Australia’s Safety Institute bemoans the politicisation of OHS

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The Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) is a very quiet organisation for one that claims to be “Australia’s professional body for health & safety professionals”, particularly considering Australia is undergoing a gentle revolution of its workplace safety laws.  But SIA’s recently appointed national secretary, Stephen Thomas, has spoken out, reportedly as an SIA spokesperson, about the lack of prominence of OHS professionals on the boards of OHS and workers compensation regulators.

The lead story of online newspaper inDaily for 30 May 2011 has Thomas discussing the politicisation of occupational health and safety:

“In my view, the tri-partite structure has actually politicised OHS here in South Australia, as well as in other states,” he told Indaily. “You have these groups representing employer interest, employee interest and government interest, but there’s nobody from the OHS profession that sits at these board tables where important strategic decisions are made.

“It’s really only the independent views of professional OHS practitioners that can really provide objective advice and objective opinions without getting embroiled in the political process.

“I believe the politicisation of OHS has been to its detriment, both across the country [nationally through Safe Work Australia] and here in this state.”

Complaining about the politicisation of any element of society seems impractical as politics is integral to the decision making of public policy.  It is surprising that such a position is still held, particularly by an executive of a national professional association, as there are countless examples of how political decisions have affected OHS laws and safety policies negatively and positively. Continue reading “Australia’s Safety Institute bemoans the politicisation of OHS”

New South Wales gets a win-win on OHS laws

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The Australian Government must be either issuing a sigh of relief or clapping their hands together following the passing of the model OHS laws by the New South Wales (NSW) government last week.

NSW was a belligerent signatory to the agreement for nationally harmonised OHS laws but the laws passed with sufficient tweaking to make the laws compatible with the national model laws.  Several days later, on 30 May 2011, everyone is claiming a win.  Unions retain some authority to prosecute over OHS breaches, although only “for the third and least serious category of offence”, according to the Australian Financial Review.

Unions NSW secretary Mark Lennon is reported as saying that the NSW upper house of Parliament has protected an important safeguard for workers.

On 27 May 2011 Lennon was bemoaning “that the Industrial Court has lost most of its occupational health and safety jurisdiction” and yet the Industrial Relations Commission will now retain an active OHS role even though it is dealing with lesser OHS offences, similar to the unions’ role above.

Overall the amendments in the NSW Parliament seem to be a face-saving exercise for the left-wing politicians and trade union movement.  They were provided with little wins but have given way on the major objections.  It is reasonable to describe this as a pragmatic solution given that the March 2011 NSW election effectively removed the union movement’s power base in that State. Continue reading “New South Wales gets a win-win on OHS laws”

New OHS info on Working Alone and Occupational Violence

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One of the most difficult safety management challenges is the control of hazards associated with working alone.  The most effective control is to not work alone, but the difficulty comes because this option requires expenditure.

WorkSafe Victoria recently released an information sheet on this hazard and listed the following hazard control options:

  • Buddy system
  • Environmental design
  • Communication or location systems
  • Alarms
  • Movement records
  • Training
  • Knowledge sharing

WorkSafe wisely says that most workplaces will require a combination of these options to control the hazard of working alone.

Trying to reduce the hazards of working alone is a terrific indication of the economic health of a business, the level of safety commitment of a business owner or manager, and the state of safety knowledge in the company. Continue reading “New OHS info on Working Alone and Occupational Violence”

The Commercial Kitchens Campaign needs further examination

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Why is a government workers’ compensation agency promoting first aid when a different agency has had that role for over twenty years?  And why do the program’s first aid kits contain commercial products that are no more effective in the first aid treatment of burns than water from the tap?

On May 12 2011, WorkCover SA launched, in conjunction with the Julian Burton Burns Trust, the Commercial Kitchens Campaign.  Burns are a major feature of this campaign with 500 Commercial Kitchens Burns Packs being distributed free to restaurants and cafes in South Australia.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has been told that these kits contain a Burns First Aid Kit developed by A/Prof John Greenwood, the Julian Burton Burns Trust and St John Ambulance Australia which includes the following items:

  • burnaid gel
  • burnaid dressing,
  • a plastic sheet,
  • sterile towel,
  • tape, and
  • step by step directions written by A/Prof John Greenwood.

The odd thing about this initiative is that medical research has shown that burnaid gels are less effective than cool running water for the first aid treatment of burns.  In the journal Wound Practice and Research (Vol 18 Number 1 – Feb 2010) Australian researchers Leila Cuttle and Roy M Kimble wrote in “First Aid treatment of burn injuries” that

“The widespread use of such dressings [Burnaid is specifically referenced] (which have now even penetrated the first aid market) is alarming considering the lack of studies which support their use.” Continue reading “The Commercial Kitchens Campaign needs further examination”

TV report into SafeWorkSA’s performance

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On 20 May 2010, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation televised a story on the South Australian 7.30 program about the supposedly poor investigative performance of SafeWorkSA.  The article was framed by a mother’s grief, the grief of Andrea Madeley over the loss of her son, Daniel.

The story was some weeks coming as the story’s production began around the time the ABC were filming at the Workers’ Memorial service in Adelaide a month ago.  The story promised to be a hard-hitting criticism of the State’s OHS regulator but the latest Industrial Relations Minister, Patrick Conlon, handled himself well and what could have provided a provocative national context to the story, the harmonisation of OHS laws, dampened the impact.

Both Yossi Berger and I have written about the findings of Coroner Mark Johns on this blog.  Yossi agrees that OHS regulators are almost all too slow to implement control measures to prevent recurrences of injuries and death,  I thought the Coroner was poorly informed.

The lasting image of the 7.30 storywas the young boy talking at Adelaide’s memorial about his loss of a relative – the way he kept talking while he sobbed and cried.

All OHS regulators must improve their game in empowering employers and workers to prevent injury and death.  Coronial criticisms are unlikely to affect changes in safety management by themselves.  Crying boys are also unlikely to affect lasting change, but it is almost a certainty that the harmonisation of OHS laws will change very little.

Kevin Jones