Man crushed by unstable stack

On 1 September 2009 there were early reports that

“… a man died at Stanhope in northern Victoria when a one-tonne bag of salt fell from a stack and crushed him at a cheese factory.”

Further details were revealed in a media report on 4 September 2009. The media officer for WorkSafe, Michael Birt, discussed the stacking of multiple, one-tonne, bags of salt.

“The improvement notice is requiring them to develop a safer system of work in relation to storing the salt because they can’t stack it three high in these bales which are about a metre tall,” he said.  “It’s symptomatic of what happens in typical cases after this, we look at it and we find the systems need to be further improved.  Our aim is to get safety improvements happening sooner rather than later and if those improvement notices are dealt with promptly everyone’s life moves on.”

WorkSafe informed SafetyAtWorkBlog that the 50-year-old man was at the base of a stack of three bags of salt.  Each bag had been placed in the factory on a pallet, so the stack from the floor was pallet – bag – pallet – bag – pallet – bag.  The bottom bag had leaked and has possibly destabilised the stack.  The stack fell, crushing the man.  There was not racking around the stack.

The bags (similar to the one pictured right) are large bale-type bags with handles.  The bags are used for a variety of contents and are in common use.

There were no witnesses to the man’s death on the Tuesday afternoon.  Gaffer tape was found near the man’s body

WorkSafe has placed a “do not disturb” notice on the fatality site and has formally directed the company to review its bulk handling procedures in the salt store.

WorkSafe Victoria has a range of advice and guidances concerning the bulk handling of raw material, a couple are below.

Kevin Jones

Pages from large_bulky_awkwardHSS0032-Pallets-Unloading                   1tems-          1545694036sing     0x1.960ec0p-891bulk                   0eliverymethod_Page_1239120

Public Comments – Fishing and Legionnaire’s

WorkSafe Western Australia has two documents currently open for public comment.   One concerns a draft code of practice  for the prevention of falls from commercial fishing vessels.  The other may have a wider appeal as it is a draft code of practice for the prevention and control of Legionnaires’ disease.

man_overboard coverThe man overboard code is an example of established hazard management and risk control options for a niche hazard in a niche working environment, however, it is often in these areas where procedural and technical processes are most easily recognised.  The draft code is in a format, and has a degree of clarity, that encourages discussion and examination.

Readers may find some useful information for those workers who work alone or in isolation, for those who need to undertake tasks at nighttime and in intense darkness, and for those workplaces that require a strict induction for new workers.

LEGIONNAIRES__Public_comment coverSimilarly, the Legionnaire’s code of practice builds on established risk management concepts and shows that businesses still need to prevent legionnaire’s infections even if there is a regulatory/licensing system in place for cooling towers.

On a formatting note, both these draft codes could have benefited from the regulators embracing more of the Web 2.0 concepts.  The PDF files do have some hyperlinks for some more information or emails but there could be a lot more effort put in to making the drafts a hub for the documents’ references.  For instance, mentions of legislation could lead to online versions so that those commenting online can flick back and forth from reference to topic.

[Just imagine how much more helpful a code of practice with such functionality could be to a small business – wiki + blog+ safety = better compliance]

In the Legionnaire’s draft there are tags on page 36 that could lead to the online text of the Acts referred to.  The tags are a good idea but could use increased functionality.

Lastly, the Legionnaire’s code references eight Australian Standards and publications.  It is a reasonable expectation that, for this hazard, industry submissions will be the majority and those parties already have the Standards.  However, if a broad consultation is required, many interested parties may find purchasing these Standards a substantial cost burden,  which SafetyAtWorkBlog calculated to be at least $A390 for the PDF versions.

Kevin Jones

Beware Greeks bearing lasers

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

OHS and workload – follow-up

SafetyAtWorkBlog has had a tremendous response to the article concerning Working Hours and Political Scandal.  Below are some of the issues raised in some of the correspondence I have received from readers and OHS colleagues.

The Trade Union Congress Risk e-bulletin has a similar public service/mental health case which has been resolved through the Courts.   The site includes links through to other media statements and reports.

