Scissor Lifts and safety

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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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SWMS – the infectious safety weed

Australian occupational health and safety (OHS) professional, Paul Breslin, is continuing his research into the use and application of the Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) in the construction industry.  His latest paper, recently published in the Journal of Health, Safety and Environment (subscription only) asks an important question:

“If administrative controls are one of the lowest levels of control measures under the hierarchy of control, why has the Safe Work Method Statement become a central element in ensuring safety in the Australian construction industry?”

Breslin’s article title summarises the frustration of many OHS professionals where safety relies on lower order controls of the

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Standing desks distract from systemic analysis

The media’s focus on standing desks continues in Australia with the PM radio program on 7 May 15 stating:

“If you thought those standing desks, and even the newer treadmill desks, were a fad, think again.”

This compounds the continuing distraction from organisational causes to individual adaptability and encourages short-term thinking on occupational health and safety (OHS) issues.

The radio program built a report around some very useful research data released by the Heart Foundation which, amongst other findings, stated:

“More than one in two Australian workers reported that they do not do enough physical activity to be healthy. In fact, one in four Australian workers does very little or no physical activity at all. The most common reasons Australian workers are not physical active is due to lack of time, a lack of enjoyment when doing physical activity or simply would prefer to do other things than undertaking physical activity.”

Sedentary behaviour is an acknowledged risk factor in various chronic diseases and the Heart Foundation should be commended for providing further evidence.  But there is no mention of standing desks in the Foundation’s media release or

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OHS professionals should be more politically active

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is inextricably linked to everyday life and everyday politics but it is treated as somehow separate, even by those who are experts in OHS.  This is not the case with industrial relations which is much more grounded in the political realities.

Industrial relations has been pushed by the trade union movement that has always seen workers’ rights as a social issue.  The OHS profession and its associations have been content, largely, to live within the factory fence.  Until recently OHS laws related solely to the workplace and OHS professionals had the luxury of a clear demarcation for its operations.

But new OHS laws acknowledge the responsibility for the effects of work on those other than workers, and those who are neighbours to workplaces.  Australian OHS professionals have been slow to embrace the social role that has been foisted on them.  There seems no excuse for this.

Recently, a

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New research on OHS business case

cover of business-case-for-safe-healthy-productive-workSafe Work Australia recently released its second research paper related to developing or communicating a business case for occupational health and safety (OHS).  The paper has been authored by Sharron O’Neill and is called “The Business Case for Safe, Healthy and Productive Work – Implications for resource allocation: Procurement, Contracting and infrastructure decisions“.  O’Neill’s paper clearly challenges the dominant thinking of OHS and costs.

O’Neill states that the quality of previous analyses of OHS business costs have been “fundamentally poor”, partly because

“Rather than strategically examining the cost-benefit to business of work health and safety, the typical ‘silo’-driven analysis produces a narrow focus on a very different concept; the cost-benefit to business of health and safety interventions. This has obscured much of the potential for improving  organisational productivity and operational decision-making.” (page 4, link added)

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