“no choice” = BS

Occupational health and safety (OHS) laws are increasingly applying to non-occupational situations. This “responsibility creep” may be part of the reason that public members are complaining about unfair restrictions on what they can do, on their choices, on the way they have done things for years. Many claim that they have no choice to do what they do, that the choice has been taken away from them, but there is always a choice, even if the consequences are uncomfortable.

The misrepresentation of OHS rules and obligations in the United Kingdom media led to a myth-busting program run by that country’s Health and Safety Executive. In many ways, the UK media was being mischievous by exploiting and exacerbating misunderstandings of OHS duties, but it had a significant cultural impact that lives on today. Traditionally OHS duties were easier to understand when they were contained in a workplace (or were seen to only apply to workplaces); when they jumped the fence, the social rules changed.

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Quad bikes, compliance, mandates, misdirection and rules

Last week it became illegal for a new or second-hand quad bike to be sold in Australia without a crush protection device (CPD) fitted at the point of sale. This achievement has been decades in coming and has involved bitter fighting between advocates of safety and the sellers and manufacturers of this equipment.

This blog has followed this controversy for years. Quad bike safety is a significant illustration of the political and commercial pressures that have argued for a lowered level of safety than was possible. This conflict is perhaps the most public display of a moral conflict whose resolution is at the heart of occupational health and safety (OHS). (This controversy deserves a book similar to those about glyphosate and asbestos)

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Twelve months of work-related deaths

In 2008, prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) advocate, Hilda Palmer wrote about the inadequate estimates of work-related deaths in the United Kingdom. Keeping work-related death confined to traditional categories provides a false understanding of the reality of OHS. Palmer wrote:

“Far from being complacent about the health and safety record in this country, we need to be honest and open, and examine what is really going on”.

Recently, at the 2021 Workers Memorial, a representative of the Victorian Trades Hall read out a list of those who have died at, or due to, work in the last 12 months. It was a list of 47 people. The categories have expanded to include truck incidents, asbestosis, silicosis as well as the more traditional traumatic injuries. Curiously no suicides. A transcripted list of those 47 is below.

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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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Australian Safety Magazine continues to improve

The member magazine of the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS), OHS Professional, continues to improve in the quality of its articles – less advertorial, more authoritative articles. The current edition, December 2020, includes two particularly good articles- one on the manufacturers’ withdrawal of quad bikes in protest and another on psychological health and safety at work. This article will discuss the quad bike article.

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The quad bike safety puzzle

According to The Weekly Times ($), the Victorian Farmers Federation has changed its stance on the fitting of operator protective devices (OPDs) to quad bikes at point of sale. Instead they want farmers to fit their own OPDs. The reason given for this change is reported as being

“… due to concerns many quad bike brands would no longer be available if manufacturers were forced to fit them.”

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