The OHS “fun vampires” hit the theatre

Several weeks ago, I took my family to the filming of a TV program.  As with most of this things there is a person who “warms up” the audience and which seems to involve the throwing of lots of lollies and sweets.  (If only weddings used sweets instead of bouquets there might be more takers) The warm up act will always make one of two references to “having someone’s eye out with that one” as they throw the sweets.

England’s Health and Safety Executive have chosen this “hazard” as their December OHS myth.  It’s particularly important for the English as the pantomime season begins.  The HSE says

“Health and safety rules were blamed when a panto stopped throwing out sweets to the audience. In fact they were worried about the cost of compensation if anyone got hurt….

Realistically, if a panto throws out sweets the chances of someone being seriously hurt is incredibly low. It’s certainly not something HSE worries about …”

The hazard of being injured from stage projectiles is real and it was only 2000 when a law suit was settled between Dame Edna Everage and a man who was hit in the eye with a gladioli thrown from stage.

Whether being injured by a projectile from the stage is an OHS matter or a public liability situation is debatable.  My risk management lecturer used to say that one should always sue the deepest pockets.

It is not OHS which is generating the safety rules.  OHS regulators are reacting to the increased litigation that is being touted by lawyers, bled into the Western culture through US television programs and being seen as a “nice little earner” by some in the community.  Most of the critics are facing the wrong target but are doing so because the OHS regulator is an easier target.

As an OHS professional, I would have to say do not throw anything into an audience or crowd unless it is an essential element of the performance.  There are other ways of distributing treats.

Kevin Jones

Leaderboard 2

HSE executive talks about OHS Leadership

At the launch of a new guidance for higher education students in late November 2009, Judith Hackett CBE, chair of the Health & Safety Executive spoke at length on a range of interesting matters but one section on leadership was particularly interesting:

“Strong leadership, engagement and a common sense approach are key to effective health and safety in any and every organisation.  Leadership is fundamental because it sets the tone for whether health and safety happens or not, and how it happens.  The type of health and safety culture that exists in organisations will be decided by how leaders manage it.

If they see that it makes good business sense this will lead to openness and involvement.  Leaders will be seen to care about the people they employ and manage.  But if, on the other hand leaders see health and safety as being all about bureaucracy, paperwork and procedures, this is likely to lead to health and safety being seen as a chore, a burden and therefore not properly and appropriately addressed.”

Kevin Jones

Union continues pressure on asbestos as an urgent public health issue

Following on from Asbestos Awareness Week, an ABC media report on 3 December 2009 says that the Australian Workers Union is continuing to apply pressure to the Tasmanian Government and Cement Australia for testing of former employees  and local residents for exposure to asbestos.

An epidemiological study of former employees has been agreed to by the company and is being conducted by Monash University.  Dr Yossi Berger of the AWU wants the study to be expanded to residents.

The logic is sound, particularly in Railton where the entire community has been exposed to asbestos production and products over decades.   Asbestos should be considered as more than a work-related hazard.

The union position on this pernicious substance received recent support from Matt Peacock’s book “Killer Company” that brought to the public’s attention the issue of asbestos bags being used in carpet underlay over many years.  Peacock says that cases of mesothelioma that just appear without any direct link to asbestos-handling , use or manufacture could come from unsuspecting exposure to asbestos in seemingly innocuous sources, such as underlay.

The union must be fairly confident that the results of any study will provide incontrovertible proof of the spread of the asbestos hazard, so that there can be some “oomph” behind a broader public campaign.  As mentioned at a recent Asbestos seminar, the evidence may exist but it needs to be translated into a format that the national decision-makers will accept and cannot contest.  Then large-scale improvements are possible.

Kevin Jones

How much does poor safety management cost?

In late November 2009, the Victorian State Emergency Services (SES) was convicted of OHS breaches over the death of one of its volunteers and was fined $A75,000.  The SES has chosen to allocate $A150,000 to a review of its safety management after strong criticism from the Mildura Magistrate, Peter Couzens.

