A shaky start leads to a terrific book on incident investigation by Michael Tooma

There is one word that should not be used as an adjective in relation to workplace fatalities – impacted. Workers fall from roofs and the concrete floor has an impact on them. Workers hit by mobile plant or crushed in machines die from the impact. An impact results from the transfer of energy and this transfer of energy in workplaces can kill.

“Impacted” is used by those who do not feel comfortable differentiating between “affect” and “effect” and it is surprising to find the term used in the opening chapter of Michael Tooma’s latest book, Due Diligence: Incident Notification, Management and Investigation.

“Unless you have been involved in a serious incident, you don’t really appreciate how an incident will affect you. For every worker killed at work, there is a grieving mother, father, spouse and/or child. Their co-workers are impacted. Their friends are impacted. Management, guilt-ridden as they are in the aftermath of an incident, sometimes for good reason, sometimes not, are also personally and emotionally impacted. The tragedy touches everyone. In the midst of it all, a group of people are tasked with managing through the chaos and trying to get answers for all those impacted by the tragedy. This book is for them.”

The sentiment is correct and true but read the paragraph aloud and it sounds absurd. And why the overuse of “impacted” when a perfectly suitable word, “affect”, was used in the first sentence?

And this clumsy opening does the book a disservice. Tooma has repeatedly stated that this is a safety book written by a lawyer and not a legal book written about safety. This is a major change from a major Australian OHS publisher. It is a recognition that the readership is not lawyers feeding on lawyers but people wanting to understand workplace safety. Continue reading “A shaky start leads to a terrific book on incident investigation by Michael Tooma”

Politics slows the safety regulation process in Australian oilfields

On 8 August 2011, the Australian Financial Review (not available online) reported on a letter from the head of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Agency (NOPSA), John Clegg, that criticised the Western Australian government’s regulatory regime for offshore petroleum exploration.  The crux of the letter was that WA does not require energy companies to develop a “safety case” for their offshore operations.

The letter referred specifically to the Varanus Island pipeline explosion under the control of Apache Corporation.  The AFR paraphrased the letter:

“…Clegg said….that given WA legislation at the time of the Varanus Explosion it was “doubtful” that Apache Corporation, the US operator of Varanus, had any obligation to adhere to a “safety case”, the crucial tool for management of oil and gas field safety.”

The “safety case” requirement for complex processing industries originated after the inquiry into the Piper Alpha disaster of 1988 and has become a default safety management process in many jurisdictions around the world. (UK’s Health & Safety Executive has some excellent background resources on this)

The political arguments between State and Federal jurisdictions will be a major impediment to safety reforms in this industry sector – a tension to which few in the Eastern Australian States may give adequate attention.  The tension echoes the continuing conflict over OHS harmonisation laws. Continue reading “Politics slows the safety regulation process in Australian oilfields”