Australia’s Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations has launched its work/life balance awards for 2009.  The information available on the awards is strongly slanted to a work/family balance which is very different from work/life and excludes employees making decisions for the benefit of their own mental health – a proper work/life balance which is the philosophical basis underpinning OHS legislation.  SafetyAtWorkBlog is investigating these awards with DEEWR.

SafeWork in South Australia is working on a code of practice on working hours and has been providing OHS advice on this matter since 2000.

The WA government has had a draft code on working hours for some time.

A legal reader has pointed out that  “the 38 hour week issue is not set in stone …[and]  is not a maximum for non-award employees.”  So expect more industrial relations discussion on that issue over the next two years.

One reader generalised from the Grech case about decision-making at senior levels, a concern echoed by many others.

“The Grech case illustrates the gradual disintegration of effectiveness, and the employee’s own inability to recognise that it is not a personal failing of efficiency, rather an unrecognised systemic risk.

When the employee is at senior level, there is more likelihood there will be poor attention to the warning signs. Any ‘underperformance’ would be seen as a personal failing. For those of us in the safety business, it is obvious that the system itself is in need of urgent risk management.”

There were congratulations from many readers for raising a significant and hidden OHS issue.

“Many people in industry work more than 70 hour a week. This affects their health and personal relationships.”

“Overwork and under-resourcing lead to poor decision making, adverse business outcomes, and in the long term psychological and physical ill health. Both the government and corporate sectors are paying little attention to this issue.”

The workplace hazards resulting from fatigue are being addressed in several industries such as transport, mining and forestry, where attentiveness is hugely important because of the catastrophic consequences of poor judgement.

One of the issues from the Grech case is that the quality of judgement in non-critical, or administrative, occupations can be severely affected by fatigue, mental health and other psychosocial issues.  These may not affect the health and well-being of others but can have a significant effect on the individual.  OHS does not only deal with systemic or workplace cultural elements but is equally relevant to the individual worker.

Kevin Jones

[Thanks to all those who have written to me and continue to do so. KJ]

River death leads to OHS prosecution

The prosecution of a New Zealand adventure company, Black Sheep Adventures, over the death of Englishwoman Emily Jordan has received more press in England than in Australia but the case should be watched by all OHS professionals.

One report provides a useful summary of the fatal incident

“Emily Jordan drowned while riverboarding on the Kawarau river in New Zealand’s south island in April last year [2008].

The 21-year-old former Alice Ottley School (now RGSAO) pupil was travelling with her boyfriend after graduating from Swansea University with a first class degree in law.

The riverboarding company Black Sheep Adventures Ltd and its director Brad McLeod have been charged with failing to ensure the actions or inaction of employees did not harm Miss Jordan.”

The same article is an illustration of the importance of regular communication with the family of the deceased by the Authorities, even if the parties are on opposite sides of the globe.

The family established The Emily Jordan Foundation and a eulogy about Emily is available which provides a clearer understanding of what was lost in this tragedy.

Black Sheep Adventures have also been charged under the Health and Safety Employment Act 1992, with failing “failure to take all practical steps to ensure the safety of employees and the prevention of possible hazards.”  The company and its director have pleaded not guilty.

The Birmingham Post is continuing to cover the case including the start of the trial due for next week.

Maritime New Zealand who are prosecuting the company instigated a review of the river boarding industry in late 2008.

Kevin Jones

Vehicles are workplaces too

Radical Concept 1 – A vehicle can be workplace

Today the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) urged fleet managers to consider OHS obligations in their choice 0f work vehicles.  ANCAP said

“Our understanding of the OH&S principles is that there is an obligation on companies and fleet managers to ensure a safe workplace.

“Vans certainly constitute a workplace under the legal definition. We would urge fleet purchasers to examine the legislation and then factor safety into their fleet purchasing policies.”

But in practice this creates enormous challenges for the fleet manager who may only have chosen vehicles in the past that were fit-for-purpose without considering the needs of the driver.

