Out of Range – Work Risks of Wildlife Protection Officers

by Melody Kemp

 It was nine at night and the shooters had the advantage of superior fire power and night vision goggles …. We stood no chance. Two friends were killed…”

Source: Melody Kemp

David Paklett, a Wildlife Ranger working in Tanzania pulled up his trouser leg and showed me an ugly red scar that looked a bit like an alien pasted to his skin. It was 2013. We were in Spain’s ancient university town of Salamanca, at WILD 10, a sporadic gathering of wilderness and conservation specialists.  He told me how the year before, he and his colleagues had been in a John Woo style shoot out with Vietnamese poachers. The Vietnamese were overhead in a helicopter, firing at them with automatic rifles. ‘It was nine at night and the shooters had the advantage of superior fire power and night vision goggles.’

His words have stayed with me.

‘We stood no chance. Two friends were killed, and I got this.’ When I looked up, his eyes had the look of someone who was looking back with horror. ‘Did you ever talk about that night with anyone?’ I asked sipping a Rioja red. ‘Who is there to tell?’ David grimaced. ‘It’s part of the job. The game has changed. The Chinese are arming these guys and making sure they get away with the kill. The forces behind them are so powerful and we have no resources.’

Lao Rangers in the Annamite mountain range report the same fear according to

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The reality is all about perception

Occupational health and safety (OHS) policy makers are keen on making decisions based on evidence.  But evidence seems hard to get, for many reasons.

Some people, including those in workplace relations and OHS, often fill the evidence gap with “anecdotal evidence”.  Frequently people being interviewed are asked for evidence to substantiate their claims and respond that “anecdotally” there is a problem yet there is no sample size for this evidence, there is no clarity or definition of the incident or issue – it is simply “what I heard” or “what I’ve been told”.  Using anecdotal evidence is okay as long as its inherent uncertainty is acknowledged and it is not used as a basis for substantial change.

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SIA receives $50K through Enforceable Undertaking

Enforceable Undertakings (EUs) are increasingly popping up in the prosecution lists of occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators.  A curious one appeared on WorkSafe Victoria’s website in January 2018.

Ardex Australia P/L was prosecuted for breaching OHS laws after a subcontractor was burnt:

“…when a dry powder mixing machine was operated whilst hot metal slag from welding activity was in the plant, causing an explosive dust-air mixture.”

But what is most curious is the EU’s inclusion of a $A50,000 donation to the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA).

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Evidence needed for the productivity benefits of workplace safety

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One of the arguments that occupational health and safety (OHS) consultants use to convince employers of the importance of workplace safety is that good safety management will increase productivity through the reduction of disruptive incidents.  But there are various types of productivity. Multi-factorial productivity (what business lobbyists usually talk about) is declining in Australia BUT labour productivity has been steadily increasing for years, until only recently.

Crikey newsletter keeps pointing out this reality to its readers because the official data is being ignored by many business commentators and advocates who continue to claim that (labour) productivity is declining or in crisis.  The discussion usually revolves around company tax rates but it is an important differentiation for OHS professionals and safety advocates.

It seems that workers and companies have taken heed of the urging to work smarter and not harder but how does OHS fit with all of this? It is difficult to know because any correlation between OHS data and labour productivity has not yet been made.  (Partly this is because OHS data continues to be based on workers’ compensation claims rather than incident data and associated costs; I’ve banged on about that enough). It may be that good safety management = less incidents = greater productivity = greater profits but the evidence for that flow does not seem to exist outside of anecdotes or vague economic logic.

And it is evidence that the OHS profession is going to need if it is to continue using the productivity/safety/disruption argument in a very crowded and competitive market of business consultants.

Kevin Jones