OHS and Tim White

The latest in our series of profiles on researchers who are involved with occupational health and safety research is Dr Tim White.  He holds the degrees of Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). His most recent appointment was as Lecturer and Researcher in Mechanical Design at UNSW.

After 10 years of working casually as a consultant while also holding salaried positions, Dr White founded Forensic Mechanical Engineers in 2013 and now works full time as a forensic engineer and expert witness. He is based in Bathurst, NSW but travels extensively for work, often flying himself to regional locations.

What attracted you to looking at workplace health and safety? Did you fall into it or always have an interest?

I feel like I just fell into it, although now that I look back, I suppose that my career progression was reasonably intuitive. A farming background prior to my first engineering degree (and subsequent time in industry) meant that I was never going  to be content doing the same thing as most of my peers. Although it was not a main consideration at the time, the PhD and progression into academia was what ultimately equipped me with the ability to now work flexibly in a role where I feel as though I am – clichés aside – doing something interesting as well as making a difference.

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The OHS benefits of a single lunchtime meeting

Being a member of a local safety group provides nuggets of occupational health and safety (OHS) information from speakers and members in a broad range of industries and occupations.  The May 2017 meeting of the Central Safety Group at which Wayne Richards spoke provoked several OHS thoughts about safety, leadership and culture. One was that Transdev…

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More activity needed on safe driving at work

In Australia a driver can achieve a “full”, unrestricted licence for driving a car from one’s early 20s following a test conducted by a State regulatory authority.  This driver’s licence is renewed each ten years but without any retesting or assessment of competency, even though the road rules, environment, traffic volumes, car design and personal technology would have changed in that time.

Should an employer allow an employee to drive a company or work-related vehicle without determining a driver’s suitability and level of driving competence?

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Ads for quadbikes show the safety changes

As a companion piece to SafetyAtWorkBlog’s recent article on quad bike safety it is worth looking at the latest hardcopy edition of The Weekly Times, an influential agricultural newspaper in Australia.  It is useful to look at how quad bikes are being depicted in the advertising and some of the content, as online versions have different adverts.  The content will vary, of course, from edition to edition but a snapshot sample is interesting.

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Quad bike safety gets messy – disagreements, Supreme Court writs and stars

Over the last couple of weeks in Australia, the arguments over the safety of quad bikes (sometimes called All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs)) has become messy. The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is in favour of Operator Protection Devices (OPDs) but the Victorian Farmers’ Federation (VFF) is not. Doctors and farmers are calling for a five-start safety rating for quad bikes. One researcher says such a scheme is ready to go. The manufacturers’ industry representative, Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) says no it’s not but here’s a new helmet to wear.

Around all of this is remarkable silence about legal action launched against the Victorian occupational health and safety (OHS) regulator, WorkSafe, by Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki and BRP over WorkSafe’s interpretation of a legal safety duty.

All the while farmers in some States are continuing to access generous safety rebate schemes. Continue reading “Quad bike safety gets messy – disagreements, Supreme Court writs and stars”

Safe Driving affected by leadership

New Australian research into work-related driving shows how organisations mishandle the risks.  The first paragraph of the research clearly shows the significance of the hazard:

“Road traffic injury is the leading cause of work-related death in Australia. It has been estimated that one-third of all work-related deaths occur while driving for work purposes.  This emerging public health issue is not unique to Australia, with work-related traffic deaths estimated to account for 22% of work fatalities in the United States and 16% in New Zealand.  Despite this, many organisations employing individuals to drive a vehicle as part of their work are unaware of the factors that may act to reduce work-related traffic injury and deaths.”

This research illustrates the need to integrate the functions of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) professionals, Risk Managers and Fleet Managers within organisations and across government agencies to address a significant public health issues in a more effective manner.

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When is a workplace, not a workplace

(Not Reedy Flat)

On 20 February 2017, WorkSafe Victoria issued a media statement about several recent fatalities.  Below is the first couple of paragraphs with some highlighted text:

“Two men were killed and another suffered critical head injuries in three separate incidents at the weekend.
On Saturday, a man in his late 30s died when his quad bike overturned on a property at Reedy Flat, near Ensay, in east Gippsland. It has not yet been determined if the property is a workplace or a hobby farm.” (emphasis added)

Why was the status of the farm mentioned and how is this relevant?