In answer to the title of this article, a minimum of $A225,000 and one person’s life.

In May 2007, a volunteer with the SES a, 54-year-old Ron Hopkins drowned on a training exercise in the Murray River.  WorkSafe Victoria provides the following scenario:

“A boat took the four volunteers doing the [swimming] test out into the river and they got in to the water but Mr. Hopkins soon got into difficulty.

An oar was extended to him from the safety boat but he soon disappeared below the water.

Despite the efforts of the SES personnel to find him, his body was recovered the next morning by NSW police divers.

WorkSafe’s investigation found the safety boat had life jackets for the two assessors who were in the boat, but there were no other buoyancy devices which could be used in an emergency.

Some other participants involved in the swim test also experienced difficulties in the cold water and after swimming to the centre pylon of the George Chaffey Bridge, they held on to bolt heads extending from a rubber buffer attached to the pylons at water level. They were later picked up by the safety boat.

At the time of Mr Hopkins’ death the SES had no rule against carrying out swim tests in water where there was limited visibility or where a rescue could be difficult to carry out if someone got into trouble.

As a result, lakes and rivers were sometimes used as well as local swimming pools.

At the time of this incident there were a number of swimming pools with the facilities to help anyone one (sic) who got into difficulties in the Mildura area that could have been used for the test.”

Hopkins had been a member of the SES for seven years and had participated in searches associated with drownings previously, according to one AAP report.  The SES expressed regret and sympathy at the time of the incident in a media statement.   A short report of Hopkins funeral is available online.

As the Murray River runs on the boundary between Victoria and New South Wales a NSW coronial inquest was planned until the Victorian prosecution was announced.

At the committal hearing in June 2009, the magistrate allowed Hopkins’ widow, Meryl, some input in the Court procedures.  And in the November 2009 hearing, Mrs Hopkins’ victim impact statement is reported to have said that:

“… since the incident Mrs Hopkins had felt her life had lost meaning and she sometimes wished she had drowned with him.  The court heard she had experienced mental and physical health issues, including post traumatic stress, panic attacks, exhaustion and sleep disturbance.”

In 2003/04 Chris Maxwell undertook a review of the Victorian OHS Act and was critical of the special treatment provided to government authorities at that time and advocated that any organisation that breaches OHS law should be treated equally.  Maxwell told the Central Safety Group in 2004:

“I have to address a meeting next week of the Heads of Department to talk to them about the chapter entitled “The Public Sector As An Exemplar”.   They need it explained a little more fully. It is good that the Public Sector wants to grapple with the issue “what does that mean for us?”   It is a theme of the Report that the public sector should be treated exactly the same as the private.  It shouldn’t be otherwise but the history of prosecutions tends to make you wonder about that. I know John Merritt, the Executive Director is absolutely committed to that principle. It is interesting to note that the Education Department has recently received an Improvement Notice.”
In his actual report he advocated that government departments should not only be treated the same but that they should become OHS role models.  When comparing the Victorian situation with a UK review he wrote:
“I would go further, however, and suggest that government (as employer and duty holder, and as policy maker) can, and should, be an exemplar of OHS best practice.  By taking the lead in the systematic management of occupational health and safety, government can influence the behaviour of individuals and firms upon whom duties are imposed by the OHS legislation.”
If this had been embraced by the OHS regulator and government departments agencies imagine the state of OHS compliance on matters of workplace stress and manual handling in health care and other public service hazards.  And maybe, the SES OHS program would have been further advanced than it was in 2007 when Ronald Hopkins died.

Safety awareness ≠ safety (always)

Workplace fatalities have markedly increased in Victoria over the last couple of months.  According to WorkSafe Victoria information nine people have died within the last two months bringing the current total to 27 for 2009.

Victoria has a high awareness of the need for safety in the workplace, principally due to the advertising campaigns of WorkSafe which began, in one form or another, in the 1980s when Andrew Lindberg was WorkSafe’s CEO.  But clearly awareness of the need for safety is not being translated into action.

