The Australian Government looks to apply “above-the-line” safety to quad bikes

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At the end of August 2012, Australia’s Minster for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten, released a discussion paper on quad bike safety. The intention of the discussion paper is a:

“…calls for submissions on potential improvements to quad bike safety to reduce the alarming rate of quad bike fatalities and injuries….

The comments received will be discussed at a one day forum between all levels of government, farming organisations, unions, industry and community groups to be held in October 2012.”

The paper is fairly thin on details and is certainly not like other discussion papers which present a current state of knowledge or present a set of circumstances that comments are wanted on.  But most of the quad bike safety research is readily available on the internet so, perhaps Minister Shorten is acknowledging this reality and the intelligence of those interested in this issue. The paper poses the following questions: Continue reading “The Australian Government looks to apply “above-the-line” safety to quad bikes”

Extraordinary duty of care prosecution over a near miss

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Near miss events, or “close calls”, are important opportunities to review safety and work processes.  In fact they can be the best opportunities as the participants and witnesses are still alive and can provide detailed information on the mistakes, breakages or oversights.  But rarely are companies prosecuted for near misses.

In Western Australia, a company has been found guilty of breaching its duty of care after two of its workers were lost for almost a whole day, and was fined over $A50,000, the highest fine of this type.  The near miss is almost comical and at least one newspaper has described it as a “comedy of errors“, except that it could easily have resulted in tragedy.  WorkSafeWA’s (long) media release, provides the details:

MAXNetwork was contracted to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations to consult with disadvantaged job seekers, in this case through their office in Kalgoorlie.

A number of employment consultants work at the Kalgoorlie office, and they regularly travel to remote areas – some accessible only by dirt roads and narrow tracks – to work with job seekers.

In December 2009, two of the company’s Kalgoorlie area employment consultants were instructed to do an “outreach visit” to the remote community of Tjuntjuntjara, around 600km north-east of Kalgoorlie in the Great Victoria Desert.

The two consultants departed Kalgoorlie in a Toyota Prado leased by MAXNetwork at around 6.00am on a journey estimated to take nine to ten hours on a road with no signs that was a narrow track in some places.

The women were not provided with a map, GPS or any other navigational aid, and consequently they became lost. They had received no training or instruction on travelling in remote areas, and so did not know what to do in the event of becoming lost.

The satellite telephone provided to the consultants did not work, and management was aware of this prior to the trip. In addition, there was no schedule for regular contact with workers in remote locations so no-one realised the women were overdue. Continue reading “Extraordinary duty of care prosecution over a near miss”

Vulnerability and arrogance

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“How can this be allowed to happen nowadays?” the distressed wife of a seriously injured worker asked me recently.  Her husband was sitting next to her, his eyes still victims of the recent terror that nearly killed him.  She saw that and struggled to join him in his very dark and personal space.  This now would become a life time job for her.

This meeting captured for me one of the most fundamental factors at most workplaces.  That workers’ most common feeling at work is that of vulnerability.  Of course many workers find comfort and pride in their job.  Of course it feeds them and their families.  Of course it can provide personal identity and purpose.  And of course there are many managers who understand all this.

But it’s also true that much too often this is not the case.  That’s one reason why when suddenly factories or mines close, or car manufacturers ‘shed’ 200 workers, or car part factories go bust workers are not only shocked, but it substantiates their sense of vulnerability, “What a shock, I thought they loved us!”

Not only is this painfully evident when a negligently poor H&S standard results in crippling a worker for life, but is typically present on a daily basis.  Permanent fear of job loss results.  The fact that a worker can be disciplined or sacked for a number of events that can be defined and redefined by creative managers feeds that feeling.  That’s another reason why so much bullying and humiliation occur and so much stress is experienced. Continue reading “Vulnerability and arrogance”

Australian Government moves on quad bike safety

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Just before Christmas in 2009, Dr Yossi Berger speculated for an information network about the safety of quad bikes.  He called it QuadWatch.  Over two years later, on 13 July 2012, Australia’s Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten announced his own QuadWatch.

In the 2009 Croaky Blog, Dr Berger suggested

“a network could be called QuadWatch and it would become a clearing house for all needs related to quad bikes, particularly in relation to safety standards.  All training needs, advice about accessories, advice about the correct machine for a certain job or terrain could be handled by such regional cells.”

Shorten described the new QuadWatch as

“… a community based network bringing together farmers, community groups, emergency services and local government.

Shorten’s QuadWatch is broadly consultative but is a little different in its communication strategy.  Establishing websites in support of a political strategy have not had the greatest success in the last few years under the Federal Labor Government and QuadWatch is not the end point in the safety debate.

It is worth deconstructing the Minister’s media release a little.

Continue reading “Australian Government moves on quad bike safety”

Serious quad bike incident in New South Wales

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SafetyAtWorkBlog has been informed that an Irish backpacker was working on a farm near Gravesend in New South Wales in late May 2012 and received serious back injuries when the quad bike, from which he was spot spraying weeds, rolled on an embankment. The man was taken to hospital after contacting the farmer for assistance.

A spokesperson from WorkCover NSW has confirmed that

“….a 26 year old male worker was injured on a property at Gravesend near Moree …. on Thursday, 31 May.  Initial enquiries indicate that the worker was spot spraying weeds on the property and has suffered back injuries from a quad bike incident when he attempted to ride out of a gully.”

At this time, Workcover was unable to say whether

  • the worker had received any motorcycle or quad bike training.
  • the quad bike had any attachments or modifications.
  • the worker was wearing a helmet or other PPE at the time.

It is understood that the worker had been on the farm for only a few days.

We have been unable to find any media or online references to this incident.

On 24 May 2012, a week before the incident above, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s AM program ran an interview about the quad bike related fatality of an 11-year-old boy in 2011.

A longer audio interview on quad bike safety was conducted by ABC Rural in September 2011.  The participants were Tony Williams of WorkCover NSW and John Lambert of the Forensic Engineering Society of Australia but the most significant quality of the interview was the solid understanding of agricultural safety shown by the interviewer.

Kevin Jones