River death leads to OHS prosecution

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The prosecution of a New Zealand adventure company, Black Sheep Adventures, over the death of Englishwoman Emily Jordan has received more press in England than in Australia but the case should be watched by all OHS professionals.

One report provides a useful summary of the fatal incident

“Emily Jordan drowned while riverboarding on the Kawarau river in New Zealand’s south island in April last year [2008].

The 21-year-old former Alice Ottley School (now RGSAO) pupil was travelling with her boyfriend after graduating from Swansea University with a first class degree in law.

The riverboarding company Black Sheep Adventures Ltd and its director Brad McLeod have been charged with failing to ensure the actions or inaction of employees did not harm Miss Jordan.”

The same article is an illustration of the importance of regular communication with the family of the deceased by the Authorities, even if the parties are on opposite sides of the globe.

The family established The Emily Jordan Foundation and a eulogy about Emily is available which provides a clearer understanding of what was lost in this tragedy.

Black Sheep Adventures have also been charged under the Health and Safety Employment Act 1992, with failing “failure to take all practical steps to ensure the safety of employees and the prevention of possible hazards.”  The company and its director have pleaded not guilty.

The Birmingham Post is continuing to cover the case including the start of the trial due for next week.

Maritime New Zealand who are prosecuting the company instigated a review of the river boarding industry in late 2008.

Kevin Jones

Forest not required – indoor air quality and plants

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Ever since modern offices have relied on air conditioning for ventilation, indoor air quality has been a contentious occupational issue from other people’s smells to thermal comfort to photocopier toner dust.

The prominence of air quality in offices as an OHS issue can be illustrated by a paragraph from the 1997  edition of Officewise, when cigarette smoke remained a real hazard.  No mention was made of plants.

Air in offices may be contaminated by several different
sources, including odours and micro-biological and
chemical contaminants. In an office environment, the
quality of the air is often controlled through an air
conditioning system. A building’s air conditioning
system may be considered as its lungs. The function
of such a system is to draw in outside air, filter, heat,
cool or humidify it and circulate it around the building.
The system expels a portion of the air to the outside
environment and replaces this expelled portion with
fresh or outside air.

“Air in offices may be contaminated by several different sources, including odours and micro-biological and chemical contaminants. In an office environment, the quality of the air is often controlled through an air conditioning system. A building’s air conditioning system may be considered as its lungs. The function of such a system is to draw in outside air, filter, heat, cool or humidify it and circulate it around the building. The system expels a portion of the air to the outside environment and replaces this expelled portion with fresh or outside air.”

The focus was (pre-green buildings) on mechanical ventilation but even in the 2006 edition there was no mention of the any benefits from indoor plants.

A haughty OHS response to these issues would be to just open a window and eliminate the hazards.  But the capacity to open office windows has not been available for several decades whether it is for the reasons of comfort or to eliminate the risk of people jumping through windows or for energy efficiency or security, is debatable.

Throughout the “closed environment decades” there have been plant advocates.  There have long been claims that plants are calming and increase productivity although some of the sick plants in some offices are evidence only of coffee dregs and in the 1980’s, cigarette butts.  Robin Mellon of the Green Building Council Australia puts the value of plants in the workplace context.

Finally there seems to be some evidence about the air filtration capacity of plants indoors.  According to a recent media statement from the University of Technology Sydney (via a company who supplies plants to offices), research has been undertaken that shows “that any plants can improve indoor air quality and the size of the pot or plant does not matter above 200mm. Adjunct Professor Margaret Burchett says

“We have found that a plant in a 200mm pot is as effective as one in a 250mm or 300mm in removing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and it seems that any plant will perform as well as others… This is important news – it means that any indoor room or office which is air-conditioned or closed for much of the time, can really benefit from having just one 200mm pot plant.”

A 1998 interview with Professor Burchett on the benefits of plants is also available online.

The new information on this issue is the filtering capacity of an individual plant in a room.  This is useful as workplaces will not need forests to assist in controlling the hazards presented by mechanical ventilation in modern buildings.  There are many reason, however, for having plants in workplaces.  Not only are they pleasant to see, they can also indicate a company’s green aims and credentials, particularly if in a more recent office block.

Let’s hope that the movement towards “safe design” for OHS purposes includes plants.

Kevin Jones

Another mining death in Western Australia

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Rarely have workplace fatalities gained as much political attention as the current spate of deaths in Western Australia.  Most have related to the iron ore operations of BHP Billiton but, according to one media report, on 8 August 2009

“New Zealander Daniel Williams, 26, died … at the Kanowna Belle mine site near Kalgoorlie, operated by Barrick Gold, after falling from an iron ore path into a hole.”