WorkSafe Victoria has become alarmed at the recent surge in deaths and issued a media release asking for things to settle down.  John Merritt, executive director, has said

“With many industries now reaching their peak activity the risks are extreme as people rush to get work completed and begin to think about what Christmas, holidays and the New Year has to offer.

“The construction and manufacturing sectors are aiming to complete projects before a summer shutdown, while transport, warehousing and retailing are ramping-up to Christmas.

“With just a few weeks before Christmas and the spectre of nine deaths in two months behind us, employers and workers must lift their game and reject the urge to take shortcuts or become complacent.”

But there is nothing unique about this time of year as the same activities, the same work pressures exist each year at this time.  More analysis is required of why this October and November 2009 have been particularly bad.  This analysis needs to be much deeper than the market research and attitudinal studies that OHS regulators frequently undertake.

Dead men tell no tales but survivors do and perhaps it is time to investigate the circumstances of an incident in a way that is outside of the legal/prosecution motivation.  Everyone has a different perspective on a workplace incident and many are less than truthful or honest in order to not incriminate themselves or because a lawyer has advised against unsupervised cooperation.  Could it be possible to offer a special consideration to the witnesses of an incident, prior to the Court experience, so as to encourage accurate data of an incident that can then be issued as a safety alert?

The media releases of OHS regulators often refer to incidents that have occurred months or years ago when the circumstances are only remembered by the Courts, the company and the family of the deceased.  Surely there must be some way of issuing an interim alert that does not jeopardise the prosecution?  The preventative benefit would be so much more if the alert relates to an event that has occurred within the last week, for example, or while the tragedy is still being reported in the media.

In various venues throughout Victoria, John Merritt, has been showing a graph of the number of fatalities in the State in line with the National OHS Strategy leading to 2012.  Earlier this year, the fatality rate was above the benchmark.  Now, WorkSafe must be realising that the 2012 target is likely to be impossible.

Australia is not renowned for its OHS research.  What occurs is way below that of other similar economies and the funding is abominable.  It may be time to pull back on advertising expenditure and start researching the causes of the fatalities for a quick turn around of, at least interim, results.  Until this occurs, regardless of regular pleas from OHS regulators it is likely that we will still be hearing of incidents like these from Victoria:

“…a 42-year-old man fell from a roof and died while installing cables for a television antenna on a house in Tullamarine.”

“…another 42-year-old man is being treated for serious burns at the Alfred Hospital after fuel ignited as he prepared to refill a generator…”

“A man has died at Werribee after being run over by the trailer of a reversing tractor”

“…a farm worker was run over by a tractor on another Werribee South vegetable farm. He suffered serious injuries to his pelvis and was flown to hospital for surgery…”

“A Lower Templestowe man, 47, died from crushing injuries after a tractor he was driving became entangled in a steel wire supporting poles for a canopy over a Wandin North orchard.”

“A 45-year-old dairy farmer died near Portland when he was hit by his tractor and an implement and suffered fatal crushing injuries.”

“A man’s head was crushed between an industrial chipper and a truck at Warrandyte North”

“A man aged in his 50s died at Bannockburn near Geelong while operating a boom lift. He was found crushed between the machine’s bucket and the roof of a building in which he was working”

What we can be sure of is that 27 Victorian families will not be celebrating this Christmas.

Kevin Jones

The relevance of the international Risk Management Standard

It is impossible to review the new international risk management standard as such a standard is a curious beast.

The ISO31000 Risk Management Standard sets down the principles that can apply in a range of industries including, from SafetyAtWorkBlog’s perspective, occupational health and safety.

Australia recently released a draft of a model OHS Act that the government wants to use as a template for uniform OHS laws.  That draft Act included a clause on risk management.  It said under “The principle of risk management”

“A duty imposed on a person to ensure health or safety requires the person:

(a) to eliminate hazards, and risks to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable; and

(b) if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate hazards and risks to health and safety, to minimise those hazards and risks so far as is reasonably practicable.”

