Labour Hire Inquiry recommends a licencing scheme 2

Following, ostensibly, the Four Corners exposé of labour hire exploitation in Australia last year, the Victorian Government established an inquiry.  That Inquiry’s final report has been released with lots of recommendations, several pertaining to occupational health and safety (OHS).  The Government’s media release response is HERE.

vic-labour-hire-reportThe main recommendations related to OHS are:

I recommend that the Model Work Health and Safety Act approach to regulating labour hire relationships be adopted in Victoria. In the absence of Victoria adopting wholesale the approach under the model laws, I recommend that Victoria adapt an approach which matches the substantive provisions under the model laws in this regard.

More…

Asbestos presents political opportunities for vision and leadership 1

Asbestos is not something this blog writes about often, principally because the risk of asbestos-related diseases is well established and the control measures identified.  Ideally asbestos should be left in the ground as, no matter in what state it is used, it presents a serious hazard to someone wherever it has been mined or used.  But few countries are willing to make this commitment and even if they do asbestos-containing materials (ACM) continue to be imported regardless of any bans in place, as Australia is currently experiencing.

This fundamental occupational health and safety (OHS) and public health issue is not helped when prominent figures utter dangerous misrepresentations.  MotherJones has pointed out that in his co-authored 1997 book, The Art of the Comeback, now United States Presidential-hopeful Donald Trump described asbestos as

“the greatest fire-proofing material ever used.”

That asbestos is

“100 percent safe, once applied,” and  “got a bad rap.”

The quotes are 19 years old so Trump may have achieved a different perspective on asbestos and it would be good to have someone pose the question, perhaps in the next debate, although he may simply deny he ever said that. (He would be technically right, he never said it, he wrote it)

cover-of-asea_annual_operational_plan_2016-17_web_final_accAustralia does not have a Trump but it does have an Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) and only last week the Minister for Employment, Senator Michaelia Cash (great name for a politician giving out money), gave the agency an

“additional $3.4 million over two years in the 2016-17 Budget”.

This was a timely increase, at least politically, to counter the continued importation of a banned substance as mentioned above. However, the allocation of this money to the ASEA misses the target.  ASEA does not control the importation of building products; that is the job of the Australian Border Force.

ASEA released its Annual Operations Plan 2016-17 at the end of September in which it addresses the asbestos importation issue:

“ASEA works with all levels of government to assist in responding to the strategic risks of asbestos in Australia. The agency coordinated the development of a Rapid Response Protocol through the Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA) Imported Materials with Asbestos Working Group. The protocol is the first of its kind, enabling government agencies to work cooperatively and efficiently across jurisdiction and portfolio lines when products have been identified as containing asbestos. This allows agencies to work through the practicalities of concerns that such products may cross, or have crossed, state lines.”

This national and cross-agency cooperation is good and required but “the practicalities of concern” is the major barrier to change.  Government never seems to have sufficient funds to make a ban as effective as possible or it needs to be.  Allowing ACM into Australia, even though the building material contains a government-banned substance, creates costs on public and occupational health but as these costs are further down the supply chain and may not appear for decades, Government considers them to be acceptable.  It is highly unlikely that the cost of preventing ACMs at the border would be more expensive than the long-term health costs that the Government will need to pay through public health and hospitals and that employers may need to pay through lost productivity, business disruption and workers’ compensation. (This is another example of why OHS need economists and financial estimators.)

cover-of-asbestos-importation-reviewIn February 2016, Minister for Border Protection, Peter Dutton, announced an inquiry into the importation of ACMs, to be conducted by KGH Border Services, a company with which the Minister’s Department has been in a partnership since early 2015.  The final report seems to imply that the issue is too difficult to police and that the current process is the best the Government can do, particularly as a large part of the asbestos problem originates in China, Australia’s most lucrative trading partner.

“For most businesses involved in international trade, a rational cost/benefit analysis of investment in compliance is not justified by the incentives that government offer to promote voluntary compliance. Despite the critical effect of asbestos exposure to public health and safety, it remains a cheap and effective material for use in a wide range of goods. Asbestos continues to be widely used internationally, and is incorporated in goods manufactured by Australia’s largest trading partners, such as China.”

