The new generation of foolhardy reporters

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In 1975 five Australian reporters were killed while covering the armed dispute between the Indonesian military and, what used to be called “freedom fighters”, the Fretilin in East Timor.  An indication of how circumstances can change is that José Ramos Horta, the current President of East Timor was a founder and former member of Fretilin, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor.

Since that time, in particular, in Australia, the issue of safety of media employees has gained considerable attention, primarily through the work of the journalist’s union, the MEAA, and the international Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma

But there are a new generation of freelancers and writers who come to reporting from outside the tertiary journalism courses (this writer included) who do not have the benefit of accessing the wisdom and advice of experienced reporters.  These writers (I do not apply the term journalist  even to myself) see the excitement of reporting from exotic locations and areas of conflict.  New technology of recording and distribution only encourages them because it makes the reporting process easier or, at least, makes it easier to provide content, the quality of the content is often questionable.

A new book is being released in Australia concerning the Balibo Five and the author spoke to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.  Tony Maniaty, who was in Indonesia at the time and spoke with the Australian reporters, touches on the risks to which the new generation of reporters are willingly exposing themselves.   His comments are timely and reinforce the importance of what used to be called listening to the wisdom of elders but now seems to be mentoring.  His comments apply to all occupations and professions.

A feature film is being made about this period and the events surrounding the Balibo Five.  Maniaty attending the shooting of the film and spoke about this in a Youtube video, ostensibly for the promotion of his book. 

Kevin Jones

 

 

Working alone – a poorly understood work hazard

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Working alone is an established workplace hazard in many industries.  The control measure most applied is “don’t work alone” that is, undertake as many work tasks in isolated location with someone supervising or in close contact.

Modern technology has often been applied as a possible control measure – “deadman switch”, GPS tracking, mobile phone use.  Many of these control measures are second nature to workers in this century and are so commonplace that their safety role is ignored.

Regardless of the many zookeeper attacks that have gained media headlines over recent years, many workers are assaulted and killed while working alone.  Industries that do not have a strong history of safety management most often get caught out by having a staff member injured or killed.  Bosses or industry associations often express wonder at how such an incident could occur.  Safety professionals would have seen the hazard instantly.

The risk of violence from working alone has been a hot topic in Australia since a Victorian female real estate agent was murdered while showing a prospective “client” an isolated property.

HSS0075-Real      -3.477447e+266state-Property            51804944nspection                    afety[1]WorkSafe Victoria has just released a further publication concerning this matter.  The alert is okay in its context but is doing a disservice by being restricted to real estate agents.  Worksafe has more generic guidance but focus on real estate agents? Why not produce similarly detailed guidance guidance that is more broadly applicable to workers in isolation – pizza deliverers, night shift workers, street cleaners, office cleaners a whole raft of occupations that operate alone?

WorkSafe has said previously that real estate agents gain priority because such guidances are developed in conjunction with industry associations.  A legitimate question can be asked, why is a government authority producing guidance for a sector that already has an industry body who can do this?  Shouldn’t an OHS regulator be focusing on those areas that don’t have industry support?

Below are some of the recommended control measures in the latest publication.  SafetyAtWorkBlog’s more generic control measures are in red.

  • having a new client stop by the office and complete a personal identification form before viewing a property to verify details

Have a detailed list of staff work locations and a contact name and (after hours) number for a supervisor at each location

  • inspecting properties during the day. If night inspections are necessary, ensure the agent is accompanied. Identify exit points in case a quick escape is needed

Work with a colleague wherever possible

  • inspecting the property before showing clients,to assess any existing risks or hazards

Consider the security measures of each work area – lighting, access/egress, phone coverage, camera surveillance, etc

  • making an excuse and leaving the site immediately if the client becomes aggressive or makes the agent feel uncomfortable

Cancel the work task at the first sign of hazard

  • calling the office with a pre-assigned emergency code phrase if the agent senses a dangerous situation

The “safe word” control measure is well established in the escort business.  It can work but will only notify of a dangerous situation not eliminate it

  • regularly training staff on safety procedures, including instructions on dealing with potential offenders and incident reporting.

Develop safe work procedures in consultation with staff 

When considering control measures in these situations it may be very useful to understand that prosecutions are likely to consider that employers have undertaken control measures “as far is reasonably practicable” – a movable feast of judgements.  Ask yourself or your client the question, would they prefer to know that an employee is in danger, injured or killed, or would they prefer to have the employee safe and loose a potential client?  The court may consider camera or other technical surveillance to be reasonably practicable but what would your employee who has lost an eye, limb and quality of life think?

