One safety quandary solved by Consumer Law. What others are possible?

Caesarstone original quartz for kitchen, bathroom surfaces, benchtops, splash backs and kitchen Island

Last week the Australian Government accepted the recommendations of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) about improving the safety of quad bikes. But the improvement in safety came not through occupational health and safety (OHS) laws but the Australian Consumer Law so how could the ACL help improve workplace health and safety further? After a quick look at how the quad bike recommendations have been received, the potential of the ACL is considered in relation to silicosis.

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Australian silicosis research mirrored in the US

At the end of October 2019 the Australia New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine (ANZSOM) will be conducting its annual scientific meeting in Adelaide. There are many issues on the agenda but silicosis is likely to figure prominently as it did last year, and as it should. The politics, knowledge and regulatory action has changed in the intervening twelve months.

Australia has new guidances from several occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators and agencies which restrict or ban dry-cutting of engineered stone and change other safety-related practices. There is also at least one political move to ban the use of engineered stone. But perhaps more important is that new research on silicosis risks is appearing and not just from Australia. The United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new research on 27 September 2019 based on medical assessments and several silicosis-related deaths.

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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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Is OHS a socialist plot?

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.

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Jordan Barab provides important OHS insights

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?

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