60 Minutes, Dust and Responsibility for Workplace Safety

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On 8 June 2008, a US 60 Minutes report on combustible dust joined the conga-line of critics of the Occupational Safety And Health Administration.  The tone of the report is set by the reporter, Scott Pelley’s introduction stating that it is OSHA’s responsibility to avoid the explosions.  For OHS practitioners and professionals this is a peculiar statement as it is usually the employer’s responsibility for workplace safety.

The 60 Minutes report illustrates the difficulty that OHS inspectors face when visiting workplaces. Can an inspector be expected to identify ALL the hazards present in a workplace?  This is a constant problem for OHS regulators, employers and sadly, the Courts.

The accusation in the 60 Minutes report is that inspectors had no information or training on the explosive hazards of dust.  Training is not the solution for everything and an inspector’s state of knowledge should have identified dust as a potential hazard.  Even if the hazard was identified in terms of an inhalation risk, or housekeeping, the explosive risk would be reduced if housekeeping was applied properly.

OSHA clearly stated the responsibility of workplace safety being on the employers.  The missing element of the entire 60 Minutes report is that the site operators and employers who have experienced dust explosions were not interviewed.

 

More information on the February 2008 explosion at the Imperial Sugar plant mentioned in the report is available by clicking HERE

For those of you who find dust explosions exciting a video of a dust explosion in a silo is available HERE

For those employers or inspectors who did not do high school science, a schoolroom example of the combustible hazards of dust can be found HERE

 
Blog Directory - Blogged

Return to work stories

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Workcover South Australia has released some online videos that include stories of people who have been injured at work and how important it has been to regain a quality of life.

The stories illustrate the importance of a supportive workplace and encouraging relatives.  These videos are part of a broader package of information but some may find the stories useful to show others as a motivator for safety improvements

The stories are available for viewing HERE

Workers Compensation changes in Australia

In The Australian on 10 June 2008, Paul Kerin , Professorial Fellow of the Melbourne Business School writes on the rescuing Australia’s various workers’ compensation schemes by removing any state involvement in the insurance schemes.  He makes a strong case but writes a few peculiar comments that need consioderation. He says “US workplace deaths would be one-third…

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Economic fallout of Apache Energy pipeline explosion

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According to an AAP report published in The Australian on 6 June 2008, Paul Adams, head of research at DJ Carmichael, spoke about the impact of the Apache Energy explosion.

“If damage to the Apache plant turned out to be significant, the incident had the potential to “hit WA’s mining industry hard”, Mr Adams said.

Apache could face a massive compensation bill if the incident was found to be the result of negligent maintenance practices, Mr Adams said.”

Further details emerged about the damage from the explosion.  Apparently at least three of Apache Energy’s online pipelines were on fire.  Apache could not say how long the shut down of the plant would continue for as the site needs to be further investigated.

Incident scene 5 June 2008

 

 

Two avoidable electrical fatalities

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In February 2000, McDonald’s Australia Limited was fined $120,000 in the Industrial Relations Commission in Sydney and the lessor of the Wollongong restaurant, McDonald’s Properties (Australia) Pty. Ltd, was fined $150,000. Lyndhurst Trading Co Pty. Ltd, leased the restaurant and owned and operated the clamshell grills which electrocuted 19-year old, and was fined $40,000. 

According to a report by Jennie Mansfield, senior associate with Blake Dawson Waldron in October 2000

Michael Johnston was a 19 year old employee of Lyndhurst Pty Limited (the employer), a franchisee operating a McDonald’s restaurant in Wollongong on the South Coast of New South Wales. Johnston … was fatally electrocuted while cleaning behind a clamshell grill – standard equipment in McDonald’s restaurants.

Since installation, the grill had been pulled away from the wall every night for cleaning, and over time the cable attaching it to the power outlet contractors and fast food had become abraded. There was no accessible isolation switch in place and Johnston was electrocuted when he touched the exposed inner core of the cable while the power was still connected.

I was reminded of Michael Johnston’s death when I was told of a successful prosecution in New South Wales on 2 June 2008.

A Salamander Bay resort hotel has been fined $150,000 and its three directors $12,000 each following the electrocution of a 13-year-old boy at the hotel’s pool in December 2002.

The local boy and a friend were playing in the Salamander Shores Hotel pool without the permission of the staff when a tennis ball was thrown outside the pool fence.

The 13-year-old received an electric shock when climbing back over the pool fence to retrieve the ball, and died later of his injuries.

A WorkCover investigation concluded that the boy had stood on a corroded section of pipe carrying electrical wiring, which collapsed and cut through the insulation. 

Both situations involve a lack of adequate maintenance and equipment checking. Two deaths because of the invisible, but foreseeable, hazard of electricity and inadequate management.

Michael Johnstone had been a McDonald’s employee for 2 weeks. The 13-year-old was simply playing with a mate.