The media report clearly indicates that there are wider issues in the enforcement of OHS in that State other than just the operations of Barrick Gold.

Not surprisingly the unions are calling for a broader inquiry into safety of the industry.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has heard that Daniel Williams fell over 30 metres while checking a blockage in an ore pass grizzly shortly after midnight.  Perhaps, this should be considered an example of a fall from height moreso than a mining death.

Barrick Gold has been contacted for any additional information

Kevin Jones

Learning Lessons from the Santika Nightclub Fire

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For many years SafetyAtWorkBlog and its forerunner Safety At Work magazine reported on various tragic fires in crowded nightclubs around the world.  Several in recent memory include the 2003 Rhode Island fire that killed 100 patrons and for which, according to an Associated Press report from the time,

Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan Jr sentenced 29-year-old Daniel
Biechele to 15 years, but suspended 11 years of that sentence, and
also ordered three years of probation.

“Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan Jr sentenced 29-year-old Daniel Biechele to 15 years, but suspended 11 years of that sentence, and also ordered three years of probation.”

A brief report on the Rhode Island fire is in the OSHA media archives.

In March 2006, Safety At Work included an AFP report saying

“The municipal council has impeached Buenos Aires Mayor Anibal Ibarra after finding him guilty of dereliction of duty following a December 30, 2004 nightclub fire that killed 194 people.”

An earlier report on the mayor’s response is include at the CrowdSafe website.

Engineering and design company ARUP have provided SafetyAtWorkBlog with an article that analyses recurring elements of nightclub fires using the Santika fire in Bangkok from 1 January 2009 as a most recent incident.  Below is the introduction to the article which can be found in full in the pages listed above.

Our thanks to ARUP for the terrific article.

Kevin Jones

LEARNING LESSONS FROM THE SANTIKA NIGHTCLUB FIRE

by Dr Marianne Foley and Travis Stirling, Arup Fire, Sydney

In the early hours of New Years Day 2009, fire engulfed Bangkok’s Santika nightclub, killing 64 people and injuring more than 200.  Our knowledge of the events of that night is based on media reports and publicly available information, and the precise cause of the fire is still unclear.  However, we do know that there are strong correlations between this and many similar tragedies at entertainment venues dating back as far as the first half of the twentieth century.  While we wait for the results of the official investigation and coronial enquiries, it’s timely to ask questions about these fires.  Why do they happen over and over again?  Why do so many people lose their lives?  What lessons can be learnt?  And what practical measures can be implemented to stop them happening?

RECURRING MISTAKES

Arup’s analysis of case studies has revealed six themes that commonly contribute to the severity of high-fatality nightclub fires: insufficient exits, the presence of highly flammable materials, a lack of good fire safety systems, confusing environments, pyrotechnics and open flames, and buildings used inappropriately and maintained poorly.  By addressing each of these themes, we aim to provide design solutions that could mitigate the risk of future nightclub disasters.

[The themes in the full article are

  • Insufficient exits
  • Highly flammable materials
  • Fire safety systems
  • Confusing environments
  • Pyrotechnics and open flames
  • Buildings used inappropriately or maintained poorly]

Firefighter trauma

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A major element of risk management  is business continuity.  This requires considerable planning, disaster recovery resources, and a long-term focus.

In early 2009 parts of Victoria, some not far from the offices of SafetyAtWorkBlog, were incinerated and across the State over 170 people died. In a conservative western culture like Australia, the bush-fires were the biggest natural disaster in living memory.

The is a Royal Commission into the Victorian Bushfires that is illustrating many of the disaster planning and community continuity needs in risk management.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “7.30 Report” provided a report on 5 August 2009 which originates from the views of the community and the volunteer firefighters.  One of the issues relevant to safety professionals and risk managers is the psychological impact on volunteer workers.  Many in the report talk of trauma.  Many in the disaster areas have not returned and their are many who remain psychologically harmed.

When a workforce is so closely integrated with a community, rehabilitation is a daunting task and changes a community forever.

Overseas readers may have experienced their own natural disasters such as hurricane Katrina, earthquakes, floods and wildfires.  Many of these stories are reported around the world.  In the recovery phase of any disaster, businesses need to rebuild but are often rebuilding with damaged people.  It would be heartening to see the OHS regulators and OHS professions becoming more involved over the long recovery period.

Kevin Jones