OHS and Tim White

The latest in our series of profiles on researchers who are involved with occupational health and safety research is Dr Tim White.  He holds the degrees of Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). His most recent appointment was as Lecturer and Researcher in Mechanical Design at UNSW.

After 10 years of working casually as a consultant while also holding salaried positions, Dr White founded Forensic Mechanical Engineers in 2013 and now works full time as a forensic engineer and expert witness. He is based in Bathurst, NSW but travels extensively for work, often flying himself to regional locations.

What attracted you to looking at workplace health and safety? Did you fall into it or always have an interest?

I feel like I just fell into it, although now that I look back, I suppose that my career progression was reasonably intuitive. A farming background prior to my first engineering degree (and subsequent time in industry) meant that I was never going  to be content doing the same thing as most of my peers. Although it was not a main consideration at the time, the PhD and progression into academia was what ultimately equipped me with the ability to now work flexibly in a role where I feel as though I am – clichés aside – doing something interesting as well as making a difference.

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Hi-viz and safety – it’s all about the context

High visibility clothing has spread from the work site to the public arena and, as such, has complicated the reasons for hi-viz clothing.  However the fundamental underpinning of high-viz is to contrast against the surrounding environment. This contrast does not only relate to clothing but also signage.

Several years ago, a couple of women from Tasmania visited the offices of SafetyAtWorkBlog to discuss the practicality of hi-viz vests for toddlers and small children.  The hi-viz logic of the work site is easily applied to the public park or farms.  A contrasting colour to the trees or bushland would make it easier to identify someone, like a wayward child.  On a work site, the hi-viz is more about identifying a hazard, whether that be a person, an overhead wire or a work boundary.

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OHS and Marcus Cattani

Marcus Cattani at the cricket
Marcus Cattani at the cricket

Dr Marcus Cattani, is a Senior Lecturer in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) within the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University and a leading Australian OHS consultant. SafetyAtWorkBlog endeavoured to glimpse the person behind the qualifications by asking Dr Cattani some safety-related questions and he was kind enough to respond.

What attracted you to looking at workplace health and safety?  Did you fall into it or always have an interest?

I was lucky enough to find out about WHS when I was around 20 years old, during my environmental science based college course.  At that time, in the late 1980’s the trend for people finishing my course was to work in asbestos management or in Council environmental teams, neither of which really excited me!

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Health, safety and climate change

Sydney, Australia - October 19, 2016: Construction workers set up scaffolding in a construction site.
Sydney, Australia – October 19, 2016: Construction workers set up scaffolding in a construction site.

In a small article on the ABC news site, Professor Peng Bi of the University of Adelaide said occupational health and safety laws needed a review to accommodate the changing climate and

“I reckon some regulations should be set up to get employers to pay [fresh] attention to the occupational health and safety of their employees…”

Contrary to Professor Peng Bi’s request, Australian worksites have done much to accommodate the changing climate conditions and to maintain productivity, primarily, in relation to excessive heat exposure by working within the existing occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation.  This is not to say more should not be done.

The risks associated with working in heat are well established and recognised by Safe Work Australia and State safety regulators but the advice often focusses on personal changes such as ensuring there is adequate hydration or that jobs should be rotated or that long-sleeved shorts are worn.  The amplification of these conditions due to climate change is foreseeable so what should employers, companies and OHS regulators do?

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Knowledge remains power, even in the age of robots

A recent safety convention in Australia had as its theme “Disruption”, a fashionable term that can mean many things to many people.  Perhaps why it is a marketer’s dream word.  The initial session of the convention was unnerving because speakers were saying that the current jobs and activities of safety professionals will be undertaken by artificial intelligence in a decade.  This change is not a coordinated strategy but bits and pieces of this change/threat keep appearing, the latest was in The Guardian on 25 September 2016 in an article called “You’d better listen up“.

That article, ostensibly about headphones included this workplace application:

“Bragi has recently announced a partnership with IBM where it hopes to deliver the massive processing power and cognitive capacity of the Watson AI system via its devices. At the moment, it is exploring how these capabilities could be employed in the workplace. For example, maintenance workers could describe an issue, Watson recognises the problem and talks them through the solution – without their having to refer to manuals or computers, keeping their hands free for the repair. Similarly, doctors could get help with recognising rare conditions and their conversation with a patient would be recorded and saved to the cloud for their records.”

Futuristic Engineer in yellow hardhat holding tablet

The safety benefits of this contraption is obvious – a manual on call  and responsive to vocalised questions.  As anyone with a Glaswegian accent trying to set up voicemail in Australia will know, vocal recognition still has a long way to go unless the world is able to be un-Babelled and speak with one accent. (Please not Australian, as artificial intelligences (AI) would struggle with the constant answering of “Yeah – Nah”)  Voice recognition software has needed long hours of training to be functioning at a basic level.

Thankfully that tech challenge can be left to the technologists.  What is more important, and could provide safety professionals with a future, is the back-end of the application of Watson.  Any AI needs knowledge so that the advice it provides to the user/listener/engager is accurate and relevant to the situation, literally, at hand.  AIs will not create their own knowledge, at least in the short term, and so will rely on safety professionals and others to provide the knowledge to the software.

Safety professionals are unlikely to provide knowledge of a specific process but will likely be called on to add value to the mechanical work activity or discussion.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) is likely to be one of the assessment criteria used by the AI.  For instance, in the response to the work activity quoted above the maintenance worker will want to know how to do something.  The OHS contribution to the AI’s response would be to ensure that the task is undertaken safely, in a safe environment or with the suitable protective equipment or the correct tool.

