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”

One is never too young to learn about safety but we may be too old to change

Recently a colleague of mine expressed regret that occupational health and safety in Australia is no longer occupational. Occupational health and safety (OHS) established its parameters in its title but now most of Australia is bound to Work Health and Safety laws. Work is more than a workplace and so the discipline, the OHS profession, became more complex. Some would say that it has always been complex and that many OHS professionals failed to see the bigger picture, the broad social context of workplace health and safety.

Children 6582I was reminded of my colleague’s regrets when someone on a construction site recently asked for my opinion on some pictures of her son, at a childcare centre, hitting some nails into a block of wood. The boy (pictured right, at home) was wearing safety glasses, albeit a little large; the “work area” was separated from the rest of the children and the boy was supervised at all times by a child care worker. I was told that some of the parents had expressed concern that such an activity should not be happening in a childcare centre due to the potential risk to other children.

Continue reading “One is never too young to learn about safety but we may be too old to change”

Managing on luck is not managing safety

In December 2011, SafetyAtWorkBlog reported on a serious misreading of workplace safety by the President of the Australian Hotels Association in South Australia (AHA/SA), Peter Hurley.  The debate on new work health and safety laws in South Australia continues and on 7 September on radio station FIVEAA, according to an interview transcript (not available on-line), Peter Hurley continued to display his misunderstanding of OHS laws and principles even though SafeWorkSA responded at the time.   The broader significance of his comments is that they could provide an example of the way that OHS myths are created through anecdote and misunderstanding.

Hurley reportedly said:

“..last year one of our hotels was subjected to some very aggressive inspectorate activity and among a myriad of other nit-picking things that we were instructed that we had to comply with was an instruction that we had to deck out our bottle shop staff in high vis apparel so if someone wandered in and wanted to have a discussion about the nuances of one vintage of Grange against another, they were going to have stand there and talk to a bloke who looked like he was working on a building site … Continue reading “Managing on luck is not managing safety”

Just workplace hardship

Yossi Berger writes:

We’re all familiar with the notions of focus and attention, and selective attention.  We’ve all experienced how difficult it can be to attend to target information when background noise is distracting.  The issue can be referred to as the signal-to-noise ratio.

I often find its effects in discussions with managers and workers during workplace inspections.  That is, I hear animated discussions of hazards, of risks, of risk assessments and risk management and various systems and theories.  The conversations over flow with these concepts whilst most of workers’ daily problems aren’t even raised, they don’t reach the level of a signal.

Thankfully in most workplaces, most managers and most workers have not experienced any fatalities.  By far most of them will not have experienced or witnessed a serious injury or serious disease.  Nor have most experienced their local hazards actually seriously hurting anyone.

But most workers will have experienced some dangerous working conditions, mostly not mortally dangerous, but dangerous.  Continue reading “Just workplace hardship”

Business leader embarrasses himself over PPE

On 7 December 2011, the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper included an article entitled “Hotel chief attacks our nanny state” in which the President of the Australian Hotels Association in South Australia (AHA/SA), Peter Hurley, seems to have been inspired by the same lunacy and misunderstandings as Jeremy Clarkson on matters of occupational health and safety.

The article reports that

“HOTELS Association chief Peter Hurley addressed Premier Jay Weatherill wearing a high-visibility vest yesterday in a provocative protest against a culture of over-regulation.

“It’s the decade of the rise and rise of the fluoro high-vis jacket,” he said, targeting State Government SafeWork SA. “An audit visit from Work Safe SA (sic) is the only thing that makes you wish you were at the dentist having root canal work.”

He said he had been told drive-in bottle shop staff had to wear high-visibility vests.

“Then the guy delivering bread started arriving in high vis. What took the cake recently was the bloke who tops up the condom vending machine arrives, gets out with his case of rubbery delights, resplendent in a high-vis vest. Maybe the topless waitress is next?””

As the opportunity for the comments was the AHA/SA Christmas function and the association developed its influence through alcohol, one could excuse Hurley’s comments as inspired by the event but he produced a fluorescent vest as a prop so his comments appear premeditated. Continue reading “Business leader embarrasses himself over PPE”

Social obligation is lost on some

In response to the Weekly Times’ articles on quad bike safety and the mandatory use of helmets, one letter writer in this week’s edition of the newspaper wrote:

“More state lunacy… Accidents happen, legislation cannot stop this. Free people have the right to decide such things for themselves.”

The letter writer has a strong belief that accidents happen and that nothing can be done to stop the harm, particularly through the application of legislation. This view is in the minority but is still spoken in some social circles, although the volume of such statements may have reduced over time.

The statement shows a misunderstanding of the cause of accidents and there is always a cause, or several. It is no longer socially acceptable to concede a workplace death as an Act of God or “shit happens”, although only recently in an expensive rail safety seminar, “shit happens” was said repeatedly. The letter writer’s statement is one of hopelessness, the antithesis of the values of the safety profession and OHS regulators.

Philosophers can argue the point more effectively but if one is to concede that “accidents happen”, that “shit happens”, then one should also not expect to be covered by workers’ compensation or compensated if injured in a public footpath or seek financial restitution if assaulted at a crowded nightclub or in a dark alley. What outrage would be felt if one was to lodge a workers’ compensation claim and the insurer’s response was “accidents happen, good luck with your disability”.

The “nanny state” epithet is short hand for lazy thinking, social ignorance and selfishness.

Safety often involves investigation, perhaps even “CSI:Safety” – Grissom in a fluoro vest. We must seek the root cause, in loss prevention terms, or contributory factors in the modern OHS and risk management context. From analysis comes insight and from insight comes prevention.

It is hard to imagine that anyone who may have lost a loved one in an industrial, or agricultural, incident could have written this letter to the Weekly Times. It is slightly easier to imagine that there are people in society who just do not care about the welfare of others and they write occasionally to the Weekly Times about the “nanny state”.

Kevin Jones

Nail gun incident results in $25k fine and lifelong blindness

Western Australia recently prosecuted a company over an incident where a worker was blinded in one eye by a nail that ricocheted from a nail gun.  According to a WorkSafeWA media release:

“The injured contractor was using a nail gun to attach steel holding straps to roof timbers. The nail gun had been purchased 12 months earlier, and came with an operating manual that provided safety instructions.

One of the safety instructions was that the nail gun was “for use with timber to timber fixing or materials of similar or lesser density”, but Mr Vlasschaert and the contractor had been using the nail gun to attach steel straps for 12 months without incident.

On the day of the incident, the contractor had experienced several ricochets where the nail had failed to go through the steel straps and instead flew into the air. Mr Vlasschaert asked him if everything was alright, and contractor said it was, so he had been left to carry on the work.

Soon after this conversation, the contractor was struck in the eye by a nail that had ricocheted, resulting in the permanent loss of sight in his left eye.”

The worker mistook his sunglasses as safety glasses.  Protective eyewear was available in the employer’s car at the domestic building site.

This prosecution, which resulted in a $A25,000 fine, highlights several relevant OHS issues. Continue reading “Nail gun incident results in $25k fine and lifelong blindness”