A traditional farm safety campaign with tweaks

For the last few years, farm safety has been dominated by arguments over the safety of quad bikes. Squabbles continue in Australia, but that topic is largely over, and many are returning to a broader and more contemporary approach to health and safety in farming.

It looks like WorkSafe Victoria has begun to roll out its farm safety ambassadors with Catherine Velisha on the cover of a recent edition of Stock and Land newspaper and in a Youtube video. This is supported by a full article on page 3 with an additional article in a glossy supplement provided with WorkSafe’s support.

The article is a blend of promotion for Velisha’s farm management training company and media releases from WorkSafe Victoria. The occupational health and safety (OHS) statistics are new but not very different from previous statistics. Middle-aged men continue to be a feature of the fatality statistics, and 58 on-farm deaths happened in 2020, the same as the year before. Quad bikes have been a major factor in those deaths.

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Right information, wrong magazine

The OHS Professional magazine for December 2020 contains a very good article about workplace psychological risks and the occupational health and safety (OHS) strategy to prevent mental harm. The only negative is that it is not published in a Human Resources magazine, or one for company directors. The preventative techniques are well known to the OHS profession and based on independent scientific evidence, but it is other managerial disciplines that need to learn the difference between preventing psychological harm and providing symptomatic relief.

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The myth of “correct lifting technique” persists

In 2017 Work Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) released this advice about reducing the physical risks associated with manual handling:

“The research evidence shows that providing lifting technique training is not effective in minimising the risk of injury from manual tasks.”

So why is “correct lifting technique” still being included in safety procedures and Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) three years later?

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Farmers want quad bikes…….

The debate over the safety of quad bikes on farms continues but it is increasingly one-sided. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and workplace safety advocates continue to hold the line on the need to install operator protection devices (OPDs) to all quad bikes being sold in Australia. Farmers, often supported by commercial interests, want to keep their quad bikes and as they are, because there are no alternative vehicles that are as versatile as the quad bike.

On July 4 2020, the Western Magazine quoted the CEO of the Federated Chamber of Automotive Industries‘ (FCAI) Tony Weber:

“Evidence suggests in some circumstances CPDs do prevent injuries, other times they create more injuries and that’s not a satisfactory outcome we should address the fundamental problem and that is the way in which humans behave around this machine…”

This quote neatly summarises the points of argument in the safety debate which have been reported on extensively in this blog previously – evidence, most benefit, design, use….

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WorkSafe and Industrial Manslaughter webinar

On May 19, 2020, WorkSafe Victoria conducted an interactive webinar on Workplace Manslaughter laws due to be in place from July 1, 2020. The webinar was very good for those who are coming to the issue anew as the level of interaction was excellent. But the webinar also broadened beyond its topic, which was disappointing. At 90 minutes the event was too long, but revised versions of this consultation with the community should be scheduled regularly, even when physical distancing rules end.

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Tooma on Mental Health – Review

Michael Tooma is probably the most prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) lawyer in Australia. His latest book is, a little pretentiously, called “Michael Tooma on Mental Health“, but it fits with the series of OHS-related publications he has written for Wolters Kluwer. Unusually for a lawyer, there are only two chapters that specifically discuss legislative obligations, and, in many ways, these are the least interesting.


Positive Mental Health

In the Introduction, Tooma goes out of his way to stress the positive benefits of work. He is critical of the current OHS approach to workplace stress writing that we seek a “Goldilocks” application of perfection when this is really subjectively determined by each worker. Tooma challenges this in a major way through the 2012 study by Keller and others:

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Australia government releases its COVID19 Safe Plan template

Australia’s National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) has released what it calls a toolkit for assessing COVID19 risks for businesses that are reopening soon. It is a useful checklist/template that the NCCC anticipates will take around 30 minutes to complete. What legal standing it may have is unclear as OHS in most Australian workplaces is regulated at State and Territory levels, but the Prime Minister says we need COVID Safe Plans and here’s a checklist to support it.

Business owners should understand that any checklist is only ever a tool to aid them to make an informed decision. It is not a compliance tick. Sadly, the COVIDSafe Plan template fails to answer its first question:

“Why is it important to have a COVIDSafe Plan?”

The answer should have been something like

“….all Australian business owners are obliged by law to provide workplace that are free of health and safety risks, including viral infections, like COVID19. This plan will help you fulfill your obligation which will also reduce the transmission of COVID19 and could save lives.”

The legal and moral reason for this checklist should have been upfront to emphasise the primacy of occupational health and safety (OHS) in helping control a public health risk.

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