More on David Michaels’ book – “statistics are people with the tears wiped away”

I found time to read the rest of David Michaels’ latest book “The Triumph of Doubt“. It was loaded with information that is directly relevant to the Australian occupational health and safety (OHS) sector but more about the manipulation of facts and the stealth of lobbyists and influencers than on the hazards themselves. Here’s my take on some of his thoughts.

Two Australian case studies that would not have been out of place in a book like Michaels’, or even an Australian supplement to his book, were quad bikes and workplace mental health. Quad bike safety is the better fit with Michaels’ approach as many of the techniques of Zellner and Dynamic Research Incorporated, and the strategies of international all-terrain vehicle manufacturers, reflect the those strategies in the book.

David Michaels writes about chemicals, primarily, but many of his words hint that similar “doubt scientists” could be already in the psychological health and wellness sector, except these scientists are less about reacting to litigation and legislation than supporting and strengthening an industry in anticipation of increased regulatory scrutiny. “Pre-action”, perhaps?

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Pressure grows for the release of oil drilling investigation

The Australian government has indicated that it will release a report into the Montara oil spill after the general election.  However the Australian election result remains in doubt and, therefore, still no report.

The frustration over this stalling has begun to appear in the very conservative Australian newspaper, The Australian Financial Review (AFR). Once the business and financial community start complaining, a government knows something is serious.

In the AFR editorial on 1 September 2010 (not available online),

“The Borthwick report is likely to make some tough recommendations on safety procedures to prevent another spill. The inquiry heard extraordinary evidence that crucial work programs on the rig were sometimes scrawled on a whiteboard. PTTEP has a promised to review its procedures in the light of the deficiencies raised at the inquiry, but the government should look further afield. It is hard to imagine that PTTEP was a totally isolated case.” Continue reading “Pressure grows for the release of oil drilling investigation”

Montara oil spill report will provide clues for handling BP inquiry

The Montara oil spill in the Timor Sea that lasted for three months in late 2009 was large but affected no countries directly and is certainly a long way from the Gulf of Mexico and BP.  However there are enough similarities for considerable media attention to be focused on the investigative report into the incident that was handed to the Australian Government on 17 June 2010.

The Australian Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, acknowledged the receipt of the commission of inquiry’s final report but will not be releasing it yet.

Greens Senator Rachel Seiwert has said:

“The release of all information available to date is essential for the development of new regulatory and environmental procedures….  We need to be better prepared to respond to future disasters in our precious marine environment.”

Seiwert has at least acknowledged the global context of the report:

“Halliburton is reported to have carried out cementing work on both the Montara well and the US Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico. The failure of this cementing has been linked in the media to both spills.”

Speculation is that the report will recommend a “single national regulator for off-shore drilling” according to the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on 19 June 2010 (p5. not available online).   Continue reading “Montara oil spill report will provide clues for handling BP inquiry”

Off shore drilling safety will change forever

The ramifications for corporate America and particularly, the oil industry, from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill are becoming clearer.  In his 15 June 2010, address to the nation, President Obama stated his financial and operational expectations of BP prior to his meeting the company’s CEO, Tony Hayward on 16 June.

In essence, BP will be required to fund compensation for the families of dead and injured workers and those who are suffering economic hardship as a result of action which the President described as “reckless”.  The distrust of BP was evident by the compensation fund, which is likely to be billions of dollars, being administered by a third party.

But the BP spill has changed the way that oil exploration and extraction will occur in American waters.   Continue reading “Off shore drilling safety will change forever”

A safe (social) system of work

For years Australian OHS legislation has focused on establishing a “safe system of work”.  This focus is inclusive and is an understandable approach to safety regulation but it has also generated a fair share of confusion.  If a business does not have a documented safety management system, does it have a system of work?  Yes it does but the lack of documentation makes it very difficult to describe, particularly if there is a performance benchmark such as “compliance”.  Humans like to have a clean line of cause and effect or a linear, causative management process.  So vague concepts like “system of work” can be challenging.

Prescriptive rules used to be the way that safety compliance could be met but that world is long gone.  Its distance can be seen by looking at the Australian Government’s new model Work Health and Safety Act which compounds the vagueness by including “as far as reasonably practicable” wherever possible.  All of this vagueness makes the lot of the business operator more complex and more costly as the business operator seeks clarity from others such as lawyers, OHS consultants, auditors and Standards organizations.  Is it any wonder that safety is seen as an exorbitant cost?  In essence, OHS regulators have outsourced the responsibility, and the cost, to employers. Continue reading “A safe (social) system of work”

Inaccurate claims made of BP spill inquiry membership

On 1 June 2010, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) informed its 3,000 members that Professor Andrew Hopkins has been

“nominated for a spot on the US commission’s inquiry into the disaster’s causes”.

Andrew Hopkins has advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that the nomination is not true and that the article is inaccurate.  His name was included in ill-informed speculation on membership of the United States’ commission of inquiry into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill but was never formally nominated. Continue reading “Inaccurate claims made of BP spill inquiry membership”

“We will trust but we will verify” – upcoming lessons from the Gulf of Mexico

The mass media is full of reports on legal action being taken on behalf of shareholders in BP over the continuing oil spill from the former Deepwater oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

An Australian video report was broadcast on 25 May 2010 and a composite article has appeared in The Australian on 26 May 2010 as well as elsewhere. Many outlets are mentioning the law suit (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and Robert Freedman v Anthony B Hayward et al, Court of Chancery for the state of Delaware, No. 5511) but no details of the suit are publicly available at the moment.

Although safety is mentioned as one of the bases for the suit, it is likely that environmental impact will get prominence over occupational safety and that impact on stock value will be of the most concern.   The shareholder outrage mentioned in some of the articles seems to focus mostly on the financial impact on BP share value rather than any moral outrage on environmental impact or dead and injured workers.

BP CEO Anthony Hayward has acknowledged the substantial  “reputational risk” but his comments are almost always reported surrounded by financial bad news.   Continue reading ““We will trust but we will verify” – upcoming lessons from the Gulf of Mexico”

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