Safety Behaviours and Enforcement

One of the main reasons that the Safety Institute of Australia included a single conference stream on CEOs recently was so that OHS professionals could gain an insight into CEO perspective – to hear from the horses’ mouths. In a question and answer session after his presentation, Jerry Ellis said “Regulatory requirements are not the…

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The Challenge for Australia’s OHS Law Review

Everyone is eagerly anticipating the issues paper of Australia’s review into model OHS law but talking with many people at the SIA08 conference this week, it seems that people are anticipating more from the review than the review was established. The review will be looking at OHS law and law establishes the parameters for managing workplace safety. However, OHS law is what underpins safety management and it is easy to focus on the law to the detriment of managing safety in workplaces.

Employers don’t need to be familiar with the intricacies of OHS law. They need to understand their legal obligations. Legal advice is usually sought if something goes wrong. So how will the current OHS law review change how we manage safety? I asked Tracey Browne of the Australian Industry Group for her opinion. Tracey said the review “has the potential to be revolutionary but everyone needs to realise that changing the law is not going to change anything on its own.”

To progress OHS law many of the issues that have come to dominate discussion over the last 30 years will need to be put aside. Of all the participants in the review process, Tracy believes that the OHS regulators may have the hardest time in achieving this position.
Cathy Butcher of the Victorian Trades Hall agrees that there are considerable agreements on OHS law but she identified some substantial sticking points. In a panel discussion at the Safety In Action Conference she listed the following big differences:

  • The removal of “reasonably practicable”
  • The union right to prosecute
  • The reintroduction of “risk assessment” into the Victorian regulations and OHS Act
  • Compliance Codes to “go the way of the dodo”

Whether this is an ambit claim will be seen soon through the OHS Law Review process.

Taxi Driver Safety Causes Blockade

One of Melbourne’s busiest intersections was blockaded again by angry taxi drivers. This follows the stabbing of a young cab driver on April 29,2008.
The calls were again for shields in cabs to isolate the drivers from, often, irate drunk and violent passengers.
In response to previous protests, cameras were installed in taxis as a deterrence and evidence-gathering device. This control measure is clearly not working as well as cheaper and simpler alternatives.
Cameras record the attacks, the maiming and the deaths. They help identify the attacker but they do not prevent the attacks. Drivers continue to work in an industry that is more hazardous than it needs to be.
In OHS terms, any worker can refuse to place themselves at risk and many drivers have retired over the years siting safety as an important consideration. However, this has lead to a driver shortage that is being filled by migrant workers and overseas students. (The most recent victim was reported to be a 23-year-old Indian student) The influx of migrant workers to perform jobs, that Australian residents choose not to undertake, has complicated occupational health and safety considerably, and unnecessarily.
Engineering solutions of shields and other driver separations could have been introduced years ago after similar security and personal safety protests. Many other Australian and overseas jurisdictions have driver-passenger separation as standard.
After 30 hours in the autumn cold the blockade has been lifted after the government agreed to install driver shields in taxis within 12 months. But this is cold comfort to the stabbed 23-year-old tax driver and those drivers who have been choked and attacked. This engineering control has been in existence for over a century and it is a stain on the decisions of previous governments who allowed taxis to be commissioned in, what has been proven to be, an unsafe state. Violence against taxi drivers and other transport drivers has been a known workplace hazard for a long time (bus drivers have had separation for years. How was driving a taxi different?) and again, it has taken a violent attack on a worker to achieve an acceptable level of safety – a level that a “reasonable man” would have agreed to or one that was always “reasonably practicable”.

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LTIFRs – still the corporate benchmark

What I and my OHS colleagues found peculiar at Day One of the Safety In Action Conference was that most of the CEO presenters continued to use LTIFRs (Lost Time Injury Frequency Rates) as the primary safety performance indicator.

In Australian OHS fields, LTIFR has been established as an inaccurate indicator of safety performance but, apparently, it is the indicator that Board members like.

At lunch Michael Thompson of the ASSE said that the continuing prevalence of LTIFR is our fault, the fault of OHS advisers.  We have allowed LTIFR to persist far beyond their relevance and use.  I think he is probably right as OHS organisations have not pushed alternatives or educated the MBAs and future directors.

The use of Positive Performance indicators has been the way forward for some time.  It was sad that PPIs weren’t emphasised more in the CEO stream of Day One.

Safety in Action Conference Report – Day One

The Safety institute of Australia has tried a different approach with their 2008 safety conference on April 29. It’s first day was dominated by a single stream of CEOs and senior executives talking about how they see safety. I expected a day of cliches but these were refreshingly minimal. There were a few mentions of “safety culture” and even more mentions of “leadership” but surprisingly very few speakers spouted the DuPont safety jargon that has dominated corporate safety presentations for many years.

Ziggy Switkowski was a real win for the SIA but sadly he spoke principally about climate change. I found his talk very interesting but it was only when he spoke about his advocation of safety at a board level that the relevance of his presence and experience had the audience sit up.