This paragraph from the KGH report illustrates the tone of the report.  Asbestos is cheap and effective and used widely, however it is also deadly.  As mentioned above, asbestos and ACM is only cheap to purchase but can have decades long costs that would/should render the cheap purchase a nonsense.  That asbestos is effective echoes Trump’s position.

The report also states:

“Due to the differing standards applied to asbestos regulation internationally, it may be inefficient for suppliers that sell to a range of markets, to ensure compliance with the Australia’s strict import prohibition. The Australian prohibition relates to all forms of asbestos, but chrysotile is not internationally recognised as a dangerous form of asbestos. Countries that mine chrysotile maintain that it is safe, and continue to export it to a number of other countries, where it is still widely used in products that supply a range of industries.”

Regardless of what other countries do, Australia’s Department of Health identified the hazard of chrysotile asbestos as early as 1999 and has stated for some time that:

“There may be no safe exposure level for chrysotile, so all exposure should be avoided” and

“If a safer product or process can be substituted for one involving chrysotile, this should be done.”

According to KGH Border Services chrysotile is not internationally recognised as a dangerous form of asbestos.  So what?  The government that commissioned the KGH report has stated it is dangerous!!??

The KGH report also outlines what is already known and the reason for the existence of the ASEA:

“There is also confusion about policy and regulatory responsibilities across Government in Australia and some ambiguity in the overarching legal framework that establishes Australia’s strict prohibition. The Department of Employment (DoE) has policy responsibility for the legal framework that establishes the border control. The DIBP administers the import and export prohibitions at the border. The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) is responsible for administering the import and export permission regime on behalf of the Minister for Employment. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and state and territory work, health and safety (WHS) regulators have a role in enforcement of the asbestos prohibition domestically. This cross-over between various Commonwealth and state and territory authorities can confuse the public’s perception of the DIBP’s role in asbestos regulation, and its ability to affect changes to the legal and policy frameworks that establish the prohibition. Clarification of the responsibilities and coordination efforts across Government would reduce this confusion and increase the effectiveness of the Government’s response to asbestos issues.”

If asbestos was not killing Australian workers and their families, it would be funny that overlapping and conflicting responsibilities (a responsibility managed by the Government) “can confuse the public’s perception of the DIBP’s role in asbestos regulation”.  The public may not understand the role of the DIBP but it certainly understands the fatal risks associated with asbestos.  The calls from the public and the unions for stronger policing of banned substances is less a criticism of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) that it is a criticism of the Government for inaction.

The report also suggests that other levels of Government should be pulling their weight on asbestos management.  They should, and they are, but how much easier, cheaper and more productivity their jobs would be if the Federal agencies prevented ACMs entering the country.  It just may be possible to eliminate the established asbestos hazards if new asbestos was stopped being imported.

It may also be useful to note that Minister Dutton seems to see the call for controlling asbestos imports as a trade union conspiracy.  One could just as well claim that safe asbestos is a Trump conspiracy.

The Australian Government is mismanaging the latest controversies around the importation of asbestos-containing material but to manage it appropriately requires hard questions that this government chooses not face.  The deaths associated with asbestos exposures are increasing and are likely to for some decades yet.  How many decades, is the choice of this Government.  Act now and seriously and fewer people will die, businesses will be more sustainable, health and compensation costs will be less.  In fact there may even be more jobs and growth.

Politicians are regularly called on to provide vision.  Asbestos seems to be one of those issues where the vision can be readily understood and easily explained.  Addressing the issue in a serious way could also be seen as an example of leadership and the basis for a political legacy.  And it is not as if asbestos is irreplaceable.  Trump may see it as a miracle building material but the combination of new products with safety in design principles should be able to achieve a comparable fire protection level.

Vision and leadership.  Where have we heard those words  before?  Oh yes, EVERYWHERE.

Kevin Jones

The OHS challenges presented by penises, testicles and hotel sex 2

Every profession and occupation has its weird stories, the “you wouldn’t believe it” stories.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) is no different.  There are stories of a degloved penis, complications from piercings in private places or chemical burns on private parts that reinforce the important of washing hands thoroughly after touching chemicals. Such stories can be funny, to those not associated with the incidents, but they also show some of the most difficult challenges to manage.

One true story that was written up in a medical journal in the early 1990s would be a fascinating case study in organisational culture, safety management, harm prevention and workers compensation if it happened today – the incident of scrotal self-repair.

