Guarding – last line of defence

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Guards around power tools or over moving parts of equipment (e.g. covers over compressor pulleys) are there for seriously good reasons. Injuries and deaths from people getting cut or caught in machinery keep happening all the time.

It’s a common misunderstanding that bits of clothes caught in moving machinery can’t be that dangerous, after all cloth rips doesn’t it? Wrong.

A loose bit of overall sleeve caught in between a pulley and pulley belt is unlikely to rip. It will have an arm or hand mangled in a micro second. Nip points on equipment can catch skin.  A de-gloved hand, where a pinch of skin is caught in machinery and the skin is ripped off the hand is as ugly as it sounds.

Do regular checks of things like angle grinders and moving parts of equipment to make sure the guards originally fitted are still in place and doing the job they have to.  People will remove guards.

Have a policy that when guards are removed to do repair or maintenance work on equipment the guards are refitted as soon as those sort of jobs are done.

Monitor use of power tools in the workshop.  Stop any work being done with power tools when the guard has been removed.

Don’t consider that a guard isn’t necessary if an operator is using some other sort of personal protective gear (e.g. using protective eye gear with a bench grinder that has no fitted shield in front of the grinder wheel).  Treat safety as a thing that works best in layers. Murphy’s Law never rests.  One level of safety protection will always fail at the wrong time.

Do regular checks on all guards on tools and equipment.  Make it a specific check. Include an evaluation of whether equipment that can catch clothes or part of a body is properly guarded.  Modern equipment designers are generally pretty good at making sure guards are fitted where they need to be, older gear is not so well designed.  If it seems entirely possible for a person to get caught by a moving bit of equipment look at having a guard made and fitted: use a specialist to do that.

Readers are at liberty to use this stuff as they see fit, but acknowledgement of the author and the source (i.e. SafetyatWorkBlog) is expected. Contact Kevin Jones first if ya wanna use it. Cheers.

Col Finnie
col@finiohs.com
www.finiohs.com

H1N1 and facemasks

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Swine flu cases have begun appearing in Australia and not just in people who have travelled to infected zones overseas.  Talkback radio has begun discussing the wisdom of basic infection control issues such as isolation, hygiene and the use of facemasks.

Many large companies have started to provide antibacterial soaps and lotions in the office bathrooms and toilets but few have begun to issue guidelines on staff leave.  However as the flu season grows in Australia, it is expected that the tolerance to sniffles by workmates will diminish.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has already written about how swine flu will change the culture of workplaces.

The media has plenty of photos of people in infected zones wearing surgical masks or P2 and N95 masks. This indicates that non-health workers do not appreciate the role of facemasks.  According to authorities in Japan, where the the wearing of masks during infection peaks and outbreaks is a very common practice, masks are best worn by those who are infected to minimise droplets and spray rather than for healthy people to stop the chance of inhalation.

The government is recommending people use masks as a way of reducing the spread of infection via droplets from coughs and sneezes, but puts the onus on those who are already infected.

 “If you start to cough or sneeze, please use a mask,” reads an advice section on the Health Ministry’s website. “If someone in your family or at your workplace is coughing without a mask on, please urge them to wear one.” 

An official at the ministry emphasised the government was only recommending those with symptoms wear masks.

 “Unless you are in a very crowded place, masks are not going to help much with prevention,” he said. “We are not saying that people should always wear a mask when you go out, although it might help to wear one on a rush-hour train.”

 “We are certainly not saying that you’ll be safe if you just put on a mask.”

If the situation worsens to the extent that Australians need to wear PPE as a barrier to infection, the government needs to begin a campaign of not only educating the community on influenza risks but on basic matters like how to wear a mask and how to safely dispose of them.

Although Japanese authorities are quoted above, you are urged to seek local advice for your specific circumstances.

Kevin Jones

Swine Flu lessons – presenteeism is real

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There is some debate today about whether Swine Flu (in deference to the request from some pig farmers, now renamed “the Mexican Flu outbreak of 2009”) has peaked.  Colleagues in Asia over the weekend told SafetyAtWorkBlog that in most circles, the Mexican Flu outbreak has not generated the same level of interest, or concern, as elsewhere.  Perhaps the media studies academics can contribute to a redefinition of “global pandemic” as any disease outbreak that occurs in a country next to the United States. (Beware the Canadian Beaver Flu)

But flippancy aside, this dry-run at an influenza pandemic has many benefits and one particularly useful benefit will be a change in attitude to presenteeism in workplaces.

As the Southern Hemisphere enters its flu season and the early round of flu vaccinations concludes, Australia and others will be a test case for any attitudinal change in workers towards bringing their flu-ridden bodies to work, or in workers objecting to the contagious hazards that the presenteeists (?) introduce.

