Research raises serious questions on SIA’s certification push

One of the most contentious issues in Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) profession at the moment is the move by the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA)to certify the profession. In the February 2015 issue of the Journal of Health Safety and Environment, Warwick Pearse, Laura McCosker and Gunther Paul researched the SIA’s “professional project” and found it seriously wanting.

The paper “Reflection on the SIA Ltd professional project and the Body of Knowledge” states that the project

“…has the potential to promote a narrow technical view of OHS rather than a wider view which encompasses societal relations of power and politics.”

“The use of the BoK [Body of Knowledge] as a key element in the professional project has the potential to represent OHS as a unified system of knowledge — which it is not.” [link added]

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OHS issues from over the horizon

seaOn 18 March 2015, the Melbourne office of Herbert Smith Freehills conducted a breakfast seminar that doubled as a launch for the latest edition of the CCH Wolters Kluwer book Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide (reviewed recently).  The seminar had three of the book’s authors talking about emerging occupational health and safety (OHS) and work health and safety (WHS) issues for Australia.  These included

  • The growth of WHS/OHS “Assurance Programs”
  • The potential implications for the safety management from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Free Trade Agreements.
  • The OHS trend in the European Union for “Supply Chain Safety“.

The first two of these topics are discussed below.

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Should Australian safety professionals be certified?

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On November 12 2014, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) conducted its first large seminar on the certification of occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals. The seminar had an odd mix of some audience members who were suspicious, others who were enthusiastic and presenters who were a little wary.  There were few who seemed to object to certification but, as the SIA admitted, the process is a long way from complete.

Justification for Certification

Certification works when it is either mandated by government, usually through legislation, or in response to a community/business/market need.  Australia does not seem to have either.  The SIA explained that there is a “legal requirement” for OHS certification by placing it as part of the OHS due diligence obligations of Australian businesses, that Safe Work Australia (SWA) sort-of refers to it it in its National OHS Strategy and that the “Recommendation 161” of an unspecified international law:

“….calls for organisations to have access to “sufficient and appropriate expertise” as a basic right of all workers.”

There is no such Recommendation but there is an Occupational Health Services Convention, 1985 (No. 161)
Convention concerning Occupational Health Services (Entry into force: 17 Feb 1988) – a International Labour Organisation Convention that Australia has not ratified.

The SWA strategy repeatedly mentions the important of “health and safety capabilities” as a “national Action Area”.  It specifies this action area as:

  • “Everyone in a workplace has the work health and safety capabilities they require.
  • Those providing work health and safety education, training and advice have the appropriate capabilities.
  • Inspectors and other staff of work health and safety regulators have the work health and safety capabilities to effectively perform their role.
  • Work health and safety skills development is integrated effectively into relevant education and training programs.” (page 9)

In the strategy’s chapter on Health and Safety Capabilities, SWA says:

“In a decade many existing workplace hazards will still be present and new ones will have appeared. It is particularly important that education and training enable those who provide professional or practical advice to competently deal with old and new hazards. Those who provide advice need to know when to refer the matter to others with appropriate expertise.” (page 12)

There is no mention of certification in the SWA strategy but the SWA is sympathetic to certification. Continue reading “Should Australian safety professionals be certified?”

Anchor points could meet the Australian Standard but still be unsafe

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Twice in early April 2014, 7.30, a current affairs program of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ran two lead stories about occupational health and safety – home insulation-related fatalities and the risks of working at heights.  The latter of these provided only a glimpse of a complex OHS issue and only touched on the matter of the self-certification of anchor points where compliance does not necessarily equate to safety. This issue has been taken up by the Working at Heights Association (WAHA) on 11 April 2014. In a media release WAHA stated:

“In the wake of last night’s ABC 7.30 Report on falls from height, the Working At Heights Association has a warning: “If you’re counting on a harness attached to an anchor system to save your life when you fall from a roof, you need to know that many roof anchors don’t meet the most basic safety standards.”

WAHA has conducted some “drop tests” of common anchor points that are currently in use in Australia and that meet the relevant Australian Standard AS/NZS5532 – Manufacturing requirements for single-point anchor device used for harness-based work at height. They found that

“In the tests, 100kg loads dropped through 2 metres tear single-person anchors away from their mounts, while 150kg loads for two-person-use hit the ground, smashing the weights. Only one out of the five anchors tested pass.”

This is a matter of enormous concern as anchor points are an essential element of fall protection.  A lot of attention has been given to fall protection harnesses over the years with some new product types but all of these rely on the integrity of a firmly secured anchor point that can withstand the high forces involved in stopping someone falling to their deaths. Continue reading “Anchor points could meet the Australian Standard but still be unsafe”

The safety features of the new Polaris set a new benchmark

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2014.5-SprtsmnAce4x4-White_f3qThe Weekly Times scored an exclusive this week about a new model of Polaris quad bike which incorporates a roll cage or rollover protection structure (ROPS) in its design.  The significance of the Sportsman Ace is, according to the newspaper and the manufacturer, a “game changer” because it seems to counter the arguments of the quad bike manufacturers against such design changes in submissions to government and in public campaigns.  They have stressed that more effective control of a quad bike comes from driver training and behaviour and that ROPs may itself contribute to driver injuries and deaths.  The Polaris Sportsman Ace, to be released in the United States this week and Australia next month, seems to prove that quad bikes can be redesigned to include safety features, an action that manufacturers have been extremely reluctant to do.

A major critic of ROPs on quad bikes in Australia has been the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI). SafetyAtWorkBlog spoke to a spokesman for the FCAI who explained that the Polaris Sportsman Ace is not an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) but a UTV (Utility Terrain Vehicle). Continue reading “The safety features of the new Polaris set a new benchmark”