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Inconsistent quad bike safety advice in WA

agricultural_health_safety_checklist_01-pdf_extract_page_1On 18 January 2017, WorkSafeWA released an agricultural safety checklist which includes some hazards associated with quad bike operations. West Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) regulator stresses the checklist only lists common hazards and refers to a handbook.  The only agricultural handbook available on its website is from 2014 and the quad bike safety information seems outdated or, at least, inconsistent with the advice from South Australia and elsewhere. Continue reading “Inconsistent quad bike safety advice in WA”

Latest quad bike safety advice is more measured

quad-bikes-children-pdf_extract_page_1SafeWorkSA has released a series of single page safety advices on a range of occupational health and safety (OHS) topics including the use of quad bikes in agricultural workplaces.  The information included and the tone used indicates that the debate over quad bike safety may be settling.

The advice is clear and concise with some new safety perspectives but there are a couple of odd elements. The advice does say that the suitability of a quad bike should be assessed prior to purchasing but doesn’t suggest alternatives.  These options should be expanded elsewhere on SafeWorkSA’s website or farming publications. Continue reading “Latest quad bike safety advice is more measured”

Does accessing government assistance need to be so hard?

Nothing is ever easy in farming.  Several Australian States have introduced a rebate scheme to help farmers improve the safety of the quad bikes so the vehicles, also inaccurately called All Terrain Vehicles (ATV), should be made safer. The argument over safety has persisted for many years and has resulted, most recently, in rebates for safety improvements provided by the government.  However, two States – Victoria and New South Wales – have different processes to accessing these rebates and the NSW process seems to deter farmers from applying for the rebates.

caution ATV signThe Victorian Government’s rebate scheme is administered through WorkSafe who provides a Frequently Asked Questions which is simple and clear.  The dates of activity are listed and, primarily, proof of purchase is the main document for eligibility. Victorian farmers can obtain a rebate for:

“$1200 for the purchase of an alternate vehicle such as a side-by-side vehicle (SSV) or a small utility vehicle (SUV). The alternate vehicle must be designed for use in agriculture and at point of sale have rollover protection and a fitted seatbelt. Sport vehicles and small commercial vehicles, such as utes, are excluded.

Up to $600 for the purchase of up to two operator protection devices (OPD). The OPD must have been designed and manufactured in accordance with approved engineering standards and independently tested to be eligible for the rebate. There are currently two OPD devices that meet this criteria and are eligible for the rebate. They are the Quadbar™ and the ATV Lifeguard.”

The NSW process is funded by SafeWork NSW with a complex set of terms and conditions.  The purchase options seem narrower but the major difference in the two rebates schemes is New South Wales’ insistence that farmers must attend an “educative interaction”.  According to a SafeWork NSW FAQ farmers are required to:

  • “get along to a Farm Safety Day run by SafeWork NSW or one of its program partners
  • visit the SafeWork NSW stand at an Agricultural Field Days
  • request a free on-farm Workplace Advisory Visit and we will come to you
  • attend one of the 100 training events being offered by Tocal College.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog has been told that farmers find this to be condescending and are suspicious of SafeWork NSW’s intentions, particularly in relation to the “free on-farm Workplace Advisory Visit”. Such visits are likely to be SafeWork NSW’s preferred option as there are only a limited number of Field Days available every year. WorkSafe Victoria does not insist on educative interactions as part of the rebate scheme which increases NSW framers’ suspicions.

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) recently released a new video to support its claims that Operator Protection Devices (OPD) or Crush Protection Devices (CPD) “are not the answer“.  The FCAI has been out of step with the issue of quad bike safety for many years and it is difficult to sympathise with its position when governments are “endorsing” OPDs through rebate schemes.

The FCAI’s position seems to be shortsighted as the rebates are encouraging farmers to apply a Gordian Knot solution to the bickering over quad bike safety.   Both the NSW and Victorian rebate schemes encourage farmers to purchase side-by-side vehicles (SSV) which, due to the framework over the driver, have no need for the OPDs on offer.  SSVs are more expensive than quadbikes but can be seen as endorsed safer options by the regulators of safety in each of the States.

Having dug in to a contrary position of additional safety measures on quad bikes, the FCAI is getting more out of step with the regulators’ positions and the safe desires of farmers and farming families.  But perhaps criticising the FCAI is unfair, after all, it is a body representing the interests of automotive manufacturers.  Generations have grown up equating motor vehicle manufacturing with safety, ever since “Unsafe at Any Speed” was published in the 1960s, but the FCAI seems different.  It has its own definition of workplace safety that is not in step with government or safety regulators.

Farmers, like all business operators, need to decide for themselves who they trust more for their own safety – regulators or salespeople.

Kevin Jones