Australia’s Comcare issues safety alert on quad bikes

On 22 January 2010 Comcare issued a safety alert concerning the use of quad bikes (available on the Comcare website from 25 January 2010):

“Employers who own and operate quad bikes should be aware of the hazards and potential safety risks.

Following some recent accidents while operating quad bikes, a draft Code of Practice is currently being developed by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries and Distributors [FCAI] relating to the ‘Use of All Terrain Vehicles in the Workplace’.

Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA) has also formed a working party comprising of OHS Regulators and industry representatives to look at strategies to improve quad bike safety. Continue reading “Australia’s Comcare issues safety alert on quad bikes”

Something fishy in Tasmania’s abalone industry

Recently, SafetyAtWorkBlog received a long anonymous email concerning the death of David Colson, Tasmanian abalone diver who drowned in October 2007.  The Coroner completed his inquest into the death and released his investigation findings in early January 2010.  An earlier blog article on the findings can be found here

The correspondent pointed out that Allen Hansen, founder and managing director of Tasmanian Seafoods, the company that was to receive the abalone harvested by David Colson and Tony Burton, and a director the Tasmanian Abalone Council for an Export Award.  The award was in fact an Export Leadership Award.

There is no indication that workplace safety is a criteria in the awarding of the Export Leadership Awards.  The Award website describes Hansen as

“…truly an industry ‘builder’ and has made an outstanding contribution to developing the premier image of Tasmanian abalone.”

Attitudes to OHS in the abalone industry

The Coroner found that Allen Hansen’s company, Tasmanian Seafoods, did not have any procedures in place for when a boat did not return on time. Continue reading “Something fishy in Tasmania’s abalone industry”

Shipbreaking Explosion

In September 2009 several workers were killed and burnt when cutting up an old tanker that still had chemical residue.  The National Labor Committee (NLC)  has released a a ten minute video interview with the NLC Executive Director, Charles Kernaghan.

According to an 11 January 2010 NLC notice:

“Eight more workers in Bangladesh were burned to death on December 26, 2009, when the ship they were dismantling exploded.   The workers had been told that the gas tanks on the Agate oil tanker had been cleaned.   It was a lie.   Continue reading “Shipbreaking Explosion”

Forklift death and safety posters

Twelve days in 2010 and Victoria has experienced its first workplace death and it was due to the use of a forklift.  A 60-year-old man was crushed after a load being removed from a truck by forklift fell.

According to WorkSafe Victoria:

“…the man was guiding a forklift driver who was to remove the computer equipment weighing some 200kg and standing about 2m high, from the back of a semi-trailer.  The equipment was on castors and not mounted on a pallet.”

As part of WorkSafe ongoing campaign on forklift safety, it has issued two safety posters.  Originals should be available through the local WorkSafe Victoria offices.

Risk/Reward trade-off

On 11 January 2010, the Tasmanian Workplace Relations Minister, Lisa Singh, announced a  new safety focus on the abalone industry following the findings of a coronial inquest into the death of David Colson in 2007.

There are several interesting elements to the Minister’s decision.  Firstly and, perhaps, most importantly, the decision shows the significant role that Coroners in Australia play in improving workplace safety.  For legislative change, it is difficult to see any more effective political motivator.

Also, the Coroner can express opinions based on evidence in a way that few other courts do. The findings are not yet publicly available. Continue reading “Risk/Reward trade-off”

NZ announces inquiry into the safety of farm vehicles

The New Zealand Department of Labour (DoL) has announced a period of public consultation on its OHS guidance on the safe use of off-road vehicles.  The process will include a review of “Safe Use of ATVs on New Zealand Farms: Agricultural Guideline” publication.

Interestingly the DoL says  it

“is looking to extend this publication to apply to the agricultural, forestry and adventure tourism industries.”

There is a potential for a considerable broadening of OHS issues but this may be hampered by the scheduling of the public consultation.  The DoL public commentary period closes on February 13 2010. Both Australia and New Zealand are in Summer holiday mode and many companies are closed down for several weeks in January or operate on a skeleton staff.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has commented on this trend for short consultative periods over the Christmas break previously. Continue reading “NZ announces inquiry into the safety of farm vehicles”

John Holland prosecution

The John Holland Group has featured several times in the SafetyAtWorkBlog in 2009.  Any organisation as large as this Australian conglomerate who promotes their commitment to safety and whose Board Chair, Janet Holmes a Court, has such a high profile is going to draw media scrutiny.  In fact, the evolution of the John Holland safety culture and the struggle to maintain such a culture as a company grows in profitability and complexity would make a fascinating case study.

