Hi-viz and safety – it’s all about the context

High visibility clothing has spread from the work site to the public arena and, as such, has complicated the reasons for hi-viz clothing.  However the fundamental underpinning of high-viz is to contrast against the surrounding environment. This contrast does not only relate to clothing but also signage.

Several years ago, a couple of women from Tasmania visited the offices of SafetyAtWorkBlog to discuss the practicality of hi-viz vests for toddlers and small children.  The hi-viz logic of the work site is easily applied to the public park or farms.  A contrasting colour to the trees or bushland would make it easier to identify someone, like a wayward child.  On a work site, the hi-viz is more about identifying a hazard, whether that be a person, an overhead wire or a work boundary.

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Not all deaths are “newsworthy” but they are all important

As Australia’s Safe Work Month closes, the media is focussed on the four fatalities at Dreamworld theme park in Queensland.  That situation is complicated as, although the incident is being investigated partly under Work Health and Safety laws, the decedents were visitors to the workplace. On the other side of the continent in Perth, prior…

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Scissor Lifts and safety

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digitally altered

Workers in scissor lifts often step on railings or overreach placing themselves at risk of falling.  These actions are contrary to the use of plant as usually recommended by  manufacturers and to the usual requirements in an occupational health and safety (OHS) management plan for working in the rail environment.

The actions in these photographs occurred on a Melbourne railway station and in an industry that this author has worked in for the last six years. Photographs never show the entire facts of a situation and there are many assumptions and what-if scenarios about which these photos could, and should, start discussions. The following discussion of occupational health and safety management issues focuses on the facts presented by the photos*.

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When safety equipment fails to be safe, nobody’s watching

Twelve months ago, some Australia media, including this blog, began reporting on safety concerns raised by the Working At Heights Association (WAHA) about the reliability and suitability of anchor points.  Australia is currently in the middle of Safe Work Australia Month and there seems to have been little progress on the issue.  A reader of SafetyAtWorkBlog provided the following summary and update of the situation:

Who checks the true safety of equipment designed to save the lives of Australian workers? Nobody in particular, it seems.

Last September, the Working At Heights Association, an industry body staffed by volunteers, revealed many of the most commonly-used roof anchors failed to meet basic safety standards. Almost a year later, the association is still battling to see rooftops made safe, despite repeated appeals for action from the OHS regulators and the absence of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

 An estimated 800,000 Australians work at height and routinely clip their harnesses onto safety anchors. A worker falls to his or her death every 12 days and WAHA chairman Michael Biddle said authorities should be concerned. Biddle told Industry Update magazine

“It’s the third highest cause of death in the workplace after motor vehicle accidents and being hit by moving objects. In most cases, regulators are more concerned in taking a reactive approach after an accident has happened.  There is a great need for an enhanced level of enforcement.   If we had an increase in penalties and stronger enforcement of standards I’m sure we would see a higher level of compliance by industry.”

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Anchor points could meet the Australian Standard but still be unsafe

Twice in early April 2014, 7.30, a current affairs program of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ran two lead stories about occupational health and safety – home insulation-related fatalities and the risks of working at heights.  The latter of these provided only a glimpse of a complex OHS issue and only touched on the matter of the self-certification of anchor points where compliance does not necessarily equate to safety. This issue has been taken up by the Working at Heights Association (WAHA) on 11 April 2014. In a media release WAHA stated:

“In the wake of last night’s ABC 7.30 Report on falls from height, the Working At Heights Association has a warning: “If you’re counting on a harness attached to an anchor system to save your life when you fall from a roof, you need to know that many roof anchors don’t meet the most basic safety standards.”

WAHA has conducted some “drop tests” of common anchor points that are currently in use in Australia and that meet the relevant Australian Standard AS/NZS5532 – Manufacturing requirements for single-point anchor device used for harness-based work at height. They found that

“In the tests, 100kg loads dropped through 2 metres tear single-person anchors away from their mounts, while 150kg loads for two-person-use hit the ground, smashing the weights. Only one out of the five anchors tested pass.”

