Varanus Island Report released

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On 10 October 2008, the Western Australian Mines and Petroleum Minister, Norman Moore, released the final report into the Varanus Island pipeline explosion.  Sadly due to legislative restrictions the report is not being made available in an electronic edition accessible through the internet.  However, hard copies can be requested from the government.

Recent media statements indicate that “the immediate physical cause of the gas explosion at the island’s gas production facility operated by Apache Energy Ltd was the rupture of the 12-inch gas sales pipeline.”

Some media reports mention the dreaded n-word – negligence.  Apache Energy has stated that investigations into the 

Varanus Island explosion were premature and based on an incomplete investigation 

Contrary to most incident investigation techniques known to SafetyAtWorkBlog, Apache Energy says that it will continue to investigate in order to determine the “root cause”.  

Since the incident, there has been a change to a conservative State government so the statements contain a political edge.  The current Minister says that the terms of reference were too narrow and did not allow for investigation into “regulatory oversight” however deficiencies in this area were illustrated through media reports in the weeks following the incident.

The Minister has not ruled out ordering a  “a full and independent investigation into this issue… at a later date” but I suspect only if there were political benefits rather than safety benefits.  There are a considerable number of voices supporting a broader inquiry from unions and industry groups

The report is said to identify the following three contributing factors:

  • ineffective anti-corrosion coating at the beach crossing section of a 12-inch sales gas pipeline, due to damage and/or dis-bondment from the pipeline;
  • ineffective cathodic protection of the wet-dry transition zone of the beach crossing section of  a 12-inch sales gas pipeline on Varanus Island; and
  • ineffective inspection and monitoring by Apache Energy of the beach crossing and shallow water section of the pipeline.

Mr Moore stated that

“Under the safety case regime, the operator is required to identify hazards and assess risks to health and safety and to implement control measures to reduce those risks. The ongoing inspection, monitoring and maintenance of control measures are associated with those risks and the management regime. The report has indicated that Apache and its co-licensees may have committed offences under two pipeline Acts.”

A Senate inquiry is looking into the economic impact of the Western Australian gas crisis and the State Government’s response to the incident.

New presenteeism survey figures

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Frequently I receive audio media releases from the US about a range of workplace safety matters.  These releases are scripted and can sometimes sound corny but within them is a usually a useful nugget of information.

The latest one I received concerns presenteeism and mental health so, being so close to World Mental Health Day, I thought it is worth mentioning.  The audio release is from Cigna Health Care, an American insurance company, and can be heard by clicking 35580_09ny08-0039-_cigna-w

Cigna has a couple of fact sheets in support of the survey findings and an article specifically concerning mental health and wellness which may be worth a look. 

An earlier posting on presenteeism is available and I recommend going to the World Health Organisation, UN or ILO sites for more independent information.

When managing stress, are safety managers looking at the wrong thing?

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Today is World Mental Health Day and the media, at least in Australia, is inundated with comments and articles on mental health.  This morning, Jeff Kennett, a director of beyondblue, spoke on ABC Radio about the increasing levels of anxiety that people are feeling in these turbulent economic times.  Throughout the 5 minute interview, Kennett never once mentioned stress.  This omission seemed odd as, in the workplace safety field, stress is often seen as the biggest psychosocial hazard faced in the workplace.

SafetyAtWorkBlog spoke with Clare Shann, the senior project manager with beyondblue’s Workplace Program, about the role of stress in the workplace and its relation to mental health.  She clarified that stress is not a medical condition but a potential contributor to developing a mental illness, such as anxiety disorders or depression.

To put the situation into context, there is a fascinating interview with a Darren Dorey of Warrnambool in Victoria.  The 20 minute interview was conducted on  a regional ABC Radio station on 9 October, and describes the personal experience of depression and anxiety that stems, to some extent, from work.

It seems that in trying to manage stress, OHS professionals may be focusing on the wrong element in worker health.  Perhaps what are considered workers compensation claims for stress should be re–categorised as claims for mental illness.  This may result in a better acceptance of the existence of this workplace hazard.

An exclusive interview with Clare Shann can be heard clare_shann_mental_health

Is technology the solution to everything?

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Today, I received a media statement by the Acting Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Mark V. Rosenker.  He said that new technologies have the potential to substantially reduce rail incidents.  Rosenker is quoted as saying

“Just think how far computer and GPS technology has developed in the past 10 years.”

He urged the delegates at the International Railroad Safety Conference in Denver, Colorado on 6 October 2008 to

“… be forward thinking.  Work closely with the highway industry to develop useful, intelligent transportation safety systems that can prevent accidents at grade crossings.” 

In mid-September 2008, the a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train collided in Chatsworth, California, killing 25 people.  The engineer of the Metrolink train was using new technology – he was texting on his mobile phone instead of paying attention.

I can’t see how the new technologies that Mark Rosenker discusses:

electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking, acoustic bearing detectors, wheel impact detectors, … truck performance detectors [and] intelligent transportation systems (ITS)…”

would have stopped the deaths of 25 people in Chatsworth?

I realise that the NTSB investigation into the Chatsworth collision has a way to go but I will be listening for some non-technological control measures to be proposed as well.  The NTSB is going to need to keep up its “qualification, training and oversight of employees” that it has implemented in the last decade or so becasue clearly in the case of the Metrolink engineer, Robert Sanchez, these techniques failed.

Inadequate resources generate workplace stress

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Survey findings released on 9 October 2008 by recruitment company Talent2 indicate that Australian employees are feeling stressed at work as a result of the effects of redundancies.

John  Banks of Talent2 said 

“… 71.7% say they currently do the job of more than one person, and this makes for a very stressful and unproductive workplace.”

The press release for the study stated

“More than half of Australian employees believe they are operating under extremely low staffing levels and 82.1% say they are expected to do far more work today than they were 5 years ago, according to a survey of 2,703 people.”

Almost 60% of respondents in Western Australia said that their workplaces are understaffed.  Between 48% and 58% of respondents in other Australian States agreed.

Banks said that companies can create a “false bottom line” by minimising staff numbers.  He said 

“Across the board, the sales/marketing sector has been most affected with 74.7% of employees in that industry asked to do additional work. The manufacturing sector is also guilty of asking staff to cover the work of more than one person with 74.2% of those surveyed dobbing in their bosses, and the legal sector is not too far behind at 70.4%.” 

It is acknowledged that the volume of claims for compensation for workplace stress increases during periods of corporate economic hardship and redundancies.

A terrific short article on the costs and impacts of workplace stress in Australia can be found in a newsletter by the law firm, Landers & Rogers.

It is also useful to note that the Talent2 survey results were released in the same week that the ILO has been promoting decent work, Australia is running Mental Health Week and the United Nations has its World Mental Health Day.