The Victorian Government is likely to say the Auditor-General’s report into “Management of Safety Risks at Level Crossings“, released on 24 March 2010, supports the government’s initiatives. This is true but the report says much more than just describing the State Government’s efforts as “satisfactory”. (If my child’s report card said satisfactory, I would be talking to the teacher about why the performance was only “satisfactory”)
February 2010 was the first month for SafetyAtWorkBlog to achieve well over 10,000 readers. Thanks for all your support.
Also in February 2010, the ClustrMaps widget was installed. Every month or so the graphic representations on the world map will be reconfigured to show the countries from which the blog is being read. There are no privacy concerns with this as the only data we can access is country stats but those stats may be of interest to readers so a pie chart has been produced.
The readership ratios are bound to vary in relation to issues in those regions. For instance, if this data was available for the period where we wrote about the Icepak explosion, the New Zealand numbers would be higher.
If one takes the monthly readership of 10,000, it is easy to get an idea of real numbers.
South Australia has pledged to increase competition in its local workers’ compensation scheme in the hope of improving (some say fixing) it. Most other Australian States have a competitive structure with private insurers. In a couple of years, those insurers will be battling it out to achieve national coverage as the Federal Government moves to harmonise the State systems.
New data from Canada shows that perhaps Australia needs to take a deep breath and nationalise workers’ compensation for the good of the injured workers and business.
Workplace safety, as is any legislation, is subjected to the political whims and decisions of whichever political party is in power at the time. In Australia, John Howard’s conservative government almost halved the already meagre budget of the National OHS Commission, stopping many of the programs of national OHS uniformity that are now being resurrected by the Labor Government of Kevin Rudd.
The July 2004 edition of SafetyATWORK magazine contained an interview with Sam Holt the CEO of Australian company Skin Patrol. The fascinating service of Skin Patrol was that they travelled the outback of Australia with a mobile skin cancer testing unit. That is a big area to cover but with the increasing incidence of skin cancer and the acceptance of ultraviolet exposure as an OHS problem, the service seemed timely.
SafetyAtWorkBlog was contacted by Skin Patrol in early December 2009 as it was releasing the findings of a survey of 1,000 outdoor workers. Its survey has these key findings:
2.5 times the national reported incidence of malignant melanoma
One in 10 patients had a lesion highly suspicious of skin cancer
26% of patients were diagnosed with moderate to severe sun damage
70% of patients diagnosed with a lesion suspicious of skin cancer were aged 40 years or greater
Over 90% of workers who attended the Skin Patrol clinic because they were worried about a particular spot or the condition of their skin had not had their skin checked in the past 12 months prior to the onsite clinic.
The company’s media release also states:
“The incidence of melanoma for all Australians currently sits at 46 in 100,000, however for those that work outdoors that figure jumps to 100 in 100,000.”
The risks from exposure to ultraviolet are well established and our understanding of the risks have changed considerably within one generation. The Australian culture has changed to one of sun-worshipping to one where the wearing of hats is enforced at school, hard hats have wide brim attachments, and outdoor work is undertaken in long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Occupational control measures have been introduced.
Of course, particularly in the construction industry, principle contractors still struggle in a getting compliance with the UV-protection policies but that’s the case for many OHS policies.
Skin cancer risks through high UV exposure are well-established OHS Issues but the reality still does not mean that controlling the hazard is easy to manage. Culturally we still want to have a tanned complexion even if it is sprayed on. Tanned skin is still synonymous with good health even though the medical evidence differs.
Skin cancer risks in the workplace are simply another of those workplace hazards that are ahead of the non-workplace culture and that safety professionals need to manage. The attraction with this hazard is that there is no disputing the evidence.
“[In 2006–07]…a total of 453 work-related traumatic injury fatalities in Australia during 2006–07. In 2006–07, just over half (237) of all work-related injury fatalities resulted from road crashes.
Of the 453 people who died of work-related injuries, 295 (65%) died of injuries sustained while working, …a 9% increase over the previous financial year.
In addition to the Working fatalities; 93 workers died from an injury sustained while travelling to or from work … and 65 people died of injuries received as a result of someone else’s work activity.”
There was also a report on notifiable incidents which covers 2008/09. There are disparities in these statistics so it is important to read the reports and the research limitations, by the summary includes the following:
“In 2008–09 there were 177 notified work related fatalities — 151 workers and 26 bystanders.
Most fatalities were of men — 158 in total. There were 17 fatalities of women (including 11 bystanders) and sex was unknown for 2 other fatalities.
