Quad bike safety gets messy – disagreements, Supreme Court writs and stars

Over the last couple of weeks in Australia, the arguments over the safety of quad bikes (sometimes called All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs)) has become messy. The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is in favour of Operator Protection Devices (OPDs) but the Victorian Farmers’ Federation (VFF) is not. Doctors and farmers are calling for a five-start safety rating for quad bikes. One researcher says such a scheme is ready to go. The manufacturers’ industry representative, Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) says no it’s not but here’s a new helmet to wear.

Around all of this is remarkable silence about legal action launched against the Victorian occupational health and safety (OHS) regulator, WorkSafe, by Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki and BRP over WorkSafe’s interpretation of a legal safety duty.

All the while farmers in some States are continuing to access generous safety rebate schemes. Continue reading “Quad bike safety gets messy – disagreements, Supreme Court writs and stars”

Autonomy, safety, diversity, equality and productivity

Photo taken by Angelo Kehagias

Discussion about gender in the workplace peaks each year around International Women’s Day on March 8.  Occasionally there is renewed localised interest when an issue pops up but the issue of gender permeates our thoughts, our planning and our conduct all the time.

Recently, SafetyAtWorkBlog had the chance to ask some questions about gender and diversity and the relevance to the workplace and the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession to Alena Titterton (pictured above), a fascinating workplace relations lawyer with the Australian offices of Clyde & Co.

Gender diversity seems to be more prominent than diversity generally.  Should gender diversity be given priority over, or be separated from, other categories such as ethnicity or sexuality?

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Analysis of the WorkSafe Legislation Amendment Bill raises concerns

Several readers have expressed curiosity over the WorkSafe Legislative Amendment Bill currently in the Victorian Parliament and mentioned by lawyer Steve Bell last week.  Bell pointed to a couple of issues in the Bill and gave the impression that the Bill was aimed at tidying up some administration.  Several of the issues raised in the Bill deserve contemplation.

The Bill is still not through Parliament.  The next stage of the process will occur on April 5, 2017 but the Minster’s

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For What Steve Bell Tells – OHS issues for 2017

Steve Bell is a partner with Hebert Smith Freehills (HSF) in Melbourne, Australia.  As many law firms do, HSF conducts several events each year to inform clients and others of occupational health and safety (OHS) and labour relations issues.  In March 2017 Bell, who is the regular host at these events, spoke at a breakfast seminar held jointly with the Safety Institute of Australia, and identified several safety issues as becoming prominent in 2017:

  • Increased penalties
  • The risk of complacency
  • Increased interplay between OHS and industrial relations
  • Focus on public safety elements of OHS
  • the review of regulations.

Below are some thoughts on the issues raised by Steve Bell.

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OHS changes to come in wake of the Western Australia election result

It is rare to find an occupational health and safety (OHS) seminar that is captivating but there is almost always some useful bits of safety information, hopefully enough to make attendance worthwhile.

On March 24, 2017 the Safety Institute of Australia and Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) held the annual breakfast seminar in Melbourne.  Speakers included representatives from the HSF law firm, the SIA, WorkSafe Victoria and SafeSearch.  Perhaps of most interest was HSF’s senior associate from Perth, Sam Witton (pictured), who outlined the OHS changes likely in Western Australia now the Australian Labor Party (ALP) is in power.

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Legal Professional Privilege – the snake in safety

Part of good corporate governance is transparency.  A core element of occupational health and safety (OHS) is effective consultation.  These two business practices seem compatible in that they address what is good for business and what is good for the workers.  But there is a snake in this garden of safety – Legal Professional Privilege (LPP).

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Cabbage Salad and Drugs

Episode 6 of the Cabbage Salad and Safety podcast is now available with the discussion centring on drugs and alcohol issues at work. For those looking for information on drug and alcohol testing, this episode is not for you.  We thought that the testing issue is dealt with in many workplaces through legislative and regulatory matters and you have to comply with what you have to comply. Continue reading “Cabbage Salad and Drugs”

Gender, violence, Batty, Hulls and business preparedness

Recently the Victorian Women Lawyers conducted a seminar into the outcomes of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence.  SafetyAtWorkBlog attended even though the topic seems, initially, to have a tenuous link to occupational health and safety (OHS).  Family violence is relevant to OHS through its influence on workplace mental ill-health, productivity and the need for cultural…

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Early speculation and reporting on theme park deaths is unhelpful

Late yesterday four adults were killed on the Thunder River Rapids ride at the Dreamworld theme park in Queensland Australia. Investigations are ongoing and it was only recently that the names of some of the victims were released.  The first few days after any fatality are confusing as new information is uncovered, old concerns are voiced and our sympathies for the dead expressed.  However there are usually some comments that are unhelpful, and this morning was no exception.

ABC Radio’s AM program led with a report called “Union expresses concerns to Queensland safety regulator about Dreamworld rides”. In the report Ben Swan, Queensland Secretary of the Australian Workers Union says that the union raised safety and maintenance concerns with the company running DreamWorld, Ardent Leisure Group, earlier this year. Swan said that the concerns involved maintenance regimes and equipment but did not specify that Thunder River Rapids was part of those concerns.

Swan was at pains to not distract people from the incident investigation yet his readiness to be interviewed did just that. The union could have made its point about past safety concerns by pledging to cooperate with official investigations by the Coroner and Work Health and Safety Queensland.

Lawyer, Sugath Wijedoru was interviewed by AM over an incident at the theme park in April 2016 that involved his client. The incident involved a different ride and different circumstances.

Swan’s and Wijedoru’s comments and the structure of the AM report, imply that there was a systemic OHS problem with the theme park’s administration but how does this help the investigation less than a day after the deaths? Does this add to the grief and trauma of the relatives who have only just been informed of the deaths, or provide comfort?  DreamWorld may have systemic safety management problems but identifying this is the role of the investigators.

The information that Swan, Wijedoru and others have about the Thunder River Rapids ride and Dream World’s OHS practices generally is sure to be of interest to the investigators, regulators and Courts but did they need to comment within 24 hours of the tragedies? Who did this help?

The report also end with the reporter Katherine Gregory reminding the listener that

“there is no national regulator for theme parks in Australia. Instead it is managed by each jurisdiction.”

The implication is that there should be one. Why? The only National OHS regulator Australia has is Comcare and that only covers a selection of workplaces and industries. The fact is that Australia has no national regulator of workplace safety in the manner of other countries.  OHS is almost always dealt with by the States which makes the concluding comments curious and unnecessary.

Mainstream media feels the need to report news and the deaths of four people on an amusement ride is certainly news but does it need to encourage speculation about incident causes at the time that the company is trying to work out what happened and address the concerns of its workers, various investigators are only just getting the level of access to the scene they need, and relatives are finding out why some of their family are not coming home?

Kevin Jones