An OHS-based investigation of suicides should identify new control options

Melbourne, Australia – December 28, 2016: Melbourne Metro Train at Ringwood Station

Why is rail-related suicide an occupational health and safety (OHS) issue?

I looked into the issue of rail-related suicide when writing an OHS chapter for the Metro Trains Melbourne’s (MTM) bid for a franchise renewal for running trains on the metropolitan network. Each rail-related suicide, MTM describes these as trespasser suicides, creates major work-related psychological trauma for the train drivers as well as grief for the families of the deceased.  These incidents have secondary impacts on the rail workers who need to clean the trains which are taken out of service after each incident and driven to the nearest biowash, as well as those MTM staff, and emergency service workers, who were required to attend the scene.

There is also massive harm, pain and cost to those whose suicide attempts fail to result in death, and those who will care for those who are now disabled.

Addressing the hazard of rail-related suicides needs a new and broader discussion; one which must involve a broad, enlightened occupational health and safety approach.

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Where is the Senate Inquiry into Industrial Deaths heading?

As readers would realise, the transcripts for the Australian Senate inquiry into industrial deaths are fascinating. It is worth looking at the other presentations and questions on the day when the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry received a grilling as this provides insight into how to present to a government inquiry addressing occupational health and safety.

The Senate Committee has probably heard more from relatives of deceased workers than has any other similar inquiry, perhaps even the Workplace Bullying inquiry in which this Committee’s member Deborah O’Neill participated.  This is an indication of the shift in OHS over the last few years where the human impacts of workplace safety failures, what some describe as the “lived experience”, gain an influence that used to sit with professionals and acknowledged subject matter experts.

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Australian Workplace Safety Bureau

There seems to be a growing community frustration with regulators who hesitate to prosecute about breaches of laws, including occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, and about options that sound reasonable, like Enforceable Undertakings, but still let businesses “off the hook”.  The calls for Industrial Manslaughter laws are the most obvious manifestations of the anger and frustration from perceived injustices.

But perhaps there was another way to achieve change in workplace safety, a way that could be based on a model that Australia and other countries already have.

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Near Kill – Jim Ward speaks

Jim Ward is hardly known outside the Australian trade union movement but many people over the age of thirty, or in the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession, may remember the person Esso blamed for the Esso Longford explosion in 1998.  Just after the nineteenth anniversary of the incident that killed two workers and injured eight other, SafetyAtWorkBlog interviewed Ward about the incident but, more significantly, also about how that incident changed his world view.

For some time now Jim Ward has been the National OHS Director for the Australian Workers’ Union.  Here is a long interview with Ward that provides a useful perspective on OHS while Australia conducts its National Safe Work Month.

[Note: any links in the text have been applied by SafetyAtWorkBlog]

SAWB: Jim, what happened at Longford, and what did it mean for you.

JW:   So, on 25 September 1998, I got up out of bed and went to work, just as I’d done for the previous 18 years of my working life, at the Esso gas plant facility at Longford in Victoria.

There was nothing unforeseen or untoward about that particular day.  But due to, as one judge elegantly described it, “a confluence of events”, it turned out to be the most significant day of my life.

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Real men and work-related suicide

Recently Huffington Post Australia posted a video about male suicides called “Men are killing themselves to be real men”.  Many of the speakers talked about their experiences at work or with work.  The video is highly recommended.

SafetyAtWorkBlog had the opportunity to talk with the Associate Video Editor, Emily Verdouw. Below is an edited transcript.

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