A safe (social) system of work

For years Australian OHS legislation has focused on establishing a “safe system of work”.  This focus is inclusive and is an understandable approach to safety regulation but it has also generated a fair share of confusion.  If a business does not have a documented safety management system, does it have a system of work?  Yes it does but the lack of documentation makes it very difficult to describe, particularly if there is a performance benchmark such as “compliance”.  Humans like to have a clean line of cause and effect or a linear, causative management process.  So vague concepts like “system of work” can be challenging.

Prescriptive rules used to be the way that safety compliance could be met but that world is long gone.  Its distance can be seen by looking at the Australian Government’s new model Work Health and Safety Act which compounds the vagueness by including “as far as reasonably practicable” wherever possible.  All of this vagueness makes the lot of the business operator more complex and more costly as the business operator seeks clarity from others such as lawyers, OHS consultants, auditors and Standards organizations.  Is it any wonder that safety is seen as an exorbitant cost?  In essence, OHS regulators have outsourced the responsibility, and the cost, to employers. Continue reading “A safe (social) system of work”

Army notice on asbestos bags is warning for all workplaces

Various sectors of the Australian media have been reporting on the potential use of asbestos-tainted sacks by Australian soldiers and Defence personnel.  Asbestos exposure is a recurring risk for the Australian armed services due to items in use, such as the dummy, and the existence of asbestos in various buildings.

The issue of asbestos persisting in sacks was given prominence in the last 12 months by ABC journalist Matt Peacock in his book “Killer Company”.  Peacock reported that inadequately cleaned sacks were reused as carpet underlay in Australia and for other purposes. Continue reading “Army notice on asbestos bags is warning for all workplaces”

Suicide advice shows reactive thinking

Workplace suicides are in the news at the moment due to Foxconn and, to a lesser extent, France Telecome.  There is enough media attention for companies to start to evaluate their own risk exposures.

Through LinkedIn, Tom Boudreau of R&R Insurance Services, issued the following advice under the title “Do Employers Have a Duty to Prevent Workplace Suicides?”:

“A tech company in China has recently been plagued with a rash of worker suicides (and attempted suicides). Nine workers (all of them young) died and two others suffered serious injuries. These workers have not only killed or tried to kill themselves, they’ve done so in the workplace itself. …..

Some labor groups have blamed the company for the suicides, claiming it runs military-style factories and abuses workers. Regardless of the cause, these tragic deaths do raise an interesting question: what duty do employers have—if any—to prevent workplace suicides? Continue reading “Suicide advice shows reactive thinking”

Foxconn worker dies of exhaustion – focus on working hours

On 27 May 2010, a worker at the Foxconn factory in died from overwork, according to a statement released on 4 June 2010 by SACOM.  This coincides with a statement by Hon Hai Precision Industry on 6 June 2002, Hon Hai owns the Foxconn facility in Shenzhen.

The SACOM statement reports:

“Yan Li, 27, is the latest victim of Foxconn, the manufacturer of iPads and other high-tech items that has experienced a recent rash of worker suicides.  He collapsed and died from exhaustion on 27 May after having worked continuously for 34 hours.  His wife said Yan had been on the night shift for a month and in that time had worked overtime every night…”

There is clearly something structurally wrong with the working hours basis of the Foxconn factory.  Foxconn is a contractor or supplier of high-tech devices to major Western corporations who claim to have stringent oversight regimes.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) (not available online except for iPad users)  reports the 4 June Hon Hai statement in which wage increases are announced with the intention of improving worker health or, in Western terms, work-life balance.   Continue reading “Foxconn worker dies of exhaustion – focus on working hours”

The Toowong cancer cluster and risk communication

The latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia (eMJA) has published an investigation into the possible cancer cluster at the Toowong television studios of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in late 2006.

Not surprisingly, given previous reports, the investigation has found that

“No statistically significant excess risk of breast cancer in ABC female employees was found across the Australian states and territories as a whole compared with their respective population incidences.  A statistically significant increased risk of breast cancer was found among ABC female employees in Queensland, consistent with the findings in an earlier report.”

The Toowong incident created considerable concern amongst staff, to such an extent that the corporation decided to close the entire facility and relocate all the broadcasting processes.  Unless this was already a corporate strategy the decision was brave, particularly when the initial investigations showed that the concern was not justified for Toowong specifically.

The ABC has an excellent timeline of media statements about the incident online.

Several issues from the latest report are worth noting.   Continue reading “The Toowong cancer cluster and risk communication”

The “Triffid defence” applied to asbestos

At the end of The Day of The Triffids, John Wyndham, had mankind living on the Isle of Wight, making sure that Triffids did not infest the island.  Tasmania has a similar mindset as can be seen by its diligence on keeping the land free of foxes but that is keeping out a hazard.  The greater challenge is renewing the land and removing a hazard that was allowed to grow and establish itself like triffids or, more realistically, asbestos.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has written elsewhere about the Australian Workers Union push to make Tasmania free of asbestos by 2020.  The signs are increasingly positive as the Tasmanian government issued a media release on 6 June 2010 that provides substantial impetus and legitimacy to the campaign.

The Minister for Workplace Relations, David O’Byrne, said today that the government will work with industry to develop legislative frameworks that provide a pathway for the prioritised removal of asbestos from Tasmania. Continue reading “The “Triffid defence” applied to asbestos”

The advantages of integrated enforcement action

In the 1990s, WorkSafe Victoria (then the Occupational health and  Safety Authority) coordinated Hazardous Chemicals Audit Teams (HCAT).  I was one member of the administrative unit for HCAT.  This coordinated approach to inspection and enforcement had substantial merit and was very effective as the Auditor-General found in 1995.  I was reminded of this initiative by the simultaneous action taken by the Victorian Government against Mobil Australia, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, on 3 June 2010.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has

“…cancelled Mobil Refining Australia Pty Ltd’s accredited licence”.

The EPA media release quotes CEO John Merritt (formerly executive director of WorkSafe Victoria):

“In the absence of [an ongoing commitment to constantly improving their environmental performance], EPA has the power to cancel the accreditation…. EPA is less than impressed with Mobil’s track record in which there has been a number of incidents at the site all with the potential for environmental and community risk.

It is EPA’s belief that Mobil’s onsite practices have not demonstrated a high level of environmental performance to justify accreditation.” Continue reading “The advantages of integrated enforcement action”

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