Chinese Whispers on drugs and alcohol at work

Evidence-based policy making needs make sure that the evidence is accurate and valid. Evidence is also the foundation of the state of knowledge of the occupational health and safety (OHS) professional, action and regulations. To achieve and sustain these aims and requirements, evidence needs to be questioned in order to verify it.

On July 17 2019 WorkSafe Victoria distributed an email newsletter which stated that

“… 15% of workplace injuries worldwide are caused by alcohol and drug use”

and referencing Comcare as its source. But that source says something significantly different.

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Hopefully prevention of mental injuries at work will emerge in this Royal Commission

LtoR: Professor Bernadette McSherry, Prof. Allan Fels, Penny Arnytage, Dr Alex Cockram

The first week of media coverage of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Mental Health is very thin on the roles and impacts of workplaces and work activities on people’s mental health, but it is part of the conversation.

The Public Hearings on July 4-5 had Prevention and Early Intervention as their theme. Prevention as occupational health and safety (OHS) people would apply was mostly absent. Prevention, in OHS terms, is usually about the elimination of a risk or hazard whereas the impression from the discussion in the Royal Commission over the last few days is that mental health is something that appears, strikes an individual (with ripples to relatives), is treated and a new psychological normal, a functional/social normal is established. Analysis of the social, occupational and environmental precursors, elements that OHS investigations are obliged to consider, seems missing, at the moment.

According to the Commission’s transcript Chair Penny Armytage said on July 2, 2019:

“We start these hearings with a wide lens. Not in hospitals or clinics, but in our homes, our sporting fields and our workplaces.”

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What is the problem that Industrial Manslaughter laws are intended to solve?

Marie Boland speaking on Day one

This week Melbourne Victoria hosted a conference about Work Health and Safety Prosecutions and Enforcement. The two-day conference, run by Criterion Conferences, focused on law and the application of that law. Occupational health and safety (OHS) was largely a subtext of the discussion, but it raised its head occasionally.

The audience of around 100 consisted of many OHS regulators and lawyers from most Australian States. This conference profile set the tone of this conference where a lot of legal knowledge and terminology was assumed even though, occasionally and not knowing the audience, a speaker trod old ground with Law 101.

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To OPD or not to OPD? That is NOT the question

The current debate and lobbying campaigns over quad bikes in Australia have become less about safety than about product design integrity. The opposition to operator protection devices (OPDs) has been so loud that it has dominated the quad bike safety discussion. So, last week I decided to visit a local quad bike dealer to talk to the sellers not about OPDs but about Safety. I found that some vehicles have safety integrated into their design and operation.

I have learnt that the best conversations happen during the weekdays when shop assistants and managers have the time to devote to someone who may be a potential buyer but is, at least, someone genuinely interested in the product, in this case quad bikes and side-by-side (SXS) work vehicles.

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Release of authoritative quad bike safety report is still not enough for the Federal Minister

On April 6 2018 Australia’s Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert released the report into Quad Bike safety prepared by the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC). The report makes unsurprising safety recommendations, many of these have been coming for years. The surprise is the Minister’s decision to begin another round of consultation:

“The Government is inviting stakeholders to review and comment on the ACCC’s recommended safety standard.”

The previous paragraph in the Minister’s press statement acknowledged:

“Extensive consultation has been undertaken including with technical experts, farmers, the recreational and tourism sector, consumer groups, health and medical experts, industry and government bodies. The majority of stakeholders support a new mandatory safety standard. The ACCC’s report highlights how these safety measures including installing an operator protection device can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of injuries, particularly from rollover incidents”

An indication of the level of “extensive consultation” can be seen through the process the ACCC has been running since at least November 2017. The only possible reason for this extraordinary decision is the political desire to release the ACCC report prior to the Federal Election, only just announced as occurring on May 18, 2019.

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