Only recently have steps been added to trucks to allow for easier access to goods on the rear trays.  When technology became affordable tilt-down hydraulic ramps were installed, although these have their own work hazards. In both of these examples the changes occurred outside the cabin and related to accessing the transportable products.  Looking after the physical and psychological needs of the driver as a worker is different.

For instance, emergency fire appliances in Australia have had substantially improved design over the last ten years.  Many of the features are for the benefit of drivers and passengers, such as flip-out steps  for when the vehicle is stationary or special seating to allow for personal protective clothing.  But the cost of each of these new “safer” vehicles is such that the introduction is phased in and most likely as replacement vehicles.  This process could take years.  How can a workplace justify allowing only some workers to use “safer” workplaces?  The churn of vehicles could establish an inequitable safety standard ion the workplace.

ANCAP’s argument seem to be that a fleet manager who chooses a vehicle that does not have the  highest level of safety available are not providing a safe workplace.  We could be back to determining what is reasonably practicable.

Radical Concept 2 – A road can be considered a workplace.

Some bus drivers consider their regular route to be a workplace.  To some extent this is supported by the road traffic authorities who only allow certain speed control mechanisms on the roads that have bus traffic, such as speed islands rather than speed humps.  Although this may be due to the needs of not knocking the passengers around as well.

Regardless of the whether it is passenger safety, pedestrian safety or public liability insurance that creates these design decisions, bus drivers take some “ownership” of their routes.

Important Consideration 1 – Vehicles have drivers

A lot of attention has been given to driver distraction and how drivers drive.  Not only are there distractions from within the cabins from passengers, radios, phones, cigarette smoking and a range of driving activities, the relationship between external signage and driver response has also been high.

The complexity of the distraction issue can perhaps be summarized by a couple of recent links. In July 2009 a roadside memorial to a fatality itself is identified as having contributed to a fatality.  Research in the United States has begun on the impact of roadside memorials but at the moment the jury is out.

“Our results showed that the number of red light violations was reduced by 16.7% in the 6 weeks after the installation of the mock memorials compared to the 6 weeks before whereas the number of violations at two comparison sites experienced an increase of 16.8%.”

Managers, fleet and OHS, also need to assess the suitability of their workers for driving and consider the following matters.

  • Companies have an obligation to induct new workers.  Do companies induct new drivers on their vehicles or is a valid driver’s licence deemed sufficient?
  • Is a driving licence a certificate of competence?
  • Is a worker’s driving record considered when employing them?  Would one employ a driver whose record shows a propensity for speeding?
  • Are driving applicants asked whether there is a history of road rage?
  • How many demerit points are left on their licence when employed?
  • For car driving the same licence is used for personal vehicle use and driving work vehicles.  What would happen if the worker has their driver’s licence suspended thereby ending their capacity to drive for work?
  • It would be necessary to clarify in what circumstance transport accident insurance applies and when injuries relate to workers’ compensation?
  • Who should investigate a traffic incident involving work vehicles – the OHS regulator, police or some other authority?
  • Are traffic incident statistics collected for work-related vehicles?

Perhaps ANCAP could begin looking not only at the design of vehicles and additional safety features but also how these matters affect a driver’s perception of their own safety.  Does the elevation of the driver compared to other vehicles change the way the driver drives?  Could the safety features encourage the driver to drive recklessly?  Is technology deadening the driver’s instincts?

Similar questions have been posed in the occupational field for decades in relation to the operation of plant, the safe design of workplaces and the types and locations of safety signage.  Now these concepts must be considered for the mobile workplace.  Many will find this process challenging with some thinking that it is just another grab by the OHS “fascists”.

The issues do need considerable discussion in workplaces.  The recent WorkSafe Victoria “Guide to safe work related driving” is a good starting point but for the development of appropriate policies and, more importantly, to affect cultural change on the matter, companies require an elaboration by traffic authorities and from groups like ANCAP.

Kevin Jones

Driving and talking

The issue of driving while using a mobile is a perennial issue for the media but nothing much changes.  The New York Times on 20 July 2009 carried an article on the latest research which confirms  many previous studies that using a mobile phone while driving increases the risk of an accident.

