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.
As the dominance of neoliberalism weakens around the world, people are fearful of what comes next. In some sectors, that fear includes occupational health and safety (OHS). OHS is a business cost, in the same way as every other cost of running a business, but it is often seen as an interloper, a fun-sucker, a nuisance and/or an impediment to profitability. This misinterpretation needs to be contested.
I learnt more about the politics of the United States from Doonesbury than I did from television news and analysis. I learn more about the politics of occupational health and safety (OHS) in the United States from Jordan Barab‘s Confined Space newsletter/blog than I do any other media source. Although the US’s OHS legal structures are different from Australia and other Commonwealth countries, the political ideologies and maneuverings, and fads and statistics are noted by political parties outside the United States.
Recently Barab posted a Year in Review article which is obligatory reading. His key issues included:
- A New and Improved Congress (or at least the House)
- A Headless Agency
- Inspectors down, enforcement units down, penalties down
- Return of Black Lung
- Brett Kavanaugh
- Regulatory Rollback
- The Fate of the Labor Movement
Anything sound familiar in your own jurisdiction?
Occupational health and safety (OHS) related decisions are made on the state of knowledge about hazards and it is up to OHS people to make sure the state of knowledge is at its best so that the best decisions can be made. But what do you do if the state of knowledge on a hazard seems to be made purposely uncertain and that uncertainty is leading to the status quo, which also happens to provide a huge income for the owner of the product creating the hazard.
This seems to be a situation at the moment in Australia in relation to the use of the weedkiller, glyphosate, marketed heavily by the global chemical company, Monsanto. The alleged corruption of data on which OHS people and workers base their safety decisions was perhaps one of the most disturbing elements of the recent ABC Four Corners program on the chemical (
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently written about suicide prevention and the organisational structures that can contribute to poor mental health. The prominence of the CDC should result in a spate of media reports about this NIOSH Science Blog article.
Evidence of the link between the two has been building in Australia for some time through the work of several researchers. The CDC/NIOSH draws on