Consider other control measures ONLY AFTER elimination has been seriously considered.

Kevin Jones

Other OHS guides concerning working alone are available below

WorkSafe WA

WA Dept of Commerce

Trade Union site

WorkSafe Victoria

Workplace Health & Safety Queensland

A vision for the OHS profession

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WorkSafe Victoria is very involved with moves to improve the professionalism of OHS practitioners in Australia.  There is no doubt that improvements are required but the role of a state-based regulator in a non-regulatory system is curious. Surely such changes should be run from a national perspective

Safety professionals often look at the prominence, influence and market share of professional organisations for the doctors or the accountants.  In Australia, at the moment, the health care profession’s accreditation/registration process is having a new structure introduced.  After a long review process the Australian Health Workforce Ministerial Council identified these areas for change

  • Accreditation standards will be developed by the independent accrediting body or the accreditation committee of the board where an external body has not been assigned the function.
  • The accrediting body or committee will recommend to the board, in a transparent manner, the courses and training programs it has accredited and that it considers to have met the requirements for registration.
  • Ministers today agreed there will be both general and specialist registers available for the professions, including medicine and dentistry, where ministers agree that there is to be specialist registration. Practitioners can be on one or both of these registers, depending on whether their specialist qualification has been recognised under the national scheme.

This third point is an excellent one and so easily applied to the safety profession and the practitioners. “Specialist” and “generalist” seems to reflect the composition of the safety industry in Australia.  There are those on the shopfloor or offices who deal with hazards on a daily basis.  There are those who research and write about safety.  And there are those who are a bit of both.  The two category system of accreditation seems simple and practical and readily understood by those outside of the profession.

  • Both categories will attract experts in various fields but the categories themselves don’t relate to specific areas of expertise. The Ministerial Council has agreed that there will be a requirement that, for annual renewal of registration, a registrant must demonstrate that they have participated in a continuing professional development program as approved by their national board.
  • Assistance will be provided to members of the public who need help to make a complaint.
  • The Ministerial Council agreed that national boards will be required to register students in the health profession
  • …boards will be appointed by the Ministerial Council with vacancies to be advertised. At least half, but not more than two thirds, of the members must be practitioners and at least two must be persons appointed as community members.
  • There will be a new “Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency”

 These points deal with matters sorely lacking from many areas of the safety profession – independence, transparency, skills maintenance, a clear and independent complaints procedure, diverse representation and a formal regulatory agency.

To this SafetyAtWorkBlog would add the concept of a Safety Industry Ombudsman for it is always necessary to have someone watching the “watchmen”.

Currently the Australian safety profession is part way through a mish-mash of a process of professionalisation.  Surely it would be better to follow the most contemporary of processes being implemented by health care and others.  Such a process would take some time and require support from the various disciplines of safety and the government.  More importantly, it may require “vision” but during this time of substantial change in OHS legislation and regulatory structure, it is surely the right time to bring in long-term structural change to a profession that would benefit business and the public very well indeed.

Kevin Jones

Migrant worker safety

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Recently one of the Australian boutique labour law firms ran a seminar on employment issues related to migrant workers.  Australia has a history of using workers from the Pacific Islands, principally, in agriculture.  Chinese have been working in Australia since the goldfields of the 1800s.  New Zealanders are so frequent that the countries almost share an economy in some ways.  Some labour is imported, other labour is invited or sought.

The global economic problems has exacerbated the difficulties many countries face with legal and illegal migrant workers.  Australia is not immune.  There may be less and less water in the country, certainly in the south, but it is still considered a land of opportunity by neighbours.

Workplace safety issues are perhaps the easiest to deal with in this labour sector as the employment status is not relevant to the obligation to provide a safe and healthy work environment.

pages-from-communicatingThe safety training, instruction and supervision matters are similarly unaffected by employment status.  However it has always been a difficult part of an OHS manager and HR manager’s job to make sure that workers understand their obligations and duties.  In Victoria, one of the first OHS Codes of Practice in the 1980s concerned providing OHS information in languages other than English.  It was probably the most ignored Code of Practice of all.

