Near miss but no government action

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On 28 January 2010, three men walked away from the helicopter that crashed in Northern New South Wales on the lip of a 1,000 metre cliff.  The Australian media covered it fairly extensively.  What is curious about this air crash is that there is no government investigation into the possible cause of the crash.

OHS professionals advocate the inclusion of “near misses” in any investigation program so such a lack of interest seems peculiar.

One media report said that both the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) will not be investigating.  (The company that owned the helicopter is in Queensland). Continue reading “Near miss but no government action”

Beware Greeks bearing lasers

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For some years now, laser pointers have been misused in a range of activities, from the football field and to cinemas but, most significantly and in an OHS context, towards the pilots of aircraft. (A good summary of the significance of the hazard can be found at Wikipedia)

One example of government response to the hazard can be seen from a media release of the Queensland government in 2008.

The latest incidence of laser pointers and pilots comes from Greece only last week.  According to a report in Kathimerini:

“Two boys aged 13 and 14 were arrested on Saturday [15 August 2009] on Rhodes for forcing a pilot to abandon a landing at the Dodecanese island’s Diagoras Airport because they aimed a laser pointer at the airplane’s cockpit. The pilot of the flight from Alexandroupoli was forced to land on his second attempt.”

More details of the event are, of course, included in the news report.  The most curious piece of information is that police have also arrested the boys’ parents.

Kevin Jones

Fatigue is the biggest threat to a person’s safety

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Not so long ago, it was considered a legitimate criticism to blame the individual for “doing the wrong thing” at work.  Depending on the type of worksite, this was considered “human error” or “bloody stupid”.

Fatigue is an interesting illustration of how occupational health and safety must cope with new perspectives on established hazards.  Australian OHS legislation operates on a responsibility to manage the systems of work in a workplace, of which only one element is the worker.

A good incident investigation goes beyond the incident to see what led up to a worker acting the way they did, the reasons behind the decision.  Instead of “tell me about your childhood”, OHS practitioners can legitimately ask “tell me about your sleep patterns”, or “tell me about your second job”, or “tell me about your relationship with your partner”, as these can be contributory factors to the decision made on the day or the work environment at the time of the incident.

Some recent AAP articles provide interesting examples of the different contexts in which fatigue as a workplace issue can manifest:

Ambulance Employees Australia (AEA) said weary paramedics had fallen asleep at the wheel and administered wrong drugs because they did not have enough time off between shifts.

They have called for a minimum 10-hour break between shifts, compared with eight hours under the current award.

But Ambulance Victoria has said the fatigue issue was one of 175 union claims, which it said sought $800 million from pay talks.”

Investigators examining the near-catastrophe at Melbourne Airport last month are exploring whether fatigue was a factor after being told the pilot had barely slept the day before the flight.

Emirates pilots are permitted to fly a maximum of 100 hours each 28 days and the pilot was also almost at the legal threshold of the number of hours he was able to fly.

Emirates has issued a statement saying safety was a top priority for the airline.”

A higher priority than a good night’s sleep apparently!  Clearly it is the spread of hours that is the issue not the total over a fixed period.

Both these examples relate to workers’ interactions with the public and reflect the complexity of OHS’s spread to public safety.  

It seems that every investigation now automatically assesses the fatigue level, or impairment, of the participants in incidents in the same way mobile phone records are checked in car accidents and blood-alcohol levels or drug testing in some industrial events.

If your OHS professional does not consider psychosocial issues in developing safety management plans or incident investigation, seek a second opinion, or better yet, make sure the first opinion is comprehensive.

Kevin Jones

Air Safety Culture – Turkish Style

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SafetyAtWorkBlog would not purport to be knowledgeable about airlines, Turkish or Australia but there was a fascinating article published in Europe on 12 March 2009 that discusses the safety culture in Turkish Airlines. The article is entitled “Islam and the art of aircraft maintenance” by Claire Berlinski

SafetyAtWorkBlog would not purport to be knowledgeable about airlines, Turkish or Australia but there was a fascinating article published in Europe on 12 March 2009 that discusses the safety culture in Turkish Airlines.  The article is entitled “Islam and the art of aircraft maintenance” by Claire Berlinski (Thanks to Melody Kemp for bringing this to our attention)

There are some similarities to the current issues running in Australian media and industrial circles over the maintenance services of Qantas aircraft.

The crash of a Turkish Airline flight in Amsterdam on 25 February 2009 gained worldwide attention.  According to Berlinski’s article this crash

“…was caused by mechanical failure, exacerbated by severe pilot error: The aircraft’s altimeter – which had malfunctioned twice in the past eight landings – was faulty, and the pilots failed to note this or respond appropriately.”

A spokesperson for the airline insisted that the quality of servicing was the equal of European airlines.  (God help, airline passengers in Europe.)

Berlinski reported that

“Technicians were given maintenance tasks after two or three hours of training”

and that according to a reputable Turkish publication “Tempo Dergisi”, a technician was interviewed who 

“..claimed to be responsible for engine maintenance: he admitted that he was not licensed to do this job.”

Lastly she reports that

“And in December, 2006, it was widely reported that Turkish Airlines workers had sacrificed a camel on an Istanbul airport ramp as a gesture of thanks for having at last got rid of a batch of troublesome planes.”

There is much more in Berlinski’s article of concern and the full article is recommended but the relevance to SafetyAtWorkBlog is its example of a dysfunctional safety culture in an industry that is used as a positive example throughout the world, principally, as a result of James Reason’s work.

There will be good and bad in every industry and one will always be able to find a poor example of safety management in some country somewhere but the airline industry is different.  It projects itself as well-regulated and operates to international benchmarks of efficiency and safety.  It promotes its maintenance industry as “world’s best practice” but the generalisation is as empty as all generalisations.

OHS professionals are taught to manage safety in a way that includes the lowest common denominator in the workplace.  Safety is built around the highest risk or the stupidest act. 

It is useful to read the Berlinski as an article that reflects the infamous Darwin Awards except that the victim is not only the pilot but hundreds of innocent passengers.

Kevin Jones

Important victory for aircraft maintenance workers

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The Department of Veterans’ Affairs may have to pay compensation to the maintenance crews of F-111 fighter planes.  In the 1970s employees worked within the fuel tanks of the fighters with little, if any, PPE.  In 2004 these workers were excluded from a healthcare and compensation scheme even though, according to one media report, evidence was presented that the workers had

  • a 50% increased risk of cancer
  • a two-fold increase in obstructive lung disease;
  • a two-and-a-half fold increase in sexual dysfunction; and
  • a two-fold increase in anxiety and depression.

One of the reasons the maintenance crews were denied compensation was that the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) had destroyed the maintenance records from before 1992.

An inquiry into the affair has received a submission from the commonwealth Ombudsman, John McMillan, and Labor MP, Arch Bevis, that strongly criticised the destruction and inadequacy of records.

In safety management, record-keeping is often seen, and dismissed, as “red tape”.  The reduction of red tape is not the elimination of red tape and the reality of Australia’s increasing litigious legal system is that more records need to be kept, and for longer, than ever before.

Perhaps, the government, in its pledge to reduce red tape and business costs, should look at the lawyers’ insistence to business that the first port-of-call after an industrial incident is to call them so that everything becomes covered by legal-client privilege.

Perhaps it is the pressure to create paperwork than the paperwork itself that is the problem.  In the case of the F-111 maintenance crews, regardless of the lack of paperwork, justice seems to be happening.  It is just sad that so much pain and suffering had to be endured before getting close to a resolution.

Click HERE for a personal reflection on the health issues of the workers from one of Australian Rugby League’s champions, Tommy Raudonikis.