Pages from 6i17 rawNo US State has banned the practice because social use of mobile phones has become so widespread that any ban is impossible to enforce effectively.

In January 2009, SafetyAtWorkBlog reported on the recommendations from WorkSafe Victoria on the matter.  Even in their guide they would say nothing more than

“recommend that hands free calls be kept to a minimum”.

At some point for most workplace hazards, the evidence outweighs the enforcement difficulties and bans ensue.  It has happened to asbestos, it has happened with smoking, but these are decades after dancing around the most effective control measure – elimination.

Pages from 6i02 v4The industrialised world, in particular, has been wrestling with the hazard of phones and driving for well over a decade.  One report from 2002 said

“Tests carried out by scientists at the Transport Research Laboratory established that driving behaviour is impaired more by using a mobile phone than by being over the legal alcohol limit.”

The footnote to this comment said

“Previous research has shown that phone conversations while driving impair performance. It was difficult to quantify the risk of this impairment because the reference was usually made to normal driving without using a phone. “Worse than normal driving” does not necessarily mean dangerous. There was a need therefore to benchmark driving performance while using a mobile phone to a clearly dangerous level of performance. Driving with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit is an established danger.”

There are always conditions set with research findings but these are sensible and valid.

Pages from 3i13According to a 2004 report by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported by UPI (unable to find a link)

“…estimated 8 percent of all motorists — about 1.2 million drivers — were using cell phones at any given time while driving, up from 6 percent in 2002 and 4 percent in 2000. About 800,000 of those drivers used handsets and not hands-free devices.

  • Handheld cell phone use increased from 5 percent to 8 percent among drivers aged 15 to 24 between 2002 and 2004.
  • Use of cellular-phone handsets increased from 4 percent to 6 percent of female drivers, while the number of men talking on handheld cell phones while driving remained constant at 4 percent.
  • Motorists were more likely to use a cell phone while driving alone, but drivers with children in the vehicle were just as likely to use the phone as those without children in the car.”

For those readers who like dollar figures, the same UPI article stated

“A 2002 study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, part of Harvard University’s School of Public Health, found drivers using cell phones caused 1.5 million accidents annually resulting in 2,600 deaths and 570,000 injuries.

Researchers estimated banning cell phone use in vehicles would cost $43 billion a year in lost economic activity.”

Pages from 2003-119[The only HCRA report on the website is is a 2003 study – Cohen, J.T. and Graham, J.D. A revised economic analysis of restrictions on the use of cell phones while driving. Risk Analysis. 2003; 23(1):5-17.]

A September 2003 report from NIOSH lists a range of driver hazards related to work activities and is worth downloading.  Pages 51-555 deal specifically with phone use.

(If any reader knows of a literature review on this topic, please contact SafetyAtWorkBlog)

This workplace hazard has been around for so long that in the opinion of SafetyAtWorkBlog, when someone is driving a work vehicle 100% of their attention should be on the principal task at hand – driving.

Achieving this realistic aim can be helped by

  • not passing on mobile phone numbers when one knows the person is driving.  The low tech alternative of taking a message works.
  • having employees turn off the phone while driving. (The phone does have an OFF switch)
  • not fitting workplace vehicles with hands-free units.
  • reminding employees of the safe driving policies of the business; and
  • enforcing those policies so that employees know that dangerous acts will not be tolerated or compensated by the company.

Above all, employees must be informed of the risks involved with distraction, must be reassured that employers will support safe actions, and must realise the affect on other drivers and their families from their own mistakes.

Kevin Jones

The need for a safety philosopher

It is very hard to be an OHS professional and not feel like one is part of the “nanny state” approach personal choice.  There is a fundamental disconnection between the responsibilities on business for a safe workplace and the responsibilities on an individual to make themselves safe at work.

When the work processes are seen as mechanistic, where workers are part of that process, safety management is easier.  Hazards are known because the work process and environment are fixed and have no variation.  The employer’s area of responsibility is clear and can be said to be from the engineering/production perspective.