This is a matter of enormous concern as anchor points are an essential element of fall protection.  A lot of attention has been given to fall protection harnesses over the years with some new product types but all of these rely on the integrity of a firmly secured anchor point that can withstand the high forces involved in stopping someone falling to their deaths. Continue reading “Anchor points could meet the Australian Standard but still be unsafe”

Are you ready for the revised AS1657 on walkways, ladders and platforms?

A guest post by Carl Sachs

Walkwaywas0121-03141MBThe revised Australian Standard AS1657 for fixed ladders, platforms and walkways released in October 2013 plugs some serious holes. Guard rails made of rubber, for example, are now explicitly unacceptable.

While absurd, rubber guard rails technically complied with the 21-year-old AS1657 and the example shows just how sorely an update was needed.

Four big changes to AS1657

The biggest changes to AS1657 concern selection, labelling, guardrail testing and the design of fixed ladders. Continue reading “Are you ready for the revised AS1657 on walkways, ladders and platforms?”

Working at Heights seminar video available

In early September 2013 I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on the issue of working at heights.  The “crisis summit” was reported on recently by Marian Macdonald.  The videos of this panel are now available through the WAHA YouTube channel and all the separate videos are worth viewing.  The video in which I first advocate for a focus on safety is embedded below.

The questions from the floor are included in the last video of the panel discussion.  If the issue of working at heights seems dry it is worth looking at the video from the 4.30 minute mark.  Several members of the audience take the Workcover NSW representative to task.

Kevin Jones

Hundreds plead with government to save lives while those to blame beg for scrutiny

The article below has been written by Marian Macdonald and is about an event that I recently attended in Sydney about fall protection.

When a plumber perched on the rooftop of a skyscraper clips a safety harness onto the point that anchors him to the building, there’s a one-in-three chance the anchor itself is unsafe. Remarkably, the installers being held to blame are pleading for greater scrutiny of their work from the regulator.

SummitAudienceThe Working At Heights Association (WAHA), which represents fall prevention equipment installers, today sent a call to action submission (not available online)  to the Heads Of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA). It follows an industry crisis summit held last month where, with a sea of upstretched hands, hundreds packed into a stifling conference room demanded urgent action from governments. Continue reading “Hundreds plead with government to save lives while those to blame beg for scrutiny”

One in three safety devices unfit to save lives

On September 3 2013 I will be on a panel in Sydney discussing issues associated with working at heights. Below is a media release (not yet available online) about the panel and some recent data on working at heights risks. The quotes are mine.

Inaction by policy makers is putting lives at risk and now, says a peak safety industry body, there are the numbers to prove it.

The Working At Heights Association (WAHA) will host a crisis summit on Tuesday at The Safety Show Sydney, where it will reveal that one in three roof anchors are unfit for use. Of the 3245 anchors audited by association members over the last three months, 2260 were deemed unusable.

Part of the problem, says WAHA secretary Gordon Cadzow, has been the lack of awareness of the number of inadequate safety systems on Australia’s rooftops.

Continue reading “One in three safety devices unfit to save lives”

New safety harness removes suspension trauma and may improve safety

It is rare to see any major innovation in in the area of working at heights, particularly in relation to fall protection harnesses.  Yet coming soon to the Australian and New Zealand markets, via the Galahad Group, is the ZT Safety Harness, a fall arrest harness without a groin strap.

The ZT Safety Harness has been designed to eliminate the potential for suspension trauma which can result from being suspended for some time in a traditional harnesses.  A video is perhaps the best way to understand this harness which, in the absence of the groin strap, is integrated into a pair of work trousers or coveralls with webbing extending down the leg of the trousers to gaiters on the lower calf.  This configuration provides for a suspended worker to be in a seated position with the shock from the fall being distributed more evenly along the body.

There are advantages other than the elimination of suspension trauma.  Continue reading “New safety harness removes suspension trauma and may improve safety”