Calling something an accident hides the truth

Jessie Singer published her book called “There Are No Accidents” last year. It is a pivotal book about safety and our understanding of the social and legal impacts of calling tragic events “accidents”. On June 13 2023, Singer spoke on Carnegie Council’s From Another Angle podcast about her book and the consequences of its publication.

“Accident” is less used in modern media descriptions of incidents involving serious injuries and fatalities than in the past. The term implies an unavoidable consequence or undeterminable cause of a tragic event. The traditional use absolves anyone of responsibility or accountability and, consequently, stymies the deep analysis of causes required if such incidents are to be prevented in the future. The term is the antithesis of occupational health and safety (OHS) approaches which should always start from the aim of harm prevention.

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More background to the conspiracy claims around safety on level crossing removal worksite

Earlier this years SafetyAtWorkBlog wrote about accusations of a conspiracy between WorkSafe Victoria, Victoria Police, and construction company McConnell Dowell, made by a trade union radio program “The Concrete Gang“. The accusations have been mentioned in mainstream media. SafetyAtWorkBlog has obtained more details of the incident.

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Conspiracy accusations over rail construction project

On March 17 2019, a community radio program and podcast “The Concrete Gang” broadcast some comments about occupational health and safety (OHS) on a rail construction site in Victoria, Australia, believed to be the Aviation Rd, Laverton site. SafetyAtWorkBlog attempted to factcheck the accusations.

Construction company McConnell Dowell is providing construction services on various sites for the Level Crossing Removal Project. According to The Concrete Gang:

“… McConnell Dowell level crossing removal have had a few dramas out there what we’ve got is we’ve a live train and they’re trying to put a level crossing in while there’s a live train going.  They normally do what we call a shutdown which is an occupation where they shut down the line and they’re lifting concrete beams and build a bridge.  Well McConnell Dowell in their wisdom are trying to do it between 10-minute stops…”

“….the workers on the job have got issues because they’re obviously lifting precast elements over trains and there’s obviously no safety…”

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An OHS-based investigation of suicides should identify new control options

Melbourne, Australia – December 28, 2016: Melbourne Metro Train at Ringwood Station

Why is rail-related suicide an occupational health and safety (OHS) issue?

I looked into the issue of rail-related suicide when writing an OHS chapter for the Metro Trains Melbourne’s (MTM) bid for a franchise renewal for running trains on the metropolitan network. Each rail-related suicide, MTM describes these as trespasser suicides, creates major work-related psychological trauma for the train drivers as well as grief for the families of the deceased.  These incidents have secondary impacts on the rail workers who need to clean the trains which are taken out of service after each incident and driven to the nearest biowash, as well as those MTM staff, and emergency service workers, who were required to attend the scene.

There is also massive harm, pain and cost to those whose suicide attempts fail to result in death, and those who will care for those who are now disabled.

Addressing the hazard of rail-related suicides needs a new and broader discussion; one which must involve a broad, enlightened occupational health and safety approach.

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Australian Workplace Safety Bureau

There seems to be a growing community frustration with regulators who hesitate to prosecute about breaches of laws, including occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, and about options that sound reasonable, like Enforceable Undertakings, but still let businesses “off the hook”.  The calls for Industrial Manslaughter laws are the most obvious manifestations of the anger and frustration from perceived injustices.

But perhaps there was another way to achieve change in workplace safety, a way that could be based on a model that Australia and other countries already have.

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Rail-related suicides discussed at ergonomics conference

Rail-related suicides are tragedies that ripple throughout society affecting families of the suicides as well as the train drivers, their families and their colleagues. Various strategies are being trialled but often the results of interventions are hard to quantify.  At the annual conference of the

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Safety footwear needs more safety research

Safety footwear is a standard item of personal protective equipment (PPE) in many workplaces but it can be contentious.

safety boots

The need for safety footwear

Some years ago I was asked to assess the need for safety footwear in a large manufacturing site.  The need was obvious, there was a lot of manual handling of cumbersome objects and the factory was old so the design and layout was based on the lifting and moving of objects rather than a flow of production.

The company wanted this need verified as one of the office staff, clearly of some influence, would enter the factory in high heels and refused to wear safety footwear.  This was a clear breach of the company’s safety policies and was causing unrest in the factory.  The safety solution was clear

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