It has always been a suitable HR and OHS process to send someone home who appears impaired or unfit-for-work.  In the past “essential” staff would continue to work for the sake of workload or productivity.  Over time the folly of such an attitude has become obvious and workplace safety advocates have had a major role in this change.  The increased absenteeism of, and the decreased productivity from, a team who have been infected by a single member is now an unacceptable health hazard and productivity threat.

This change has also been helped by the increasingly viable option in some industries for people to work from home.

The Mexican flu outbreak is likely to verify the reality of presenteeism, probably from colleagues demanding that control measures be taken on the unthinking infectious workmate.  Masks may be tolerated but in the tradition of the hierarchy of controls, elimination is always preferable to personal protective equipment.

In the 1980s taxation department and many other workplaces, telephone hygienists were employed to disinfect telephone handsets.  Modern handsets cannot be disassembled in the same way however, SafetyAtWorkBlog was reminded of this, at the time, peculiar hygiene practices when watching Mexicans disinfecting subways and public telephones.

In all things there must be balance, but the Mexican flu outbreak of 2009 will undoubtedly revise the way people touch things and others.  In relation to influenza this is a good thing.

Kevin Jones

The importance of a harness

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According to an AAP report on 10 March 2009, a harness saved one worker when a gantry collapsed.  Several videos of the incident’s aftermath are available.

The media report said

“An elderly man plunged 40m headfirst to his death while his traumatised workmate was left dangling from a safety harness after a work platform suspended from the rear of a Sydney building collapsed.

The two subcontractors involved in the plunge had been hired to do maintenance work at the Maroubra Seals Sports and Community Club and were standing on a gantry at the Marine Parade building when one side gave way just before 2pm (AEDT) today.

Nearby construction workers heard a crash and rushed to help, but were too late to save the 70-year-old local man who fell to the ground. He was reportedly not wearing a harness.”

In one of the videos, one of the rescuers says that there is only around 20 minutes available for a dangling man in a harness before circulation stops.   Can anyone confirm this timeframe?

Sex trafficking and brothels

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Every employee has the right to a safe and healthy work environment.  It was this statement and belief that pushed me to providing OHS advice to the legal brothel industry in Victoria.  The industry is frowned upon by most but used by many, and yet the OHS support for the industry is far less than that provided for many other legal businesses.

Over the years sex trafficking, or slavery, has gained a lot of attention, more so, in my opinion, than other examples of illegal migration and worker  exploitation.  Articles in The Age newspaper today report on approaches to brothel owners and managers from people who have women for sale.  Regardless of the industry in which this occurs, this practice is abhorrent and the full weight of the law should be focused on these slave traders.

But a point that is getting lost in the wilderness is that not all women working in brothels are illegal.  Almost all choose to work there for the same reasons anyone works anywhere.  Many academics, and Australia has some of the most rabid, see all sex work as exploitation, as slavery and degrading to women.

The question for safety professionals and advocates is whether the nature of the work discounts the workers’, and employers’, access to legitimate safety advice?  Can the moral switch be flicked off, even for a short time, in order to provide workers in this industry with the same level of occupational health and safety as any other worker can rightfully demand?  Does the switch need turning off?

The statement at the start of this blog, that is reflected in OHS legislation around the world, is not selective, it applies to all.

The legal brothel industry has a long way to go in achieving the levels of OHS compliance that other small businesses have already gained.  The established hazards of manual handling, ergonomics, noise, etc are largely dealt with but consider those issues that have entered the occupational area over the last decade or so.  

Ask yourselves how would the owner of a legal brothel, a business where (predominantly) women have sex with multiple partners over their shift, deal with these contemporary hazards:

  • Stress
  • Bullying
  • Fatigue
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Security

And then ask yourselves how the OHS profession and discipline would deal with these workplace issues?

  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Sprains and strains
  • Hygiene
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Working in isolation

I judge the success of safety management systems in companies by the level of knowledge the most isolated worker has about safety in that workplace.   I ask the teleworkers, the night-shift workers, the security guards, the cleaners, the maintenance staff…  These employees, if a safety management system is working properly, should have the same level of safety knowledge, and the same level of access to OHS support, as those workers on day shift in a  head office.

I also judge the safety profession and the regulators on the success of their safety initiatives, the level of their safety commitment, by looking at how OHS is accepted and implemented at those industries on the fringes of society, like the brothel industry.  If the workers in these industries and the owners of these businesses are treated differently because of the nature of the work, we need to reassess our commitment to safety and the professional vows many of us took to ensure everyone has a safe and healthy work environment.

Kevin Jones

A March 2008 podcast on the issue of sex trafficking in Australia is available HERE