WHS, performance indicators, annual reports and other thoughts

Macquarie University researcher Sharron O’Neill is traveling around Australia refining, through consultation and seminars, her research into Work Health and Safety (WHS) Due Diligence. In a Melbourne seminar this week O’Neill, and her colleague, Karen Wolfe,  provided thought-provoking discussions on three principal areas:

  • Due Diligence,
  • Performance Indicators, and
  • Reporting.

Below are some of my thoughts that they provoked.

WHS Due Diligence

WHS Due Diligence is still a poorly understood concept.  Part of the reason is that the major explainers of due diligence seem to be, predominantly, labour lawyers who, not surprisingly, emphasis the legal requirements and origins rather than the safety elements and application.  There are few safety professionals who are explaining due diligence; rather they are discussing OHS/WHS in the context of due diligence.

One colleague explained how an established organisation employed her as their first dedicated OHS professional around the same time as due diligence was being discussed  as part of the national OHS harmonisation process.  By looking through the company’s existing system of work,

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A rough ride on OHS

Since I heard about the Gaia hypothesis in the 1980s, I have read most of James Lovelock‘s books.  I was confronted by his argument that nuclear power is undervalued as one of the cleanest and sustainable sources of power, as I have grown up listening to anti-nuclear activists like Helen Caldicott and being frightened by films like Fail Safe and Threads.  I am not sure I agree with Lovelock but I respect him.  In his latest book, though, he makes a couple of negative references to occupational health and safety (OHS) that are cheap shots, unfair or disappointing.

Lovelock says, on page 2 of “A Rough Ride to the Future” that the chemical industry is “now mainly run by an intelligent and usually responsible technocracy” but that

“…we may be hampered in our attempts to solve the large problems [of pollution] by the absurdly zealous application of health and safety laws.” (emphasis added)

In discussing oxygen levels in the atmosphere and how its regulation is so important, Lovelock says, in parentheses,

“We are fortunate there is no inbuilt health and safety system in Gaia, otherwise the dangers of fires would have led to the banning of its production.” (page 13)

This comment, moreso than the former, shows Lovelock misunderstands OHS regulation and application.  Earlier in the book he praises the banning of chlorofluorocarbons on climatic reasons and then, absurdly, implies that OHS would advocate the banning of oxygen. It’s a cheap shot.  OHS is about trying to eliminate the risk of harm and by investigating the source of the hazard, usually through the scientific method. 

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OHS needs more comedies like Safety First

a54c5e_887371bdbda842de8bfb875829197d4f Safety First, is a dig at the absurdity of some of the training and concepts behind occupational health and safety (OHS) and is showing as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The comedy does not ridicule OHS as a concept but focuses on the idiotic, semi-informed trainers who talk about safety whilst also, often, talking shit.  The humour is effective and occasionally generates discomfort for its proximity to reality. Continue reading “OHS needs more comedies like Safety First”

One man’s frustration with OHS illustrates larger safety dysfunctions

Terry Reis has written a terrific article about how occupational health and safety (OHS) requirements can impede his work as a fauna ecologist.  Instead of whingeing about green or red tape, Terry has provided examples of the annoyance which allows me to build an article in response.  This article is in no way a rebuttal as I agree with most of Terry’s grievances, but there can be reasons behind some of the grievances that are likely to be unrelated to OHS or illustrate poor OHS decisions.

Some of the issues Terry raises include:

  • Inductions
  • PPE
  • Working Alone
  • OHS arguments
  • Drug and Alcohol Testing
  • Permits

Inductions

Terry mentions the irrelevance of many OHS inductions and his article seems to indicate a dysfunctional induction program.  The intention of inductions is to outline the safety rules of a workplace or task but most are boring, condescending or include information that is unrelated to the task. The reality of many inductions is that they are a mechanism to have workers sign up and indicate they have understood all of their safety obligations on a site so that there is a clearer line of responsibility in the event of an incident.   Continue reading “One man’s frustration with OHS illustrates larger safety dysfunctions”

Truth, justice and the safe way

Many years ago the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) won a WorkSafe Victoria award for a colouring in book.  From memory the book depicted construction work so that children could understand what their parents do while the kids are at school.  Since that time many companies have produced safety calendars from children’s drawings and train companies have created safety jingles and animated videos about decapitation.  On 28 October WorkSafeACT launched a comic book about Hazardman.

Dr Rob Long rips the campaign to shreds in a blog article,concluding with

“It is amazing that the Regulator can impose this indoctrination campaign on the school system and now we learn that Safe Work Australia is going to roll it out throughout Australia. Fantastic, what a wonderful way to prepare our children and inoculate them against the realities of risk.” Continue reading “Truth, justice and the safe way”

New quadbike safety research in a time of political change

In the next edition of the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA), Dr Tony Lower, Director of Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety and Monash University researchers ( Angela J Clapperton and Emily L Herde) will be providing more evidence about the death and injury rate associated with the use of All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV) and quadbikes. A unique feature of this study is that “it is the first Australian study quantifying injuries from three different data sources.”

This research is timely as only last week a Tasmanian court case was occurring over a quad bike incident on a dairy farm. According to a newspaper report on the case:

“Defence counsel Glynn Williams told magistrate Michael Brett that quad bikes were inherently unsafe and unstable…. [and]

“There is ongoing carnage on farms and while the government can legislate to make stronger and stronger dog laws there is no willingness to legislate for stronger quad bike laws”

According to a media statement on the MJA paper due for release on 16 September 2013, Lower says:

“As the data indicates not only are there increasing numbers of quad cases, they are also more serious than other similar injuries. Further, because of their threat to life, they will frequently require higher levels of medical treatment and longer recovery periods for the victims.”

“The impact of deaths and serious injuries from quad bikes is significant and I am sure everyone would like to see a decrease in these incidents.”

Continue reading “New quadbike safety research in a time of political change”

Serious questions raised over the role of Safe Work Method Statements

Any safety conference involving the Australian construction industry will have some discussion on Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) and this weekend’s Building Safety conference was no different. During the presentation on Saturday by the Federal Safety Commissioners, SWMS was bubbling along underneath many of his words and statements. Sadly, the audience (now) seems to have been too polite to ask him questions about the elephant in the room. There was no such hesitation following the presentation by Brookfield-Multiplex’s Paul Breslin on the Sunday.

Several delegates stated their belief that the Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner (OFSC) is largely to blame for the over-emphasis on SWMS in the construction sector and for the bloating of SWMS into a document that does little to improve safety and is more related to meeting the audit criteria of the OFSC.

Continue reading “Serious questions raised over the role of Safe Work Method Statements”