Australian OHS experts call for a single OHS regulator and a unified insurance system 9

Some of Australia’s top work health and safety experts have stressed, to Safe Work Australia, the need for a single national OHS regulator.  Many also called for a radical overhaul of workers’ compensation and insurance structures to achieve a combined insurance/compensation similar to that of New Zealand, the Accident Compensation Commission (ACC).

These calls were made in a  whole day workshop, conducted by Safe Work Australia on 30 August 2011, on the development of the next ten-year national OHS strategy.  This was the latest of around ten consultative sessions whose notes will be summarised and posted online.  The notes from an earlier seminar list the following discussion topics:

  • “The need to focus on work health and safety prevention.
  • Engagement with target groups and industries to ensure advice and support is relevant to enable them to effectively respond to hazards.
  • Engineering hazards out through good design.
  • Influencing the supply chain inside and outside Australia.
  • Prioritising key work health and safety hazards and focusing national attention.
  • Creating opportunities for innovation in work health and safety particularly within the regulatory framework.
  • Enhancing the culture of safety leadership (promoting highly reliable organisations).
  • The importance of safety culture.
  • Enhancing the capability of workers to return to work following accident or illness.
  • Influencing or assisting academia to undertake research – focusing on intervention effectiveness.
  • Developing a shared communication strategy to promote the new principles of the new Strategy.”

These echo many of the comments in today’s seminar and illustrate what was a major missed opportunity.  The theme of today’s workshop was to imagine what OHS (or work health and safety or work health safety & environment, as some suggested) will be like in 2022 but there were few futuristic suggestions.  This was the opportunity to extend some of the practices currently undertaken by ten years. More…

Suicide challenges the OHS profession 7

Safety and risk professionals often need to consider the “worst case scenario”.  But we hesitate to look at the worst case scenario of workplace mental health – suicide.  On 26 August 2011, Lifeline presented a seminar to Victorian public servants that was brilliant, confronting and worrying.

Lifeline campaigns on suicide prevention and it seems to do this through discussion and counselling.  It outlines not the “warning signs” but the “help signs” that one needs to look for in our work colleagues.  According to Lifeline, possible life changes can include:

  • “Recent loss (a loved one, a job, an income/livelihood, a relationship, a pet)
  • Major disappointment (failed exams, missed job promotions)
  • Change in circumstances (separation/divorce, retirement, redundancy, children leaving home)
  • Mental disorder or physical illness/injury
  • Suicide of a family member, friend or a public figure
  • Financial and/or legal problems.”

Many of these issues can be helped by talking about them but, in OHS-speak, that is an administrative control in the hierarchy of controls.  The OHS professionals’ job is to determine if the risks can be mitigated or eliminated and this is where many OHS professionals fail.

It may be unfair to call it a failure, as the professional may simply not have the skills necessary to look beyond the hazard and determine a control measure.  In this context, the OHS profession and its members must be engaged in social reform.  If any of the workplace hazards are generated by, or exacerbated by, n0n-work related factors, the OHS professional must consider methods to reduce those non-work hazards. More…

Santos slapped with stale celery over near-miss 2

More often than not people are disappointed by the sentences handed out by Courts on OHS breaches.  Even with sentencing guidelines, the ultimate decision rests with the judgement of the Court.  Today’s $A84,000 fine against Santos Ltd appears low considering that the incident had the potential to be catastrophic and the company has just  reported “half-year profit up 155% to $504 million”. (ABC News provides a good pocket description of the incident with The Age discusses the corporate impact at the time)

The 2004 incident involved a near miss but a near miss that was just a second away from a catastrophe.  The fact that no one was directly injured has been mentioned in many media reports but not being injured is not the same as not being affected.  Industrial Magistrate Ardlie’s decision records that some employees had to run through the gas cloud to reach the muster point.  Some had difficulty breathing.  One worker was knocked off his feet by the blast and had the fireball travel over him burning the exposed parts of his body.

Dr John Edwards of Flinders University is quoted in Industrial Magistrate Ardlie’s decision that, without prompt evacuation, “the exposure dose [to hydrocarbons] could have been considerable and life-threatening”. More…

Concerns increase as Australia’s OHS law changes loom 1

Conference organisers IQPC started its two-day Safety in Design, Engineering and Construction conference on 16 August 2011.  The most prominent speaker on day one was Barry Sherriff of law firm, Norton Rose.  Sherriff spoke about OHS harmonisation‘s impact on the Australian construction industry.

Over time Australian labour lawyers generally have moved from saying that Victorian companies have little to worry about from the new laws expected on 1 January 2012 to quite alarming suggestions of challenges to do with contractor management and consultation.  Part of this modification of advice may be due to the increased analysis of company OHS systems.  Sherriff said that he has been surprised how many companies ask for advice about compliance under the new laws and yet are not complying under the existing OHS laws.

On the issue of consultation, Sherriff identified the “coordination of activities” and managing the “flow of information” as a critical element in the new OHS model laws.  But he stressed that such obligations have existed in OHS laws in many Australian States for sometime but are now more overtly stated. More…

Farmer rescued from rare tractor rollover incident 1

Tractor rollovers are far less frequent in Australia than in previous decades due, principally, to major safety campaigns and financial rebates for the compulsory fitting of rollover protection structures (ROPS).  This fact makes the near death of a Victorian farmer on 17 August all the more surprising.

The most detailed report on the rescue, to the moment, is by Channel 7 but additional information is available from the ambulance service and through an audio statement* with the responding paramedic.  The Channel 7 reporter states that the tractor had no ROPS and this is true, to an extent.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has been advised that there was a ROPS for the tractor available on the farm but it had been detached.

At his early stage of the man’s recovery and incident investigation it is difficult to extrapolate OHS lessons or issues but any investigation is likely to ask about the risks of , amongst others,

  • working alone
  • the absence of ROPS
  • the competence of the “hobby farmer”
  • the working environment/terrain
  • the use of a trailer with this tractor.

It is believed that WorkSafe will be undertaking an investigation.

Kevin Jones

*very interesting social media initiative from the ambulance services