The convention was shown video of an AI that verified that workers were dressed appropriately for the work conditions before allowing access to site.  This would replace those OHS consultants who like to be safety police but the situation described in the video was understandable.  There are rules for specific PPE prior to entering a workplace with hazards that could be reduced by wearing the PPE.  No PPE, no site access.  The argument in favour of AI applications would be that the safety professional could attend to more important activities.  The sad reality is that some safety professionals rely on this type of activity to give their jobs worth.

The reality of AI in OHS cannot be avoided.  Those who advocate for disruption argue that disruption provides opportunities for the creative, the agile and the clear thinkers but it is also the case that many safety professionals will be left behind like Neanderthals to Hom (OHS) Sapiens.

Kevin Jones

Hierarchy of Control podcast

It always surprises me when clients and colleagues ignore the Hierarchy of Controls when deciding what control measures to introduce.  Recently Oregon’s OSHA released a podcast about the Hierarchy of Controls which shares some of my concerns.

It was concerning that the podcast stated that some hierarchies place Administrative Controls on the same level as Engineering Controls and that some consider fall protection devices as Engineering Controls due the engineering of the anchor point (a dubious engineering control as this blog has discussed previously).

Below are several quotes from the 4 minute podcast Michael Wood of Oregon OSHA.

“A control that fully eliminates the hazard is always preferred to one that does not.”

“The hierarchy improves the control’s reliability.”

“The hierarchy of control recognises that perfection in human performance can not be attained.”

This short podcast is a good quick reminder to occupational health and safety professionals but could also be discussion catalyst on basic hazard management.

Kevin Jones

Anchor points could meet the Australian Standard but still be unsafe

Twice in early April 2014, 7.30, a current affairs program of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ran two lead stories about occupational health and safety – home insulation-related fatalities and the risks of working at heights.  The latter of these provided only a glimpse of a complex OHS issue and only touched on the matter of the self-certification of anchor points where compliance does not necessarily equate to safety. This issue has been taken up by the Working at Heights Association (WAHA) on 11 April 2014. In a media release WAHA stated:

“In the wake of last night’s ABC 7.30 Report on falls from height, the Working At Heights Association has a warning: “If you’re counting on a harness attached to an anchor system to save your life when you fall from a roof, you need to know that many roof anchors don’t meet the most basic safety standards.”

WAHA has conducted some “drop tests” of common anchor points that are currently in use in Australia and that meet the relevant Australian Standard AS/NZS5532 – Manufacturing requirements for single-point anchor device used for harness-based work at height. They found that

“In the tests, 100kg loads dropped through 2 metres tear single-person anchors away from their mounts, while 150kg loads for two-person-use hit the ground, smashing the weights. Only one out of the five anchors tested pass.”

This is a matter of enormous concern as anchor points are an essential element of fall protection.  A lot of attention has been given to fall protection harnesses over the years with some new product types but all of these rely on the integrity of a firmly secured anchor point that can withstand the high forces involved in stopping someone falling to their deaths. Continue reading “Anchor points could meet the Australian Standard but still be unsafe”

One man’s frustration with OHS illustrates larger safety dysfunctions

Terry Reis has written a terrific article about how occupational health and safety (OHS) requirements can impede his work as a fauna ecologist.  Instead of whingeing about green or red tape, Terry has provided examples of the annoyance which allows me to build an article in response.  This article is in no way a rebuttal as I agree with most of Terry’s grievances, but there can be reasons behind some of the grievances that are likely to be unrelated to OHS or illustrate poor OHS decisions.

Some of the issues Terry raises include:

  • Inductions
  • PPE
  • Working Alone
  • OHS arguments
  • Drug and Alcohol Testing
  • Permits

Inductions

Terry mentions the irrelevance of many OHS inductions and his article seems to indicate a dysfunctional induction program.  The intention of inductions is to outline the safety rules of a workplace or task but most are boring, condescending or include information that is unrelated to the task. The reality of many inductions is that they are a mechanism to have workers sign up and indicate they have understood all of their safety obligations on a site so that there is a clearer line of responsibility in the event of an incident.   Continue reading “One man’s frustration with OHS illustrates larger safety dysfunctions”

New quadbike safety research in a time of political change

In the next edition of the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA), Dr Tony Lower, Director of Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety and Monash University researchers ( Angela J Clapperton and Emily L Herde) will be providing more evidence about the death and injury rate associated with the use of All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV) and quadbikes. A unique feature of this study is that “it is the first Australian study quantifying injuries from three different data sources.”

This research is timely as only last week a Tasmanian court case was occurring over a quad bike incident on a dairy farm. According to a newspaper report on the case:

“Defence counsel Glynn Williams told magistrate Michael Brett that quad bikes were inherently unsafe and unstable…. [and]

“There is ongoing carnage on farms and while the government can legislate to make stronger and stronger dog laws there is no willingness to legislate for stronger quad bike laws”

According to a media statement on the MJA paper due for release on 16 September 2013, Lower says:

“As the data indicates not only are there increasing numbers of quad cases, they are also more serious than other similar injuries. Further, because of their threat to life, they will frequently require higher levels of medical treatment and longer recovery periods for the victims.”

“The impact of deaths and serious injuries from quad bikes is significant and I am sure everyone would like to see a decrease in these incidents.”

Continue reading “New quadbike safety research in a time of political change”