More safety in politics

Here’s a quick summary of several mentions of occupational health and safety (OHS) in the various Parliaments in Australia over the last week or so.

Answers to Questions on Notice

In Parliamentary Committees, speakers often put questions “on notice” as they do not have the answer at hand. Often these questions fade from memory but answers do appear, usually. A good example has been provided in the South Australian Parliament on September 11, 2009 with the Treasurer, Rob Lucas, providing answers to questions from Estimates Committee B on July 24 2019. For the number junkies out there, according to Hansard, in 2018/19 SafeWork SA:

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Safety in politics this month, so far

Occupational health and safety (OHS) discussions in the various Parliaments in Australia rarely get much media attention, but the debates continue and occasionally there is an interesting suggestion. Here are some of the recent parliamentary discussions that SafetyAtWorkBlog found interesting

Quad Bikes in Tasmania

In response to a question on August 8 2019 Liberal Party politician, Leonie Hiscutt, provided an outline of the budget allocated to the rebate scheme being applied to quad bikes and their safety accessories, but of more interest is the question from Independent Ruth Forrest. She asked:

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What’s the fuss? Stay focused on safety

The debate about quad bike safety has gone global with the United States telling the World Trade Organisation that the imposition of operator protection devices (OPDs) on general quad bikes (those not used for recreation or sport) may be a trade barrier. To some this would appear silly, and the argument has little to do with worker safety, but this action by the US impedes progress on safety.

Recently the Victorian Coroner made findings into the quad bike-related death of 69-year-old farmer Gustaav Walta in September 2017. The finding is not yet publicly available but the story of Walta’s death sounds very familiar.

One evening around 6pm Walta advised his friend that he was putting the sheep away. His friend did not receive the regular phone call the next morning and drove to the property finding a quad bike that had rolled over and Walta’s body in an adjacent paddock. It was determined that Walta had died from severe chest injuries caused by the quad bike incident, that he had been ejected from the bike, the bike rolled over him and he then had tried walking to a neighbour’s property before he collapsed and died.

The chronology in the Findings is not very clear on Walta received his chest injuries but what is clear is that, like so many before, the quad bike had not been fitted with an OPD and that Walta had not been wearing a helmet.

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“… merchants of doubt and experts in distorting the truth…”

The Weekly Times newspaper has provided strong coverage of the arguments about quad bike safety for many years, especially, through the work of Fiona Myers and Peter Hunt. The June 19, 2019 edition devoted its front page, page 4, an opinion piece and a cartoon to the objection by the quad bike manufacturers to Operator Protection Devices (OPDs). One of the benefits of long-term media coverage is that changed positions, or hypocrisy, can be shown and this is what Hunt did on 19 June.

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To OPD or not to OPD? That is NOT the question

The current debate and lobbying campaigns over quad bikes in Australia have become less about safety than about product design integrity. The opposition to operator protection devices (OPDs) has been so loud that it has dominated the quad bike safety discussion. So, last week I decided to visit a local quad bike dealer to talk to the sellers not about OPDs but about Safety. I found that some vehicles have safety integrated into their design and operation.

I have learnt that the best conversations happen during the weekdays when shop assistants and managers have the time to devote to someone who may be a potential buyer but is, at least, someone genuinely interested in the product, in this case quad bikes and side-by-side (SXS) work vehicles.

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Dirty tricks in quad bike debate

This week an online entity has been establishing itself on various social media platforms as “Say No To OPDs”, “Ban The Bar” and combinations of those phrases. These sites are asking people to make submissions to the current inquiry into establishing a quad bike safety standard which is being managed through the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) at the instigation of the Federal Government. This is not an inquiry about quad bike safety; that occurred last year with the ACCC report handed down earlier this year. It is an inquiry about a specific element of safety but this has not stopped a coordinated online push to reject the ACCC’s broader safety and product design recommendations.

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Debate on rollover protection rolls on

The continuing argument over quad bike safety in Australia mirrors many of the other occupational health and safety (OHS) debates over whose evidence is truer, is the argument about politics or safety, the cost of change and whether one size of OHS laws and enforcement fits a splintering employment structure.

The Liberal National Coalition won the recent Federal Election in Australia, retaining power and with a stronger Parliamentary influence. In terms of quad bike safety, action on the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission’s report will follow the schedule set out by the then Assistant Treasurer Stuart Roberts. Several quad bike manufacturers and their industry lobbying arm, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), have ramped up the pressure on the Government now that they smell another three years of sympathetic government.

It is important to keep reminding ourselves that OHS, for most Australians, remains regulated at a State level and national positions and recommendations like that of the ACCC are unlikely to be implemented nationally without Federal laws.

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