . .the Macondo blowout was the product of several individual missteps and oversights by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean, which government regulators lacked the authority, the necessary resources, and the technical expertise to prevent.”

“The blowout was not the product of a series of aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again. Rather, the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur.”

“What we. . .know is considerable and significant:

  1. each of the mistakes made on the rig and onshore by industry and government increased the risk of a well blowout;
  2. the cumulative risk that resulted from these decisions and actions was both unreasonably large and avoidable; and
  3. the risk of a catastrophic blowout was ultimately realized on April 20 and several of the mistakes were contributing causes of the blowout.”
The significance of these quotes is that the Commission is critical of an industry and not just a single company.   Continue reading “Is capitalism anti-safety? Systemic failures in oil industry”

OHS harmonisation documents released for public comment

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Late on 7 December 2010 Safe Work Australia released draft OHS regulations and Codes of Practice for public comment.  The documents released are:

According to a Safe Work Australia media release, not yet available online:

“As part of the development of the Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS), Access Economics on behalf of Safe Work Australia, is surveying businesses across a range of sizes, industries and regions in an effort to obtain data on anticipated compliance costs and safety benefits of the model Work Health and Safety Regulations.   Continue reading “OHS harmonisation documents released for public comment”

Australian business is outraged over OHS changes but is it all piss and wind?

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Australian business groups have written an open letter to the New South Wales Government protesting about the decision to continue with some OHS processes specific to New South Wales regardless of previous commitments to support the harmonisation of OHS laws.  As the letter was published as an advertisement  (Page 6 of  The Australian on 20 October 2010), it is not readily available online but the letter needs a little bit of deconstruction to better understand the politics and ideologies behind the letter and the business associations.

The letter says Australian industry signed on to the national harmonisation process because of the need for an effective way of improving safety, fair legal processes and national consistency.  Yes, to some extent but more often industry groups have been calling for a reduction of red tape for the purpose of reducing administrative costs.  Reducing the injuries and fatalities of workers is not the same as “improving the safety of Australia’s workplaces”.

The ideological gap is shown in the argument against the national imposition of “reverse onus of proof”.  The letter uses Victoria as an example of a jurisdiction without the reverse onus of proof and says

“Victoria, which was used as the model for the new national laws and which does not have union prosecutions or reverse onus, has between 30% and 50% better safety outcomes than NSW depending on the measurement used“. (my emphasis)

What is a “better safety outcome”?  Less deaths?  Less cost to business?  Is it fair to compare NSW to Victoria?  And can the variation in “safety outcomes” be directly related to reverse onus of proof?   Continue reading “Australian business is outraged over OHS changes but is it all piss and wind?”

Safety professionals must understand RTW in order to avoid unnecessary costs

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The rationale for the Australian government’s evangelism of harmonisation is the reduction of “red-tape” on the logic, or assumption, that business costs will also be reduced.  Dr Mary Wyatt, according to a report on ABC News Online, says that cost reductions may be possible be reducing over-servicing of injured workers.

Dr Wyatt says:

“We have an increasing focus on the medicine, and we have lots of scans that tell us there are things wrong with our bodies, and then when those scans are done it’s often labelled as a serious problem, and then the worker gets worried and we often go off on a tangent..” Continue reading “Safety professionals must understand RTW in order to avoid unnecessary costs”

Food parcels required by some injured workers in South Australia

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An independent member of the South Australian Parliament, Ann Bressington, has revealed that some injured workers in South Australia are receiving food parcels because their income is so low that they are living on bread and instant soup.

In a media statement released on 2 March 2010 (not yet available online), Bressington said

Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson and I have both found ourselves in the position of having to provide food to injured workers because some were living on nothing more than dry bread and packet soups and unable to afford their medications.   It is a sad indictment of our government’s commitment to its constituents when sick, injured and vulnerable people are forced into this position….they have been thrown out in the cold and literally left to starve”. (link added)

The media statement was issued in support of the 10th WorkCover Public Forum scheduled for 4 March 2010 in the Way Hall, 10 Pitt St, Adelaide.

Bressington and McKenzie-Ferguson recently commented on WorkCover issues in SafetyAtWorkBlog.

Kevin Jones