On 18 December 2009, Comcare released details of its latest successful prosecution of John Holland.  This time the company was fined $A180,000 over the death of a worker, Mark McCallum, at the Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal in Queensland in May 2008.  According to the media statement:

“Justice Collier stated that “It is clear that, despite the efforts taken by the respondent to implement a safe working environment, the operation involving the transportation unit was flawed in its original conception. The dangers were obvious from the start, relatively simple to avoid, but unrecognised and unaddressed in a manner which raises the objective gravity of the offence in these proceedings towards the higher end of the scale.” [emphasis added]

When a judge determines that the process was flawed from the very start, one’s expertise in managing an established practice safely should be critically reviewed.  Such fundamental failures in a safety management system should cause any company to realise something is wrong in the way it is addressing safety needs, particularly in an economic climate that is bursting with new infrastructure projects for which one is competing.

The circumstances of the fatality are that

“A team of five John Holland workers were involved in moving large precast concrete decks to the end of a jetty under construction.  The precast concrete decks were being transported on two jinkers that were being pushed by a front end loader.  During this procedure, a worker’s foot became trapped under wooden scaffolding planks on the jetty, and he was fatally injured when he was run over by the wheels of the jinker.”

The Federal Court judgement listed the safety deficiencies that John Holland acknowledged

“The respondent acknowledges that:

(a) its work method statement did not adequately identify the risks associated with the relevant work process, and did not adequately identify suitable control measures to remove or minimise those risks; and

(b) it did not carry out a plant hazard assessment with respect to the front and rear jinkers, which may have identified a requirement for a remote braking system or other controls on the jinkers for use by spotters and others; and

(c) it did not have in place a formal system whereby employees were certified as being competent in the use of jinkers; and

(d) it did not have in place a formal protocol or procedure for the use of radios to ensure that the transmitter of a radio message was able to be informed that the message had been received by its intended recipient and understood; and

(e) it did not have sufficient communication mechanisms in place to ensure that employees working out of sight of the loader operator and the rear spotter were able to communicate directly with spotters and the loader operator; and

(f) it did not ensure that an observer of a trainee jinker operator was also issued with a radio to directly communicate with the other members of the transportation crew responsible for the propulsion of the load; and

(g) it did not provide workers who were working out of sight of the loader operator or rear spotter with any form of alarm or safety device, other than a radio to alert other workers of the occurrence of an emergency situation; and

(h) it did not ensure that the clearance of obstacles in the path of the loader was done in a timely or effective manner, thereby requiring the front jinker operator to perform that duty during the progress of the transportation unit and whilst out of the line of sight of the loader operator.”

Mark McCallum’s death gained even greater media attention when unions challenged John Holland’s nomination for a safety award shortly after McCallum’s death.

Kevin Jones

Quad bike safety sensitivities

The quad bike safety issue is hotting up on a range of fronts in Australia with the trade unions taking an active interest,  meetings between bike manufacturers and safety designers, and the SafetyAtWorkBlog email box filling up with background content and opinion.

One of these emails reminded me of some court action that was taken in 2005 by Honda against the Victorian State Coroner, Graeme Johnstone.  Johnstone only recently retired from the position after many years and over that time there were fewer more ardent safety advocates, particularly not any that had the same broad audience and media attention.

In 2005 Johnstone was conducting an inquest into several quad-bike related deaths.  At one point he approached a witness outside of the Coronial process to seek their assistance in a training course.  Representatives from Honda took exception to this and began court action in the Supreme Court of Victoria to have him dismissed from conducting the inquests.

Justice Tim Smith found Johnstone remained open-minded and impartial throughout the inquest but the unreported judgement available online illustrates some of the tensions of the time and continue to exist to this day.

The judgement mentions the purpose of the inquest:

“The major disputed issues in the inquest relevant to the present application were the following:

  • whether the lack of roll-over structures on their ATVs caused the death of Mr Crole and Dr Shephard
  • whether roll-over structures should be installed on ATVs
  • whether the question of the provision of roll-over structures for ATVs should be investigated further.”

