Engineering controls are possible, and they save lives

The issue of quad bike safety has largely disappeared from the mainstream media. This is largely due to the decline in opposition to installing Crush Protection Devices (CPD) on newly-purchased quad bikes in line with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) mandated safety standards. On November 24 2022, the ACCC released statistics that showed the success of applying an Engineering Control (the CPDs) favoured by the safety advocates over the Administrative Controls (training, signage and dynamic riding) favoured by the manufacturers and their lobbyists.

The quad bike safety saga in Australia, in particular, is a textbook study of farm politics, globalisation, belligerence, the ownership of evidence, the macho culture of independence, manipulation of consumers, ineffective politics, ineffective occupational health and safety (OHS) arguments, the power of money and more. (There’s an important book challenge to anyone who has the time and the resources)

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When a ban is an understandable stunt

Australia has yet to offer a good reason for hazardous engineered stone products not being banned from import and use. On November 23 2022, Australia’s most influential construction union, the CFMEU, stated that it would ban these products from mid-2024 if the Federal Government does not. Trade unions no longer have the level of influence or numbers to achieve these sorts of bans. As with asbestos many years ago, such campaigns risk taking more credit for the potential occupational safety and health reforms than they deserve.

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Sacking may eliminate a hazard but allow toxic work cultures to persist

A Queensland inquiry into how Police respond to and handle domestic violence incidents has gained an occupational health and safety (OHS) context. According to The Guardian newspaper (paywalled).

“Employment law experts say the weak police discipline system and the ongoing employment of problematic officers have created “clear breaches of duty” under workplace health and safety laws, which require organisations to provide a safe environment for employees.”

Perhaps the article is more telling in the assumption that offending Police are unredeemable, with the only option being to sack them. OHS duties are meant to be supportive, but they also advocate that workplace hazards should be eliminated, as this is the most effective risk control measure.

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Why isn’t work safer?

Recently Australian law firm Cornwalls published an article about workplace health and safety in support of National Safe Work Month.  The article, written by Robert King, illustrates the difference between advice from a lawyer and advice from an Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) professional.

King advocates that National Safe Work Month is a good time to audit one’s OHS management system.  He’s right, but anytime is a good time to undertake these audits as long as the auditor is independent and honest.

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Silicosis risk controls exempted for the moment

In 2019, Dr Graeme Edwards said this of the cutters of engineered stone:

“We can’t just rely on the industry to self-regulate. We need to licence the industry and we need to regulate the product….. If we can’t do this, [banning] is a realistic option.”

Recent research commissioned by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and conducted by Curtin University seems to support a ban on the import of engineered stone products with such a high level of silica that cutting them, without suitable controls, can lead to silicosis.

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Do what you know is the right thing to do

Currently, Australia has an increase in hospitalisations of people with the latest COVID-19 variants and influenza. The Victorian Government, in particular, is resisting implementing a mandatory requirement for masks even though this Winter had been flagged as a season of high risk for transmissible infections, and such control measures were shown to be effective in previous years.

Regardless of the politics in the Victorian Government’s decision, and there is a lot of politics there with an election in November, what should employers do to reduce the risks of workers catching or transmitting the virus, and so maintain continuous operation and production?

Continue reading “Do what you know is the right thing to do”

‘Enough was Enough’ over a decade ago and the mining industry failed to act then

The recent report on sexual harassment at West Australian mine sites deserves national attention for several reasons.  The stories are horrific, partly because many of us thought such stories were in the distant past.  The fact that many are recent should shock everyone into action. 

The report “Enough is Enough”is highly important, but its newsworthiness seems disputable.  Some media have covered the report’s release but the newsworthiness, in my opinion, comes less from this one report but from the number of reports and research on sexual harassment, bullying, abuse, disrespect and more in the mining sector over the last twenty years that have done little to prevent the psychosocial hazards of working in the mining and resources sector and especially through the Fly-in, Fly-Out (FIFO) labour supply process.

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