Recently, WorkSafe Victoria has issued Compliance Codes.  Following the recommendations and techniques in these codes implies compliance and can be wonderful for the small business sector.  One of the new codes is on communicating in languages other than English This is a great start but there needs a much greater effort, almost a movement, for Australia to avoid the problems facing countries like England.

In late-March 2009, the UK law firm Irwin Mitchell reported the following statistics

The report [by the Centre for Corporate Accountability], which makes the figures public for the first time and was compiled following Freedom of Information requests to the Health and Safety Executive, shows that a dozen migrant workers died in the construction industry in the year 2007/08 – at least double the figure expected and a six-fold increase in the number who died just five years earlier.

The 12 deaths comprised 17% of the total number of fatalities in the sector last year – more than double the HSE’s estimate of migrants making up around 8% of the total construction sector workforce.

Migrant deaths in other sectors is also on the increase, with the number of fatalities of non-UK workers up from nine in 2005/6 to 18 in 2007/8 and the proportion also doubling from 4.1% to 7.9% in the same period, against figures showing that 5.4% of the total workforce comprises migrants.

No official information is currently available on the level of injuries to migrant workers, as the HSE does not record nationality in injury cases, though estimates put the figure as high as 11% – again, double the expected level.

Many workplaces have already dealt with safety issues with migrant labour. Crews in rail maintenance, for instance, are often on ethical lines so that colleagues educate each other.  Often workplaces call on an established worker from a specific ethnic area to take the lead in supervising others and passing on OHS information.  These adhoc processes still need to be verified as effective but have worked in many workplaces for decades.

A recent rumour posted to the Australian website Crikey.com illustrates the type of attitude to migrant workers and the mixing of concerns about safety and industrial issues.

A Chinese owned mining project is advertising for a Bilingual (English Mandarin) Registered Nurse on their website [since removed].  The role is stated to be designed for liaison with Chinese workers and is required to have industrial safety knowledge, reporting directly to a company director?  How many Chinese workers is this project bringing into Australia given the recent restrictions on 457s [migrant work visas], what about the requirement for foreign workers to have some competency in English, anecdotal evidence that building and construction labour rates are already decreasing and how would the unions view this approach to health and safety of foreign workers?

One OHS expert at the law firm’s seminar accepted that the language requirements were woefully inadequate and not suited for the workplace situation.  It would be refreshing to see an OHS professional association begin lobbying the government on improving the language criteria for visa eligibility.  

The unions would be equally concerned about the safety of any workers onsite, hopefully regardless of the workers’ union membership status. 

Australia is in a lucky situation where many workplaces could continue to operate without migrant labour but the world and its economy is changing, and Australia will be dragged into the real world of the modern international workforce.  It is lucky because it has the opportunity to prepare.  It is such a shame that the preparation remains so thin.

Kevin Jones

The reality of First Aid

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Many employees undertake first aid training because it is a relatively easy training program to arrange, it is cheap and it provides skills that can be applied outside the workplace.  

But newly trained first aiders often leave training with an unrealistic feeling of empowerment.  Regularly, small businesses regret the disruption caused by the first aider’s evangelism for safety, particularly if the first aider was trained to provide some generalist safety presence in the company.  Similar disruption can result from health and safety representative training and perhaps that is why many small businesses are wary of this.

First aid trainers need to remind students regularly of the reality of first aid.  This reality is shown in the death of a truck driver in an isolated part of Australia on 9 January 2009.  First Aid is a terrific life-saving skill but the reality is that circumstances beyond one’s control may still result in a death.

In a class once, a student asked a first aid instructor what would happen if a farmer was bitten by a snake in an isolated part of the farm and the farmer  had no first aid skills or kit.  The trainer responded, “the farmer would die”.

The reality of living in a large country of isolated roads and small population is shown in the death of the truck driver.

The role of mobile telecommunications in the article is a distraction and relates more to the current political and commercial disputes between the Australian government and the telecommunication providers, than to the truck driver’s injuries.  

The article may lead to discussion on the poor emergency resources in rural and outback Australia.

First aid and emergency response has been revolutionised by mobile phone technology over the last 20 years.  Mobile phones have caused us to find lost bushwalkers and to get emergency ambulances to accident scenes much quicker.  Thankfully, a quicker emergency ambulance response shortens the time needed applying first aid.

It is a truism that no matter how much training we have, or how much technology we can access, death is a reality of life.