How much is safety a choice?

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Some time ago I had a run-in with a worker who repeatedly chose not to wear his hard hat.  He reasoned that as there were no overhead or head-high hazards in the work area the personal protective equipment (PPE) was not necessary.  He applied what some would call a risk-based decision and he was right.  But the worker was dismissed from the project (not by me) over his decision and because of his belligerence and verbal abuse over the matter.  The reality was that he showed disrespect to his employer (a subcontractor) and disregard to the safety rules of the contractor thereby eroding the safety culture that the contractor was trying to establish and maintain in order to, ultimately, satisfy the client.

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, September 8, 2018: Many road workers in orange vests are working on a busy inner city street. Source: istockphoto

There has been an increasing amount of discussion in the occupational health and safety (OHS) sector about trust.  There is little chance of achieving any change in a workplace without first of all establishing trust between the stakeholders, or at least a little bit of trust. But part of this trust is also respect. And part of this trust is that it should be earned… by everyone. Continue reading “How much is safety a choice?”

Innovation rather than complaints needed on safety

Moree, Australia – November 25, 2010: A farmer performs a maintenance routine on his John Deere combine harvester in Moree a major agricultural area in New South Wales, Australia.

The Victorian “Labor” Government has submitted its Workplace Manslaughter legislation to its Parliament. Debate is likely to begin, in earnest, from November 12, 2019. There were several surprises on which various business associations have expressed concerns, one surprise was that businesses seem to have been ignored by the government.

In many ways, the challenges are less about the legislation than what those business associations plan to do about occupational health and safety themselves.

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Silicosis – “we need to licence the industry and we need to regulate the product”

Last year the Scientific Meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine (ANZSOM) had a fiery discussion on the occupational health and safety (OHS) risks of cutting engineered stone.  The status has changed a lot over 12 months with various Codes of Practice, new exposure limits, a National Dust Disease Taskforce and lobbying from Erin Brockovich.  However the risk of worker exposure seems too have not changed this much because it is employers who are responsible for safe workplaces and there are many layers of OHS-related communication between research and practical application.

Dr Graeme Edwards (pictured above) spoke first in the ANZSOM panel on October 29 and he came out with all guns blazing.

“Prima facie evidence of system failure. That’s what accelerated silicosis means. It is an entirely preventable disease.”

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In cases of wage theft, who investigates the OHS issues?

In August 2017, the ABC Four Corners program reported on the dysfunctional glass recycling industry. Following this various media looked at the issue and in September of that year, one recycler, Polytrade, allowed some media into their worksite. The focus was on the “recycling crisis” and occupational health and safety (OHS) did not get a look in but two years on and OHS is now mentioned, but perhaps not as prominently as it could be.

On October 5 2019, The Age newspaper reported on accusations by the Australian Workers Union that workers at Polytrade were underpaid around $40,000 each year. There are many elements to this story such as migrant workers, “wage theft”, which have tapped into topical issues of several years, but the health and safety of the workers has received much less attention.

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Australian Greens push for ban on engineered stone to eliminate silicosis risks

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Greens MPs in Australia are increasing the political pressure to ban engineered stone from Australia because of the difficulty in eliminating silicosis risks.

On October 18, 2019, Greens MP David Shoebridge released a statement calling for the ban. Greens MP in South Australia Tammy Franks spoke in Parliament on October 16 2019, also calling for a ban on engineered stone. This and other action from other Members of Parliament are in response to inaction on the national level, partly due to occupational health and safety (OHS) being regulated by the States rather than the Commonwealth.

But as with the current controversy of thoroughbred horses being killed for export and pet food, the Federal Government is in charge of exports and imports, so could make the decision to stop imports of engineered stone. It is not as if there are not safer substitutes

The Greens in Western Australia have not called for a ban but have supported a reduced exposure standard.

David Shoebridge MP

Shoebridge was responding to reports in The Australian ($) about New South Wales government plans to reduce silicosis risks, saying they:

  • Do not remove the risk of silicosis by banning the use of manufactured stone
  • Fail to expressly ban dry cutting, which is the most dangerous way in which the product is currently used
  • Will not prevent workers in the industry being exposed to potentially lethal silica dust with even the reduced exposure standard not being implemented for three years, and
  • Fail to put in place the right screening to identify cases of silicosis as early as possible.

Tammy Franks asked the Minister for Industrial Relations and Treasurer Rob Lucas, about government action on silicosis risks in Parliament on 16 October, 2019 (video available). Curiously, Lucas indicated that an Italian manufacturer of engineered stone is producing a version with a much reduced silica content, so imports could continue but of a safer product.

More on the science behind the politics next week when SafetyAtWorkBlog reports from the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine in Adelaide.

Kevin Jones