But at different points in history, the spotlight of humanism becomes bright enough that the workers get attention.  Safety management becomes complex because humanity is acknowledged in the work processes, one must consult, talk, listen and engage with the worker who was, previously, an element of the production process.

This is the manicheism of safety management – the machine or the human.

This rumination occurred in response to an article reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on the union representing Sydney bus drivers “asking the New South Wales Government to pay for personal trainers and Weight Watchers programs.”

The union’s bus secretary, Raul Boanza, says, according to the ABC report,

“the union wants the Government to formalise an existing 50 per cent Weight Watchers subsidy by including the provision in enterprise agreements” and

“it will also seek gym memberships or personal trainers on a case-by-case basis on the advice of a medical specialist.”

Apparently “the Rail, Tram and Bus Union says drivers must pass strict medical standards every two years to keep their licences”.

SafetyAtWorkBlog contacted the union this afternoon and were advised that the person who raised the issue initially “is making no further comment on the matter.”

This is a shame as one of the first questions would have been, “should an employee be held responsible for making sure they are fit for work?”

Let’s indulge in some late-Friday afternoon silliness.  If a widget in a mechanical process is faulty it is fixed or replaced.  In a mechanistic perspective, if a worker is too fat to undertake the tasks they have performed previously they should be fixed or replaced.  This seems to match the position of Raul Boanza.

But if the widget had a consciousness and the means and responsibility to maintain their own suitability for work, should that widget be fixed or replaced?  This seems to be what each worker in any workplace needs to regularly ask themselves.

As mentioned above these two differing perspectives reflect our society’s (internal) debate on personal responsibility to one’s self and one’s society.

The leading safety academic in Australia is a sociologist.  Perhaps we are in need of a safety philosopher or at least a safety profession that considers safety in its social and personal contexts, that discusses, debates and progresses, rather than worrying about the latest corporate logo.  Perhaps we just need people to take responsibility for their own actions and be accountable for their own errors.

Kevin Jones

Level crossings and safety management

Regular readers will know that SafetyAWorkBlog believes that there is little justification for road/rail crossings, particularly in metropolitan areas, and that grade separation should be the aim of any crossing upgrades.  Too often governments dismiss grade separation without serious consideration because it is usually the most expensive control option.  Regardless of expense, elimination of hazards must be considered in public safety policy and OHS.  It is only after the elimination of a hazard is seriously considered that lower order control measures are seen to be valid.

At the moment in Victoria, there is community outrage because the truck driver involved in the deaths of 11 train passengers at a level crossing at Kerang has been cleared of any legal responsibility for the deaths.  Several relatives of victims are pursuing civil action against the driver, Mr Christiaan Scholl.

The wisdom of civil action against the driver is debatable as any potential financial “win” will come from the insurance pockets of the Transport Accident Commission and not Mr Scholl.  Compensation may be gained but any hope that the action could be seen as a “penalty” is false.

The Kerang rail crossing illustrates some basic OHS issues:

Worker responsibility

The Kerang level crossing had design deficiencies that had repeatedly identified by a number of government authorities, local companies and the public.  The court case heard that the crossing was known to be dangerous.

In OHS, known hazards are controlled in a number of ways.  Clearly the rail and road traffic was not separated and engineering controls were not introduced at the time of the incident.  The owners of the crossing (and this is debated also) determined that signage was appropriate (or even perhaps “as far as is reasonably practicable”?).

Clearly signage was not adequate but there is also the issue of driver (worker) responsibility.  It was mentioned in court and repeatedly in the media that the level crossing was known to be dangerous.  Why then, would drivers continue to treat the crossing as if it was not?  The legal speed limits remained at 100kph, at the time of the incident.  The road laws clearly state that road traffic must give way to rail traffic and yet drivers have admitted to complacency.

This is perhaps the source of a lot of the community outrage in relation to the Kerang incident.  The findings in favour of the driver place all the responsibility for the incident on the inadequate design of the crossing.