It is likely that those business owners who read the legislation (very few) or the OHS professionals who do (slightly more) will interpret this as having to fix the workplace or, at least, try to make sure no one gets hurt at work.  They may continue the risk management line and look to the Risk Management Standard which will clarify the principles of risk management, as below in slightly edited form,

“Risk management:

  • Creates and protects value
  • Is an integral part of all organisations processes
  • Is part of decision-making
  • Explicitly addresses uncertainty
  • Is systematic, structured and timely
  • Is based on the best available information
  • Is tailored
  • Takes human and cultural factors into account
  • Is transparent and inclusive
  • Is dynamic, iterative and responsive to change
  • Facilitates continual improvement of the organisation”

This is slightly more helpful but still requires translation.  (Even the previous risk management standard needed translation with SAI Global going all-out with at least eight handbooks and a CD explaining the standard.) Below is SafetyAtWorkBlog’s plain English attempt:

  • Get rid of all the safety risks in your workplace or make them safer.
  • Have a documented plan for this and do not take too long.
  • Research the hazards so that you are making the best decision on the best information.
  • Do not cut and paste from somewhere else.
  • Make sure ALL your work colleagues know what you are doing.
  • Make sure that you revisit your plan to see if it is working

These points are based only on the principles. The Standard goes into more detail on each of these elements or principles but it is important to remember that this standard only shows one way of making decisions.  This standard is also only a guideline, even though some of the text talks about “complying”.

A couple of comments on an OHS discussion forum about the risk management standard described it as being irrelevant to workplace safety, boring and “causing eyes to glaze over”.  One suggested that the focus needs to be on establishing a suitable organisational culture.  There is a lot to learn from the Standard but perhaps for the OHS professional more so than the client. Perhaps it is best to limit this standard to establishing the decision-making process itself and to leave the application of the decisions to others.

When the Australian risk management standard was first introduced, the narrow application was useful and appropriate but then the commercial possibilities became apparent and SAI Global capitalised on the Standard and tried to make it all things to all people.

The idea of keeping decision-making simple is always relevant but it seems to operate in a cycle from simple to increasingly complex to deconstruction back to simple.  Maybe we are at the start of the next cycle.

Kevin Jones

The biggest management hurdle on workplace smoking

Smoking in the workplace is increasingly banned in countries around the world.  The mob of smokers in fire escapes and outside office building front doors are common occurences.  There is no denying that smoking is hazardous but this established fact does not seem to help with the regular management challenge – smokers work less than non-smokers and non-smokers resent this.

A recent study of workplace smoking in over a dozen countries published in the online edition International Journal of Public Health illustrates the continuing struggle.

“The study also found that overall employees estimated spending an average of one hour per day smoking at work, but most employees (almost 70 percent) did not believe that smoking had a negative financial impact on their employer.  However, about half of employers interviewed did believe that smoking had a negative financial impact on their organization.”

This people management issue often bleeds into the realm of the OHS manager as it is the health risks to the smokers and other workers than generated this division.  Clearly these statistics show the problem persists.

The tension comes from non-smokers working a full shift when a non-smoker is permitted to work at the same tasks for the same pay but work one hour less.  No companies have been able to solve this tension in any way other than encouraging smokers to quit smoking.  It may be attractive to OHS managers to leave this issue to the HR managers to struggle with but when planning any anti-smoking programs, this tension needs to be anticipated by OHS professionals.

“Several previous studies indicate that despite the beliefs of smoking employees and some employers in our study, smoking does have a substantial negative impact on a business’ finances,” [Michael Halpern PhD of RTI International] said. “More research needs to be done to quantify the economic impacts of workplace smoking and educate both employers and employees on those effects.”

Halpern’s comments illustrate a major limitation to the thinking of researchers on this issue and other similar workplace matters.  Workers’ health and compensation costs are rarely included in such surveys as business economics look at salary and time management issues yet business admits that worker health costs are part of the decision-making processes.