Switkowski’s presentation has set the agenda for the integration of environmental considerations in safety conferences and the SIA’s planning but the value of his climate change presentation will become obvious in the next few years.

The presentation by Peter McMorrow of Leightons was the stand out presentation of those I saw. His display of the personal commitments and safety pledges that Leighton executives need to sign off set the bar for the other CEO presenters. McMorrow’s links between safety and profitability were particular good.

I am constantly suspicious about corporates who say ” safety before all else” because there are more examples of companies sacrificing safety for profits than good corporate citizens. Peter Sandman, and others, have said in the past that the principal (sometimes the only) obligation on corporations is to the shareholders, and shareholders watch the share price. McMorrow seemed to provide an example that breaks the status quo but it wasn’t convincing.

Also, there was no mention of the recent prosecutions of Leightons by WorkSafe Victoria where the judge was highly critical of the level of operational awareness of the senior managers in the company. It seems that corporate and social goodwill were not the only motivators in providing organisational safety change at Leightons but the omission is telling.

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Getting back on the horse

Several weeks ago a long-lost warship, the HMAS Sydney, was discovered off the coast of Western Australia. The Sydney disappeared with over 600 crew. There are many interesting stories that are appearing about the discovery but one resonated with me at the Workers’ Memorial ceremony at the Victorian Trades Hall this morning.

Last Friday was ANZAC Day in Australia, a day when we remember the fallen, particularly, in World War 1. At the dawn service at Geraldton, the closest town to where the HMAS Sydney was found, there was a record number of people, many there because of the Sydney. Some of the Sydney’s sailors’ family have travelled to the site of the wreckage to remember and to say goodbye.
At the Workers’ Memorial today, I met a woman who had been permitted to visit the site of her son’s workplace death. He died almost 10 years ago and she told me that for many years she would not have dreamt of going there but how glad she was that she finally did.
People have an odd need to visit the sites of dead relatives. It is perhaps the last tenuous link we have to our friend’s last conscious memories. As I grow older, I might better understand this need but at the moment those sites remind me of pain, trauma and sadness – emotions that should have no place at work.

Nurse Rape – Update

According to a report on 24 April 2008, the Queensland OHS authority has issued the health department with an improvement notice over the poor security in its facilities in the Torres Strait Islands.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland will also launch a review of Queensland Health’s security arrangements for remote accommodation across the state.

I realise that the wheels of bureaucracy take sometime to move and the action is to be applauded. But with much OHS activity, it is reactive and comes about because an organisation was deficient in its obligations to prevent injury and illness.

The attacks on employees in remote locations is not a tragedy because it happened but is a tragedy because it was allowed to happen. Foreseeable risks were not prevented.

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Remember the personal on World Day for Health and Safety at Work

Today is the World Day for Health and Safety at Work. I will be attending the trade unions’ Workers’ Memorial service in Melbourne this morning as I do every year. The stories of those who have died at work keep my OHS morals grounded in the reality and the humanity of workplace safety. It reminds…

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The absurd “2-metre rule”

Recently a colleague spoke to me about the absurdity of the OHS regulations on falling from heights. Australia has a “default” position that, in reality, establishes a 2 metre benchmark for fall prevention initiatives. In practice, workers take it that any work on a ladder where the “grounded” foot is higher than 2 metres from the surrounding area as requiring a risk assessment and, most likely, some fall protection equipment.
My colleague argued that the benchmark should be where a worker’s head is over 2 metres above the floor when working in an elevated position. This is based on the logic, my colleague says fact, that when someone falls, serious injury and death usually result from the worker’s head hitting the floor.
The advocation of a 2 metre criterion operates contrary to the hierarchy of controls which sets the aim of eliminating the risks associated with working at any height. If Australia is moving to a regime of nationally uniform OHS legislation, these laws should be reviewed so that there is also national consistency in safety advice.
As in many other circumstances the UK’s HSE seems to have its act together on this workplace hazard by emphasising the work tasks rather than getting bogged down on a measurement – a measurement that seems to have little science or logic to support it.

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Politicians, Stress and Bulimia

Overnight English MP John Prescott “came out” as a bulimia sufferer. Or so the story goes in the British press. But the real story for the occupational health and safety profession is that Prescott’s doctors suggest the contributory factor – stress.

The Telegraph is a little more precise and says that it is unclear why bulimia occurs, that there may be a genetic trait and it often exists “alongside other mental health problems, for example, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and anxiety”.

The Telegraph also lists potential risk factors as “social and cultural pressures regarding appearance, bullying, low self-esteem and family dysfunction”.

Our reactions to the supposed link between stress and bulimia needs to be carefully considered given there are considerable contrary, or complementary, factors. We should bear this in mind when dubious workplace well-being promoters come knocking on the office doors.

I would suggest that Prescott’s main control measure for bulimia, stress and a range of health issues, including diabetes, was that he left the front bench in 2007.

On the other factors of bulimia, the social and cultural pressures, outside of Britain, Prescott is still only known as that guy who punched someone in a crowd, and that had something to do with food as well – a far more telling manifestation of a stress response, I would have thought.