Working environment

As employers have responsibility to ensure a safe and health work environment, so government has a social and legal obligation to make public areas safe.  Victorian governments for decades have neglected the hazards presented by inadequately designed or controlled level crossings.  Governments must take responsibility for inaction just as much as taking credit for action and infrastructure improvements.

Infrastructure spending had started to increase prior to the incident but the need was sharply illustrated through the unnecessary deaths of 11 rail passengers.  Many Australian governments are spending millions of dollars on rail/road crossing upgrades as a result of the Kerang incident.

Road Safety and OHS

Many OHS professionals illustrate OHS by drawing on road safety.  The correlation is very poor but the attempt is understandable – most people drive, they drive within strict laws that were learnt in training (induction), and the road laws are enforced by an external body (police = WorkSafe.  However, this relationship has no corresponding role for employers, who have a workplace responsibility.  The road user has a direct relationship with the regulator. In OHS the role of the employer is crucial.

Perhaps the Kerang incident and other level crossing incidents could be used in brainstorming to illustrate personal accountability, employer accountability and government responsibility.  It would be a worthwhile exercise to discuss whether road safety and workplace safety could share as many educative elements as some of the advocates suggest.

As with most posts on SafetyAtWorkBlog, these thoughts are a work-in-progress and debate and commentary are welcome.

Kevin Jones

Note: SafetyAtWorkBlog is not privy to any of the court evidence and must rely on media reports.  More information will be presented when available.

New transport fatigue commitments

Also at the ACTU Congress in early June 2009, the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, also made commitments to improves the health and safety of transport workers.  In her speech, Gillard said

And through tripartite engagement we will be reforming independent contracting and the transport industry. 
Australia’s truck drivers work hard to make a living.  But they shouldn’t have to die to make a living.  And we will be working on safe rates to prevent them from having to take that risk. 
We will work with the Transport Workers Union and responsible employers to make sure that drivers are paid for all the work they do. 
We will make sure that payment methods and rates do not require drivers to speed or work excessive hours just to make ends meet.

And through tripartite engagement we will be reforming independent contracting and the transport industry.

Australia’s truck drivers work hard to make a living.  But they shouldn’t have to die to make a living.  And we will be working on safe rates to prevent them from having to take that risk.

We will work with the Transport Workers Union and responsible employers to make sure that drivers are paid for all the work they do.

We will make sure that payment methods and rates do not require drivers to speed or work excessive hours just to make ends meet.

Tony Sheldon of the Transport Workers Union conducted a press conference shortly afterwards and the press release said:

Transport Workers Union Federal Secretary, Tony Sheldon, said it was time to put an end to the carnage on Australia’s roads where 280 people die each year from heavy-vehicle-related incidents.

“Trucks make up 2 per cent of registered vehicles on our roads but are involved in 22 per cent of fatalities,” Mr Sheldon said.

“We need to make sure owner-drivers and employees are paid for their waiting time, for increases in fuel prices and for proper maintenance on their vehicles so they are not forced to do ‘one more load’ and push the boundaries to make ends meet.”

Australia’s transport industry have been the leaders in getting fatigue on the OHS and industrial relations agenda over the last five years.  

The implication in Sheldon’s words above is that fatigue and delivery/schedule pressures are generating road fatalities of drivers and other road users.  The Deputy PM made the same link between remuneration and safety. (If any readers can point towards the evidence behind the rhetoric, it would be appreciated).

The challenge for the TWU and, to a lesser extent, the governemtn is that unions represent a minority of transport drivers and so the coverage of union rules and codes of conduct have limited effect.  That is not to say that the limited effect is not important but the Deputy PM told the ACTU Congress what it needs to do to make these OHS and IR changes a reality.  

Gillard told the congress delegates that they needed to get out into the community and start building membership, as membership is strength.  This is particularly important on those policies and initiatives such as OHS and transport safety, where there is broad community impact.  

Some of the proudest achievements in the Australian trade union movement have come from those social contracts that have improved living conditions and health, not only just salary levels, to those workers in Australia who struggle to stay financially viable.  The union movement needs to reinvigorate its members and itself to improve the quality of life for all and not just the pay packets for some.

Kevin Jones