Woodchipper decision could set a worrying safety precedent

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The development of Australia’s new Work Health and Safety laws relies on potential prosecutions and Court rulings to clarify various elements and definitions.  Some labour lawyers have forecast this clarification to take several years however last week The Warrnambool Standard reported on a decision by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) that provides a worrying clarification on the contentious definition of “as far as is reasonably practicable” from outside the anticipated Court structure.

WorkSafe Victoria placed an improvement notice on a woodchipper owned by the Warrnambool City Council following an incident in September 2011 where a worker, David Johnstone, had both hands removed by the blades of the woodchipper.  The improvement notice stated that additional guarding in the form of a “bump bar” be installed on woodchippers.  The Council requested a review of the notices through WorkSafe’s review processes.  The directions stood and the Council appealed to VCAT, as per the normal process.  VCAT found that the engineering controls demanded by WorkSafe were not required as the administrative controls advocated by the Council were found to have “reduced risk “so far as is reasonably practicable”.

The VCAT decision is concerning because it seems to conflict with the application of the Hierarchy of Controls for risk in which machine guarding, an engineering control, is considered a more effective control measure that administrative controls such as those favoured by the Council Continue reading “Woodchipper decision could set a worrying safety precedent”

Farmer rescued from rare tractor rollover incident

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Tractor rollovers are far less frequent in Australia than in previous decades due, principally, to major safety campaigns and financial rebates for the compulsory fitting of rollover protection structures (ROPS).  This fact makes the near death of a Victorian farmer on 17 August all the more surprising.

The most detailed report on the rescue, to the moment, is by Channel 7 but additional information is available from the ambulance service and through an audio statement* with the responding paramedic.  The Channel 7 reporter states that the tractor had no ROPS and this is true, to an extent.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has been advised that there was a ROPS for the tractor available on the farm but it had been detached.

At his early stage of the man’s recovery and incident investigation it is difficult to extrapolate OHS lessons or issues but any investigation is likely to ask about the risks of , amongst others,

  • working alone
  • the absence of ROPS
  • the competence of the “hobby farmer”
  • the working environment/terrain
  • the use of a trailer with this tractor.

It is believed that WorkSafe will be undertaking an investigation.

Kevin Jones

*very interesting social media initiative from the ambulance services

Prompt investigation is essential to prevent injuries

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Injuries at work are often dismissed as Report Only or other category that does not require an investigation.  But all incidents should be investigated and promptly.  A recent prosecution of a tuna company in South Australia illustrates this point well.

SafeWorkSA’s media release provides basic details:

“On the 23rd of January, a male employee suffered deep lacerations to his right index finger while attempting to clear a blockage of cardboard in a caser machine, which seals cardboard boxes.

On the 11th of February, a female employee suffered a serious hand injury when trapped by moving parts in the same unguarded opening of the same machine.

The male worker recovered from his injuries quickly, and but the female worker sustained serious bone, nerve and tendon damage, that left her right hand permanently impaired.”

The court was told that the investigation into the first incident was poor.  In fact the Industrial Magistrate, Stephen Lieschke, described it as “incompetent”. Continue reading “Prompt investigation is essential to prevent injuries”

Authority in denial?

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Polite or ignorant?

Coroners can be a polite lot, preferring what they would call ‘substance’ to emotion, accuracy to grand standing.  They also hope that their Findings make a difference and help to protect people against a range of lethal circumstances.  Ex-coroner Graeme Johnstone (Victoria) was an outstanding example in OHS.   So any comments in their Findings ought to be considered against this background.

However, the comments by the South Australian State Coroner Mark Frederick Johns in his Findings (9/2/2011) in the death of Daniel Nicholas Madeley who died (6/6/2004) as a result of an occupational incident are puzzling.  Either the man is being very polite or seriously ignorant of what really goes on in industry.  And it does matter because coroners carry a lot of authority.  Work by Johnstone, Olle and Tasmanian coroners (mining disasters) has been very helpful.

Poor guarding

To paraphrase: Daniel was 18 years old when he died of ‘horrific injuries sustained when he was caught in a horizontal boring machine’.  He became entangled in the machine Continue reading “Authority in denial?”