It is not that worker health costs are not quantifiable.  There is plenty of premium data, insurance figures and public health costs to include in the calculations but largely this data is ignored.  The researchers could take a two stage approach of, what they consider, primary labour costs with a mention of secondary health and compensation costs.  It would be possible to say something like “labour costs equate to $xxx – a substantial business costs but if workers’ compensation costs are included, an even more startling picture emerges…”

OHS professionals know that their job is not really one of handling safety issues exclusively but of managing safety within the business context.  To achieve this OHS professionals must be alert to all elements of business operation.

Kevin Jones

Australia’s Go Home on Time Day

November 26 2009 was Go Home On Time Day in Australia.  The intention of this day, organised by The Australia Institute, was to highlight the difficulty many workers face in a achieving this seemingly simple task.  The Australia Institute’s expresses the aims this way:

  • The typical full-time employee is working 70 minutes of unpaid overtime a day, which equates to 33 eight-hour days per year, or six and a half standard working weeks.
  • Across the workforce, the 2.14 billion hours of unpaid overtime worked per year is a $72 billion gift to employers and means that 6% of our economy depends on free labour.
  • Converting unpaid overtime into full time jobs would create 1.1 million new jobs
  • Unpaid overtime harms our health, our personal relationships, our communities and our workplaces

The work/life balance advocates would say not doing unpaid overtime as a regular part of the job is an important balancing technique.

The Australia Institute has provided SafetyAtWorkBlog with some statistics from the special day’s 20,000 registered participants which may illustrate some of the difficulties of achieving that work/life balance.

Over 55% of registered participants managed to leave work at the contracted time on 26 November 2009.  Of those who could not, almost 70% said they could not because they “had too much work to do”.

Of those who went home on time, these were the most common activities:

  • Spent time with family/played with kids
  • Exercised/went to the gym
  • Household jobs/chores
  • Caught up with friends
  • Walked the dog

Those who admitted to working unpaid overtime (1836) gave the following reasons

To get the work done


Because my boss/employer expects it


To help colleagues


To ensure my job is safe/secure


To demonstrate how hard I work


Because everyone else does it


There seems to be only one genuinely positive and collegiate reason, to help colleagues.  The others indicate job and personal insecurity, unreasonable workloads or bad time management on behalf of employees and employers.

The statistics are of mostly curiosity value but are further indications of the social structural problems that contribute to increased work mental health risks.  Of those who signed up but could not get away from work, a couple of reasons given were

  • Boss knew I was trying to go home on time and loaded me up.
  • Management laughed.
  • My Boss said I was not to say the words out loud.

These days are intended to raise awareness of specific issues in society and Go Home On Time Day is a worthwhile addition but as with Asbestos Awareness Week, at some point awareness must move to action.

Kevin Jones

Shoemaking in South East Asia – book review

Some of the best OHS writing comes from the personal.  In a couple of days time a new book will go on sale that illustrates big issues from a niche context and brings to the research a degree of truth from the personal experiences of the author.

Pia Markkanen has written “Shoes, glues and homework – dangerous world in the global footwear industry” which packs in a range of issues into one book.  The best summary of the book comes from the Preface written by the series editors.

“Pia Markkanen’s extraordinary first hand investigation of the dangers of home work in the shoe industry in the Philippines and Indonesia is an important contribution to our understanding of work, health and the global economy. She also carefully documents the intersection of gender relations and hierarchy with the social relations of “globalised” economic development and reveal as the important implications for the health of women, men and children as toxic work enters the home.”

As one reads this book, local equivalents keep popping into the reader’s head.  For instance, Markkanen’s discussion of the home as workplace raises the definition of a “workplace” that is currently being worked through in Australia.  She briefly discusses the definition in her chapter “Informal Sector, Informal Economy” where she refers to an ILO Home Work Convention, and usefully distinguishes between the homeworker and the self-employed, a distinction that Australian OHS professionals and regulators should note.

Markkanen does not impose a Western perspective on her observations and acknowledges that regardless of the global economic issues and social paradigms, “shoemakers felt pride for their work”.  This pride goes some way to explaining why workers will tolerate hazards that others in other countries would not.  In many OHS books this element is often overlooked by OHS professionals and writers who are puzzled about workers tolerating exposure and who look to economic reasons predominantly.