In describing the context of Johnstone’s contact with the witness, Dr Raphael Grzebieta, the judgement hints at the Coroner’s inquest findings (which are not available online)

“In addition, notwithstanding Dr Grzebieta’s conclusion that Dr Shepherd and Mr Crole [the deceased] would have been saved by the fitting of the roll bars and that this would be sufficient to justify a recommendation that they be fitted, the coroner expressed a provisional view that:

“My view at the moment is that it does not give me enough to recommend roll-over protection.””

The Victorian Coroner continues to be active in investigating quad-bike related deaths as seen in this newspaper article from earlier in 2009.  A related article quotes John Merritt, WorkSafe’s executive director as saying:

“This inquest came about as a result of a terrible spate of fatalities in the past two years… WorkSafe’s position on this is clear. It believes that a quad bike is like any piece of farming equipment and those who use them need the appropriate training to be able to use them safely.”

If a quad bike is like any other piece of farming equipment, the equipment designers would be reviewing their designs to minimise the risk of injury as the field bin and silo manufacturers have, or the milk vat designers have or the windmill manufacturers have or, indeed , as have the tractor manufacturers who actively promote the safety features of their new tractors.

The unreported Supreme Court judgement provides a good indication of the major players in the quad bike safety discussion, particularly the expert witnesses for and against.

Many of the issues are resurfacing because safety and work practices continue to change and the only satisfactory resolution is when hazards are controlled and harm is reduced and, hopefully, eliminated.  2010 in Australia looks set to be a year when quad bike safety gets a good going over once more.

Kevin Jones

Unique company response to confined space penalty

In 2007, according to the ABC news site,

“42-year-old Geoffrey Johnson [died after he] inhaled toxic fumes from paint stripper when he was cleaning the inside of a large chemical tank”.

On 16 December 2009, his employer, Depot Vic P/L, was fined half a million dollars over this breach of the OHS legislation.

Initial reports say that the company is no longer in business but it

“told the court is had put aside money to pay the fine.”

Wow.  What happened to phoenix companies?  – the business scourge that closes down to avoid paying outstanding debts and, often the costs associated with a worker’s death, and then starts up again under a different structure.

That a company will pay a fine for an OHS breach years after ceasing business seems a remarkable and admirable act.

Hyde Park Tank Depot’s assets were purchased by the Scott Corporation several months after Mr Johnson’s death, according to information SafetyAtWorkBlog obtained from Scott Corporation.  The current business and website listing was not operating at the time of Mr Johnson’s death.

WorkSafe Victoria provided background to Mr Johnson’s death in a prosecution summary in April 2009.  The full summary gives a clear indication why the fine was so high.

“Depot Vic Pty Limited (formerly known as Hyde Park Tank Depot Pty Ltd) undertakes cleaning, repair and maintenance of ISO containers for the chemical industry.  ISO containers are confined spaces, being portable tanks used to transport chemicals.  The tanks are usually cleaned purely by hydro-blasting, but on occasion the tanks were required to be cleaned more thoroughly.

The system of work was such that when this situation occurred, the cleaning of the tank required 2 stages. The first stage involved the application of a cleaning agent, usually a product known as ‘Selleys Renovators Choice’ stripper (which is not a dangerous good).

The second stage then involved the use of hydro-blasting on the internal walls to remove the stripper and clean the wall.  The company’s work instructions required that a confined space permit be issued and that appropriate PPE be worn.

On 16 August 2007, an employee of Depot Vic Pty Limited died whilst attempting to remove latex from the internal walls of a 25,500 litre ISO tank.  The deceased had entered the tank and instead of using the ‘Selleys Renovators Choice’ stripper, had used a product known as ‘Paint Stripper Gel GS 125’ that was suited to clean external components only (and not the inside of the tank).  The label of this product contained safety directions such as “do not breathe vapour” and “use only in a well ventilated area”.  This product is a dangerous good ‘class 6.1 (toxic substance) of packing group 111’.  It is also a hazardous substance according to the criteria of the Australian Safety and Compensation Council.

The deceased was located in the tank in an unconcious (sic) state, and when retrieved from the tank did not regain conciousness. An expert analysis of the atmosphere inside the tank concluded that that (sic) there was a lethal concentration in all or part of the tank (10 litres of the dangerous good was used).  At the time of the incident a confined space permit was not issued, the deceased was not wearing respiratory protection, gloves or a harness, and there was no ‘spotter’ in place to supervise the latex removal works.

Further, there was a lack of training and supervision of employees in relation to the work procedures for confined space entry.”

Kevin Jones