Construction site deaths and union calls for manslaughter charges

Last weekend two Queensland workers fell 26 storeys from swing scaffolding to their deaths.  They were patching concrete on a building from a platform similar to those used by high-rise window cleaners. According to a 24 June 2008 ABC news report: “The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) says the men were wearing harnesses…

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Sugar vat explosion update

Further details have begun to emerge from the vat explosion at the Pioneer Sugar Mill at Burdekin in Queensland on 20 June 2008.  According to media reports, the plant, owned by CSR, was one of four sugar mills that suffered equipment failures on almost a daily basis, according to Burdekin Limited district manager Jim Collins.

Three workers were treated for minor injuries and the 80 staff at the mill  at the time were evacuated.

Speeding in roadside worksites

I have a confessions to make.  I stick to the speed limit and in over 25 years of driving cars and riding motorcycles, I have never had a speeding ticket.  That may make me sound like a grumpy old fart but I can’t see how it can be worth putting yourself and others at risk for little return….

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Sugar Vat Explosion

According to Australian news reports, several explosions have occurred at the Pioneer sugar mill in Queensland.  Two people have been seriously injured and 14 are currently trapped

According to firefighters there was a low pressure explosion in a 1,000 litre sugar vat at 9am on 20 June 2008. 

“After the vat exploded it fell over and pushed over another 1,000 litre sugar vat. The ‘mud’ that spilt from the vats ran into an adjoining lab facility and nine staff members were evacuated.”

Varanus Island and Worker Safety

The safety of workers at the Varanus Island pipeline has been questioned through emailed photos of the explosion site and the accompanying email.  The images have not been confirmed by Apache Energy.

The email, reported by The Age and perthnow, says the “big bang” had occurred because the pipe had corroded “to the thickness of a match stick”.

It was also reported to include the following comments from a worker

“We ran for our lives, really really really scary. Does not feel good to be back here so soon (5 days later) The place is quiet, no noise, nothing. Just us hitting spanners ect (sic). Not sure if I really wanna be here when it’s up and running, which will be months away, a lot of damage.”

Minimising stress hazards by managing better

Wendy MacDonald, from Latrobe University’s Centre for Ergonomics and Human Factors, discussed the possible breach of OHS legislation by the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s dismissal of the risk of working excessive hours by public servants, recently on ABC radio.

The podcast can be accessed HERE

By identifying the links between excessive working hours and the increase in cardiovascular problems due to stress, the report echoes other posts in safetyatworkblog but also adds a new dimension to the Victorian government’s WorkHealth strategy.  If the link of excessive working hours to stress-related conditions is proven, and I think the evidence is already there, then there is an obligation under OHS law to control the hazard at the source, to eliminate the hazard. 

I wait to see the WorkHealth publications that advise managers to reduce workload to “healthy” levels, to ensure that adequate leave is taken to ensure people are “fit for work” and that they cap working hours to a safe level.

The Crucial OHS Review Role of John Della Bosca

The New South Wales Industrial Relations Minister, John Della Bosca is a linchpin in the move for harmonisation of OHS law in Australia.

All attention is on New South Wales as it is said to have OHS laws that are the most onerous on employers.  Employer groups are calling for a greater preventative focus and more cooperation on improving workplace safety, specifically those areas of conflict that employer groups have in New South Wales.

Della Bosca supports the New South Wales OHS regime, at least lately he does, in reaction to the employer groups wanting, according to the Minister, a “version of harmonisation…aimed at reducing safety standards and eliminating the strong NSW laws.”

The NSW Minerals Council, reported in the Australian Financial Review on 13 June 2008 (page 19 sorry, there is no online reference), has concerns over the New South Wales operation of duty of care, double jeopardy, and appeal rights. 

The wobbly element in the NSW argy-bargy is the political future of John Della Bosca.  He has been stood down from his portfolio due to events relating to an alleged altercation in a restaurant that involves his wife, Belinda Neal, who is a member of the Federal Parliament. (Any internet search on “Della Bosca” is sure to turn up articles on this as the story has been running for almost two weeks).  Della Bosca is one of the strongest performers in New South Wales politics and has held the IR portfolio for a long time.  Political analysts are saying he will weather the storm but that his wife has little parliamentary future. 

In the mean time, Della Bosca’s strong position on OHS is absent in the political discussion and this will have ramifications in the harmonisation process.  The Treasurer, Michael Costa, the only other strong NSW performer, could take on the role but the longer Della Bosca’s absent, the more ground the government and its strong trade union support loses to the employers.

In a roundabout fashion, this also puts pressure on the recently-appointed Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Jeff Lawrence.  Some unions are less than impressed with his political performance.  In Della Bosca’s absence, Lawrence needs to step up his lobbying and maybe continue it even when the Minister returns.

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