Snopes.com is the best source of straight reporting on this incident that involved:

“An unmarried loner, he usually didn’t leave the machine shop at lunchtime with his co-workers. Finding himself alone, he had begun the regular practice of masturbating by holding his penis against the canvas drive-belt of a large floor-based piece of running machinery. One day, as he approached orgasm, he lost his concentration and leaned too close to the belt. When his scrotum suddenly became caught between the pulley-wheel and the drive-belt, he was thrown into the air and landed a few feet away. Unaware that he had lost his left testis, and perhaps too stunned to feel much pain, he stapled the wound closed and resumed work.”

The full article is well worth reading to understand the background and consequences of this incident. There are several OHS issues that are worth considering.

The man is described as a “loner”.  Many workplace have workers with such personalities and managers should continue to try their best to integrate such people into the workforce.  It can be an enormous challenge and making the worker in the case above less of a loner at worker may not have prevented the incident but inclusion is a major element of establishing a working and developing organisational culture.

There is also the issue of machine guarding that sounds likely to have removed the hazard of the pinch point.  The incident descriptions indicate that the pulley-wheel was not guarded. Even though the manufacturers probably did not anticipate masturbation in their operating manual, pinch points on conveyor belts have been a known hazard for decades.

Taking up a point from the previous paragraph, many readers would say that the worker was doing the wrong thing with the wrong piece of machinery in the wrong place and they are right. It is implied from the Snopes articles that this was a common practice for this man and that it was not the masturbation with the drive-belt that caused this incident, it was the worker’s inattention and contact with the pulley-wheel.  Guarding would likely have prevented this incident just as it would have prevented entanglement of a loose sleeve.  We don’t know the type of machine, the make or have a copy of the manufacturers’ guidelines but machine guarding is highly regulated and pinch point incidents are far less frequent than in the past.

Many companies have policies and processes that rely on “just culture” and trust and respect.  How would those values be applied in the case of a traumatic masturbation-related injury?  How would the company process any action in such a circumstance that alsi maintains the worker’s dignity?  Is it possible to maintain a dignity when the injury may become the talk of the company?

A more recent case in Australia illustrates the magnitude of the challenge in relation to sex-related injuries.  In 2007 a public servant who was required to stay overnight in a hotel room had sex with a male friend and was injured when a light fitting fell.  Her claim for workers compensation when to Australia’s High Court in 2013 where the decision to deny her workers’ compensation was upheld.  The ABC reported that the Employment Minister Eric Abetz referred to the Court’s decision as a “victory for common sense”. Maybe but the to-ing and fro-ing through the court system indicates that there was an argument to be made.

That case became commonly used as an example of how workers compensation and, by association, OHS had become silly, and how entitlements can be abused.

Whether the issue is a penile piercing being caught on a pallet or a light shade falling on your face during sex, these are injuries that have occurred during work activities and that need addressing, usually, by safety advisers and managers, and most will be able to do this competently.  However such injuries can seriously test a company’s safety management system and, perhaps more significantly, the culture of that company.  Who of us can guarantee that an injured worker will receive the respect that they deserve, regardless of the cause of the injury?

Kevin Jones

“We are the safest” – No, only half right 7

Governments around the world love to be able to claim their State or Country as the safest in the world, when they can.  Australia has been plagued by such claims between various States but a report released on July 6 2016 shows that such claims are only half the story.

The Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) released its report about “Work-related injury and illness in Australia, 2004 to 2014“. The report makes this extraordinary finding:

“Across Australia, there are twice as many estimated work-related injuries as there are accepted workers compensation claims. This indicates that many injuries do not progress into the nations workers compensation systems” (page 2)

This statement seems to indicate that political statements made on the basis of workers’ compensation data, the major rationale for most of the “we are the safest” statements, are only half right! More…

OHS policies of two of Australia’s political parties 2

Australia’s Federal election campaign has reached the halfway point but the political parties have yet to officially launch their campaigns so the policies that may relate to occupational health and safety (OHS) are unclear.  Even the Australian Greens have yet to launch their campaign but some of their long-held policy positions are clear. The Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) has received the workplace safety campaign policies of the Australian Labor Party.  More discussion on policies will occur when more are released. More…