Four industries accounted for seven out of every ten notified work-related fatalities — 26% of fatalities occurred at a workplace primarily engaged in Agriculture, forestry & fishing; 18% in Construction; 15% in Transport & storage; and 9% in Mining.
The most common causes of the fatalities were Vehicle accidents (54 fatalities); Being hit by moving objects (34 fatalities); Falls from a height (20 fatalities); Being hit by falling objects (16 fatalities); and Drowning/immersion (14 fatalities).”
This report also includes details of “bystander fatalities” which are defined as “deaths of members of the public, such as passers-by or visitors to workplaces — including children — who die as a consequence of another person’s work activity.” The report provides a good amount of details on these, and other, fatalities:
There were 26 bystander fatalities notified in 2008–09. These included:
9 bystander fatalities caused by vehicle accidents, of these 6 occurred when cars and trucks collided.
6 bystander deaths due to drowning. Of these, 3 occurred while white-water rafting and 2 occurred while snorkelling or diving.
4 bystander deaths that occurred when the person was hit by a vehicle, of these, 2 deaths occurred while the vehicle was reversing.
A SafetyAtWorkBlog reader drew our attention to a research report on quad bike safety by one of Australia’s most well-known researchers into agricultural safety, Lyn Fragar.
The report entitled “ATV Injury on Australian Farms – The Facts – 2006” details a compilation of police, hospital and injury data from many years concerning ATVs or quad bikes. Recommendations and observations are made but curiously the design of the vehicles is not considered as a contributory factor in rollovers and rollover protection structures are not mentioned.
Most strategic plans made by OHS regulators in Australia are based on workers’ compensation statistics. Everyone agrees that this is a huge underestimation of the work-related injury and illness rates but no one yet has tackled this information deficiency.
Australia’s OHS harmonisation might attempt this but it will not be until the government harmonises the States’ workers’ compensation system that Australians can have unified and consistent statistics. Yet even then, the reliance on workers’ compensation data will continue to understate the significance of work-related injuries on the community.
The Australian inaction contrasts to activity undertaken in the United States by the Government Audit Office (GAO). An October 2009 report by the GAO, released online on 16 November and discussed in blogs and one US newspaper, shows the state of OHS statistical play in the US through its audit of the operations of the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
OSHA only audits 250 of the 130,000 high hazard worksites each year.
All of the data available is provided by employers. Workers are not interviewed.
If the worker has left the company’s employment, they are unable to be interviewed.
“OSHA also does not review the accuracy of injury and illness records for worksites in eight high hazard industries because it has not updated the industry codes used to identify these industries since 2002. “
Statistics supplied to the Bureau of Labor Statistics by employers are not verified. (BLS is not required to do this)
The GAO identified disincentives on both employers and employees for reporting illnesses and injuries – potential job loss, fear of increasing workers’ compensation premiums or losing out on work contracts.
The disincentives may lead to a reduced medical treatment so as to avoid injury reporting and the issues associated with the reporting. (A third of health practitioners interviewed admitted to being pressured about workplace injuries)
On this last point, those OHS professionals who advocate safety incentive schemes may wish to consider the graphic below
Of the 47% who said they were pressured to downplay injuries and illnesses, over 60% were from workplace s that had incentive programs. This is a serious statistic that incentive advocates must address in their programs.
Australia has tried to gain greater accuracy to OHS data over many years. The (then) National OHS Commission published several very useful statistical reports into various industries but they could not provide an easily understood national picture because of State variations on reporting criteria. Australia is much less complex than the US and the task of achieving better OHS statistics should be easier, as long as there is the political will.
The importance of accurate statistics in decision-making at the policy level as well as that at individual workplaces cannot be overstated. The GAO report summarises the significance in its report.
“Accurate injury and illness records are important because they assist Congress, researchers, OSHA, BLS, and other agencies in describing the nature and extent of occupational safety and health problems. These records are also vital to helping employers and workers identify and correct safety and health problems in the workplace. In addition, these records help OSHA evaluate programs, allocate resources, and set and enforce safety and health standards. Without accurate records, employers engaged in hazardous activities can avoid inspections because OSHA bases many of its safety inspections on work-related injury and illness rates.”
Australia’s corporations are busy releasing their annual reports in October 2009. The outgoing managing director and CEO of Boral Limited, Rod Pearse, provided his comments on the company’s safety performance to shareholders on 28 October 2009.
“Since demerger [January 2000], Boral’s safety outcomes have delivered steady year-on-year improvements and compare well with both ASX100 and industry benchmarks. Employee lost time injury frequency rate of 1.8 and percent hours lost of 0.06 have both improved by 80% since 2000 and are better than those of our competitors in like industries and in the top quartile of companies in the ASX100.”