In South East Asia, limited knowledge can be gleaned from literature reviews as the research data is sparse.  Markkanen interviewed participants first hand and, as mentioned earlier, this provides truth and reality.  She describes the shoe makers’ workshops in Indonesia:

“Shoe workshops are filled with hazardous exposures to glues, primers, and cleaning agents, unguarded tools, and dust.  Work positions are often awkward, cuts and burns are common, as are respiratory disorders.  Asthma and breathing difficulties are widespread when primers were in use.  Workers were reluctant to visit doctors because of the expense.”

She then reports on the interviews with Mr. Salet, a shoe manufacturer, Ms. Dessy, the business manager, Mr Iman, the business owner, Mr Ari, a skilled shoemaker, and many others.

Markkanen also illustrates the shame that the minority world and chemical manufacturers should feel about the outsourcing of lethal hazards to our fellows.  In the chapter, “Shoemaking and its hazards”, she writes:

“Shoe manufacturing will remain a hazardous occupation as long as organic solvents are applied in the production.  It is notable that in 1912, the Massachusetts Health Inspection report declared that naphtha cement, then in use for footwear manufacturing, was considered hazardous work.  The 1912 report also referred to a law which required the exclusion of minors from occupations hazardous to health – the naphtha cement use was considered such hazardous work unless a mechanical means of ventilation was provided and the cement containers were covered…. minors were prohibited from using the cement.  Almost a century later, hazardous footwear chemicals are still applied – even by children – in the global footwear industry.”

There is little attention given to the OHS requirements of majority world governments by OHS professionals in the West, partly because the outsourcing of manufacturing to those regions has led to the reporting of OHS infringements and human rights issues more than information about the legislative structures.

Markkanen provides a great section where she describes the OHS inspectorate resources of the Indonesian Government and the fact that Indonesian OHS law requires an occupational safety and health management system.  Granted this requirement is only for high-risk industries or business with more than 100 employees but there are many other countries that have nothing like this.  Markkanen quotes Article 87 of the Manpower Act 2003:

“Every enterprise is under an obligation to apply an occupational safety and health management system that shall be integrated into the enterprise’s management system.”

It is acknowledged that this section of legislation is hardly followed by business due to attitude and the lack of enforcement resources but we should note that safety management is not ignored by majority world governments.

Lastly, Markkanen provides a chapter on the gender issues associated with the shoemaking industry.  She makes a strong case for the further research into the area but it is a shame that to achieve improvements in women’s health the reality is  that

“women’s health needs female organizers and female women trade union leaders who understand women’s concerns”.

Some male OHS professionals may be trying to be “enlightened” but this seems to not be enough to work successfully in some Asian cultures.

Overall this book provides insight by looking at a small business activity that illustrates big issues.  The book is a slim volume of around 100 pages and it never becomes a difficult read because it is concise and has a personal presence that other “academic” books eschew.  As with many Baywood Books, the bibliographies are important sources of further reading.

At times it was necessary to put the book aside to digest the significance of some of the information.  Occasionally the reality depicted was confronting.  Baywood Books could do well by encouraging more writers to contribute to it Work, Health & Environment Series.

Kevin Jones

[SafetyAtWorkBlog received a review copy of this book at no charge.  We also noted that, according to the Baywood Books website, the book is available for another couple of weeks at a reduced price.]

Big fine for Queensland Rail – big risks in rail

Almost two years ago, two rail workers died in Queensland.  According to the official report into the  incident:

“At approximately 1056 on Friday 7 December 2007, two QR [Queensland Rail] Infrastructure Services Group (ISG) track workers were fatally injured as a consequence of being struck by a track machine (train) at Mindi, approximately 130 kilometres south-west of Mackay.

The collision occurred when Track Machine MMA59, in the process of conducting track resurfacing work on the Down line at Mindi, commenced a routine reversing movement.

