Risk and empire building

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A British coroner has reflected a common perception on occupational health and safety and how OHS is “taking all the fun out of life”.

According to an article in This Is The West Country on 11 June 2008, West Somerset Coroner Michael Rose said

“All too often, there isn’t enough challenge for people in this country – everything is under health and safety. I don’t think we’d have been the country we were if we’d have had health and safety one or two centuries ago.”

Without taking MIchael Rose to task about his knowledge of health and safety in 1808, his comments can be heard in many everyday circumstances where OHS is a bit of a wet blanket.

It is fun to have the wind through your hair while tearing down a hillside with no bike helmet on.  It is fun to spin on a shopping trolley in the aisles of a supermarket. And it is exhilarating to stand on the top of a building, looking down with no safety harness. All of these things I have done and I suspect my children will do them too. 

There is nothing to stop you doing these acts if you choose to.  But if you are injured as a result, it would be unfair to exepct soemone else to pay for your stupidity.  And yet that is what is becoming the expectations of modern western society – we do not take repsonsibility for our actions.

But then there is a time and place for everything and maybe OHS simply restricts those two elements.

Australian employer group at the ILO

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On 9 June 2008, Peter Anderson, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), addressed the 2008 International Labour Conference. The ACCI is an employer association that under the previous CEO, Peter Hendy, was seen by some as a business and economic mouthpiece for the then conservative government of Prime Minister John Howard. Whether this was true or not, it is interesting that Peter Hendy is now a political adviser to the Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson.

Anderson spoke at the ILO conference about how the ACCI needs modernising whilst maintaining its core values. The only major change in Australia over the last 12 months has been the replacement of a conservative government with a labor government representing a substantial cultural and political switch. The ACCI has realised that it was too closely linked to the conservative political parties and, although business is strongly capitalist, to better represent its constituents, it needed to reflect the values of a broader range of its constituents.

These values, Anderson reiterates, are commitments to

  • an open market;
  • private sector entrepreneurship; and
  • employment as a social motivator.

Anderson states that

“we must do things differently, and not fall back to old prejudices or failed economic prescriptions when things go tight.”

He urges the ILO to provide social policy with a higher profile and advises the government to use public funds to enable a private investment framework. He emphasise that the ACCI can work well with unions and specifically addresses contemporary OHS matters.

“We can now show leadership to industry in this regard [working with trade unions], as there is common work to be undertaken – health and safety, work and family and workforce skills but a few examples.”

Peter Anderson emphasises, perhaps too much, Australia’s position in the Asia-Pacific region. He describes the region as “the powerhouse of globalisation”. This is riding on the coat-tails of China and India and applies Asia-Pacific in a very broad sense.

The ACCI speech at the ILO conference was carefully balanced to maintain its position as an employer delegate and to flag to its members that its approach will change. It outlines a changed approach which should be interesting in the upcoming hard negotiations necessary on industrial relations and workplace safety.

Occupational Noise and Motorcycle Cops

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Phil Matier spoke on KCBS radio on 9 June 2008 about the changes that Oakland Police Department is making to its motorcycles to make them louder.  There is an argument that in some way this makes the vehicles safer.

It’s a bizarre report and should be listened to while bearing in mind a new Australian report on the increase in tinnitus in young people.  Perhaps American kids need to increase the volume of their iPod earphones whenever a Oakland motorcycle cop rides by.

Aircraft Cabins and Infections

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According to a report released on 10 June 2008 by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, 

“passengers’ health is not greatly at risk through air travel and widespread infections are unlikely.”

On the cases that have been reported of infection, the ATSB says

“such transmission was primarily due to the crowding together of a large variety of people in a confined space, not specifically due to aircraft cabin conditions.”

It goes on to say

“Perhaps of greater concern is the opportunity for infection to spread in airport terminals, where passengers who are travelling to or from many destinations are gathered together.”

At the moment Qantas Airways has a reputation of being a safe airline, principally because its planes do not fall out of the sky.  But there is a further definition of a safe airline and that is one whose management actively minimises the risk of infections and pandemics both in the aircraft and the terminal.

Important lessons were learnt from the “dry-run” on modern pandemic from SARS but this focussed on the air traveller and the aircraft and did not include the airport terminal.  Perhaps as well as the safety airline, Australia needs to establish the safety airport.

Boy, web-conferencing is becoming more attractive.

60 Minutes, Dust and Responsibility for Workplace Safety

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On 8 June 2008, a US 60 Minutes report on combustible dust joined the conga-line of critics of the Occupational Safety And Health Administration.  The tone of the report is set by the reporter, Scott Pelley’s introduction stating that it is OSHA’s responsibility to avoid the explosions.  For OHS practitioners and professionals this is a peculiar statement as it is usually the employer’s responsibility for workplace safety.

The 60 Minutes report illustrates the difficulty that OHS inspectors face when visiting workplaces. Can an inspector be expected to identify ALL the hazards present in a workplace?  This is a constant problem for OHS regulators, employers and sadly, the Courts.

The accusation in the 60 Minutes report is that inspectors had no information or training on the explosive hazards of dust.  Training is not the solution for everything and an inspector’s state of knowledge should have identified dust as a potential hazard.  Even if the hazard was identified in terms of an inhalation risk, or housekeeping, the explosive risk would be reduced if housekeeping was applied properly.

OSHA clearly stated the responsibility of workplace safety being on the employers.  The missing element of the entire 60 Minutes report is that the site operators and employers who have experienced dust explosions were not interviewed.

 

More information on the February 2008 explosion at the Imperial Sugar plant mentioned in the report is available by clicking HERE

For those of you who find dust explosions exciting a video of a dust explosion in a silo is available HERE

For those employers or inspectors who did not do high school science, a schoolroom example of the combustible hazards of dust can be found HERE

 
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