Near Kill – Jim Ward speaks

Jim Ward is hardly known outside the Australian trade union movement but many people over the age of thirty, or in the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession, may remember the person Esso blamed for the Esso Longford explosion in 1998.  Just after the nineteenth anniversary of the incident that killed two workers and injured eight other, SafetyAtWorkBlog interviewed Ward about the incident but, more significantly, also about how that incident changed his world view.

For some time now Jim Ward has been the National OHS Director for the Australian Workers’ Union.  Here is a long interview with Ward that provides a useful perspective on OHS while Australia conducts its National Safe Work Month.

[Note: any links in the text have been applied by SafetyAtWorkBlog]

SAWB: Jim, what happened at Longford, and what did it mean for you.

JW:   So, on 25 September 1998, I got up out of bed and went to work, just as I’d done for the previous 18 years of my working life, at the Esso gas plant facility at Longford in Victoria.

There was nothing unforeseen or untoward about that particular day.  But due to, as one judge elegantly described it, “a confluence of events”, it turned out to be the most significant day of my life.

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Quiet Outrage inspires

Last year Professor Andrew Hopkins‘ contribution to occupational health and safety (OHS) was celebrated in Australia.  At the event, a publisher was promoting Hopkins’ upcoming autobiography.  The book is not an autobiography, it is better.

The book is called “Quiet Outrage – The Way of a Sociologist” and was released in March 2016.  Don’t be surprised if you have not heard of this new release.  The publisher, Wolters Kluwer, seems to have done next to nothing to promote this book even though Hopkins’ works have been a major seller for the company.  Hopkins writes that 90,000 copies of his books have been sold around the world – an extraordinary achievement for an Australian sociologist. Continue reading “Quiet Outrage inspires”

Santos slapped with stale celery over near-miss

More often than not people are disappointed by the sentences handed out by Courts on OHS breaches.  Even with sentencing guidelines, the ultimate decision rests with the judgement of the Court.  Today’s $A84,000 fine against Santos Ltd appears low considering that the incident had the potential to be catastrophic and the company has just  reported “half-year profit up 155% to $504 million”. (ABC News provides a good pocket description of the incident with The Age discusses the corporate impact at the time)

The 2004 incident involved a near miss but a near miss that was just a second away from a catastrophe.  The fact that no one was directly injured has been mentioned in many media reports but not being injured is not the same as not being affected.  Industrial Magistrate Ardlie’s decision records that some employees had to run through the gas cloud to reach the muster point.  Some had difficulty breathing.  One worker was knocked off his feet by the blast and had the fireball travel over him burning the exposed parts of his body.

Dr John Edwards of Flinders University is quoted in Industrial Magistrate Ardlie’s decision that, without prompt evacuation, “the exposure dose [to hydrocarbons] could have been considerable and life-threatening”. Continue reading “Santos slapped with stale celery over near-miss”

Is capitalism anti-safety? Systemic failures in oil industry

The Wall Street Journal and other media around the world have reported on systemic failures of the global oil industry and government regulators identified by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.  These articles are based on the release of a single chapter, Chapter 4, of the final report due for release on 11 January 2011.

A media release from the Commission includes the following findings from Chapter 4

“The well blew out because a number of separate risk factors, oversights, and outright mistakes combined to overwhelm the safeguards meant to prevent just such an event from happening.  But most of the mistakes and oversights at Macondo can be traced back to a single overarching failure—a failure of management.  Better management by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean would almost certainly have prevented the blowout by improving the ability of individuals involved to identify the risks they faced, and to properly evaluate, communicate, and address them.”

“. . .the Macondo blowout was the product of several individual missteps and oversights by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean, which government regulators lacked the authority, the necessary resources, and the technical expertise to prevent.”

“The blowout was not the product of a series of aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again. Rather, the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur.”

“What we. . .know is considerable and significant:

  1. each of the mistakes made on the rig and onshore by industry and government increased the risk of a well blowout;
  2. the cumulative risk that resulted from these decisions and actions was both unreasonably large and avoidable; and
  3. the risk of a catastrophic blowout was ultimately realized on April 20 and several of the mistakes were contributing causes of the blowout.”
The significance of these quotes is that the Commission is critical of an industry and not just a single company.   Continue reading “Is capitalism anti-safety? Systemic failures in oil industry”

Australian OHS expert in advisory role on Gulf oil spill

Australian Professor Andrew Hopkins is currently in the United States advising the Chemical Safety Board in its investigation of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Several months ago it was rumoured that Hopkins would be part of the Commission of Inquiry, a rumour quickly denied by Hopkins and others.

According to a media release from FutureMedia, Hopkins will

“…spend several months working at the Board’s office in Denver as well as interviewing company managers in both the US and in London, where BP is headquartered.”

Hopkins has been interviewed by many media outlets in relation to the Gulf Oil Spill and BP’s safety culture due to his investigation of the Texas Oil Refinery explosion at a BP facility in 2005.  Continue reading “Australian OHS expert in advisory role on Gulf oil spill”

The advantages of integrated enforcement action

In the 1990s, WorkSafe Victoria (then the Occupational health and  Safety Authority) coordinated Hazardous Chemicals Audit Teams (HCAT).  I was one member of the administrative unit for HCAT.  This coordinated approach to inspection and enforcement had substantial merit and was very effective as the Auditor-General found in 1995.  I was reminded of this initiative by the simultaneous action taken by the Victorian Government against Mobil Australia, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, on 3 June 2010.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has

“…cancelled Mobil Refining Australia Pty Ltd’s accredited licence”.

The EPA media release quotes CEO John Merritt (formerly executive director of WorkSafe Victoria):

“In the absence of [an ongoing commitment to constantly improving their environmental performance], EPA has the power to cancel the accreditation…. EPA is less than impressed with Mobil’s track record in which there has been a number of incidents at the site all with the potential for environmental and community risk.

It is EPA’s belief that Mobil’s onsite practices have not demonstrated a high level of environmental performance to justify accreditation.” Continue reading “The advantages of integrated enforcement action”

Leadership starts with the truth

Guest contributor Jim Ward writes:

Interested observers of past OHS failures would do well to pay close attention to the insights of former BP employee Ross Macfarlane in the SafetyAtWorkBlog –  A personal insight into BP and the corporate approach to safety.

His erudite observations of some of the underlying issues surrounding BP’s succession of calamities during the noughties and the company’s subsequent struggle to come to grips with the implications for its brand, culture, ethics and self perception are rare.

They are the sort of insights not usually captured during a formal root cause analysis of an OHS disaster.  Irrespective of who is found to be right and who is wrong some things just don’t help when it comes to trying to achieve a safe workplace.  But, Macfarlane’s insights do.

Macfarlane’s apt description of the “Cult of Lord Browne” is given further weight by the erstwhile CEO’s own account of his life and times as the head of the oil giant in his memoir Beyond Business.

In my view Browne is a narcissist.  In his book he portrays himself as

“a visionary leader who transformed a lacklustre organisation into one of the world’s biggest, most successful and admired companies”.

My take on it is that he was admired by his peers but not as much as he was by himself. Continue reading “Leadership starts with the truth”

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