During the process, two QR Systems Maintenance personnel, working on the same track and behind the track machine, were struck and fatally injured by this track machine.

Analysis of evidence and conditions surrounding the accident revealed:

  • An overall lack of compliance with elements of the QR SMS at the Mindi site; and
  • Inadequate communication and coordination between workgroups at the Mindi site.”

On 26 November 2009, Queensland Rail was fined $A650,000 over the deaths.  The fine is only $A100,000 below the maximum fine applicable.  According to a media release about the fine:

“The Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation found that QR’s safety management systems were inadequate for managing the separation of workers and plant, particularly when both were within the same section of track between signals.

It also found that QR knew the systems were inadequate and not working because it had been highlighted to management in a series of audits.”

Not only were Queensland Rail’s safety management systems inadequate, Queensland Rail knew they were inadequate because a series of audits had told it so.

Railway in Australia and elsewhere is one of the most regulated industries.  It is also one of the industries with the most prescriptive set of rules.  It is a complicated business but one where hazards are known and systems are in place to control these hazards.

The extent of QR’s failure to operate safely can be illustrated by some of the many recommendations made in 2008 by Queensland Transport:

  • The necessity for consistent and effective Worksite Safety Briefings by ISG personnel;
  • Preconditions to the reversal of vehicles in accordance with QR safeworking requirements;
  • Responsibilities and training syllabi for ISG Resurfacing personnel;
  • The necessity for pre-departure safety checks on ISG trains;
  • Provision of safe separation and segregation between ISG track workers and trains;
  • ISG SMS compliance monitoring, at the local level;
  • Fatigue management within QR, and in particular ISG rostering;
  • Management of the perceived relationship between ISG and Network Control;
  • Awareness of the priority of safety over commercial pressures by remote ISG staff;
  • Distribution of safety communications and documents within QR;
  • Representation for relevant stakeholders in operational change management processes;
  • Risk and change management training for ISG operational personnel;
  • Safety risks presented to ISG through the permanent coupling of track machines;
  • The safety value to QR of an enhanced and transparent reporting system;
  • The management of ISG district staff relationship issues; and
  • ISG and Network Access radio protocol compliance monitoring.

Many elements are familiar to other investigations in rail and other industries – fatigue, on-site communication, training, segregation, document control and distribution, local compliance enforcement, transparency in reporting…..

On 10 September 2008, the QR CEO Lance Hockridge said:

“When I arrived in November 2007, I found an organisation with a safety record that was improving but not what it should be.  Only three weeks later we had a very tragic reminder of this when work colleagues Jamie Adams and Gary Watkins were killed at Mindi.

“Organisations hoping to achieve meaningful change must firstly be honest with themselves – we need to confront this reality and make the changes required.”

Queensland Rail did not face the reality of problems identified by safety auditors and two workers died.

The news of the record fine came at a time when the ownership of  Victoria’s metropolitan rail network has changed from Connex to Metro.  Victoria has a stressed rail service but has managed to avoid the controversy of  Queensland Rail and RailCorp in New South Wales but this has been through luck rather than good management.  The Victorian Government, and particularly the Transport Minister, Lynne Kosky, needs to read the Waterfall Inquiry report and the Queensland Mindi report to understand the personal, economic and political cost of not having a tightly managed, functional rail safety regime.  Having been in power for just over 10 years, this government now owns all the Victorian problems and must account to the electorate for not fixing them.

The political risk was summarized in an editorial in The Age on 30 November 2009

“In September, a Senate report into federal funding of public transport found Melbourne’s network was badly managed in comparison with Perth’s government-operated system.  A key problem was lack of accountability: it was unclear who was in charge.  The consequences of the lack of an overarching transit authority to oversee the whole system are clear…..

New operators of trains and trams in new livery will struggle to deliver acceptable service unless the Government makes good its past neglect of infrastructure.”

The fact that the Victorian rail system is being privately operated will not be an acceptable shield when the first passenger train crashes with a jam-packed peak hour cargo.

Kevin Jones