Mandatory reporting of stress-related injuries

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An OHS colleague of mine, Col Finnie, has posted a comment to a recent SafetyAtWorkBlog article on depression.  As I work out the technicalities of having Col as a regular contributor to this blog, I felt that his comment warranted a little more prominence.  The original comment can be viewed HERE)

I find the whole issue of what is being done about work stress intriguing. Last time I looked stress claims outstripped manual handling injuries in the UK (if I recall right, that was about a year ago). You’d imagine that trend will also happen here in time.

I wonder if it might be worth considering getting doctors to report to their local OH&S agency when they have evidence that a particular business appears to be the source of an unusual number of stress related patients?

If it’s legitimate for the police or emergency wards to be a source of reports of info on apparent work related physical injuries, why shouldn’t that be legitimate for other types of injuries?

There is no reason for this idea to be considered a “witch-hunt”. I’d consider it an opportunity for a regulator to pitch in on getting a business on-track with how it’s dealing (or not dealing) with managing stress stuff. Clearly, the reporting approach would have to be handled carefully. It’s quite likely it wouldn’t work as a mandatory requirement. But guidance and an info program could be worked up to make sure the complex issue of stress is dealt with sensibly.”

When a safety campaign is not a safety campaign

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Last Friday the Australian Jockeys Association issued a media release in support of their safety campaign for increased compensation.  The campaign was surprising on a number of points.

The safety campaign is aimed to “help jockeys manage the risks inherent in their work”.  Over the last few years there has been a marked increase in safety work in this area.  In December 2005 media reported the following

“Safety helmet to be demonstrated in Melbourne
The prototype of a full face jockeys’ helmet designed to minimise head and facial injuries will be demonstrated at the Moonee Valley meeting in Melbourne on Friday.
Sydney riders got a look at helmet at Rosehill last Saturday and several adjustments have since been made. The helmet, which has been developed by Mark Bryant of Safety Helmet Systems, gives 40 per cent more protection and has a rear locking device enabling it to be removed easily in the case of suspected neck injury.”

This developed from the work undertaken by John Saxon and the National Jockey Safety Review Steering Committee established in early 2005.

WorkSafe Victoria supported a research project in March 2006 (which included the Victorian Jockeys Association) that made recommendations on the following OHS areas


In June 2007 WorkSafe Victoria published a guide on HORSE STABLES AND TRACK RIDING SAFETY, which includes a section specifically related to horse riding and track safety.

The media release makes no mention of workers’ compensation yet compensation seems to be what they were requesting.

AJA CEP Paul Innes says, in the release,

“Under our plan, one per cent of race money would be directed to the AJA. This money would be used to: cover jockeys’ compulsory Public Liability premiums; fund a national Personal Accident Scheme for jockeys; support jockeys and their families in financial hardship due to death, illness and injury through the National Jockeys’ Trust; and fund other welfare programs”

The AJA website acknowledges that jockeys do receive workers compensation.  It says

“As Workers Compensation entitlements for jockeys depend on specific state and territory legislation, a jockeys entitlements to benefits in respect to a workplace injury, differs quite considerably throughout Australia.
The AJA has been recently in the process of making representations to the Principal Racing Authorities in those states that have inadequate compensation entitlements.”

So what the recent campaign is about is not necessarily reducing the risk to jockeys but an expression of dissatisfaction with current workers compensation arrangements.  If this is the case, why is this not explained in the media release and why not redirect the protest resources to the national reviews of OHS and workers compensation to which the current Federal government is committed?

In the AJA campaign booklet, Paul Innes emphasises on page 2 that

“… the overwhelming majority of jockeys aren’t highly paid. Quite the opposite, with a survey of our members showing that 50 percent gross no more than $50,000 per annum. That’s before paying for their equipment, transport costs, public liability and other insurance, as well as GST and income tax.
Disturbingly, surveys of our membership reveal many jockeys experience periods of financial hardship.”

The booklet further stresses that “jockeys are leaving the industry in large and unsustainable numbers. In the past nine years, jockey numbers have declined 43 percent” with the implication that it is financial pressures and not risks to health that are the more important concerns.

The campaign is entitled “Racing for Our Lives – A Plan to Protect Australian Jockeys”.  It is described by the AJA as a “safety campaign” – IT IS NOT.  This campaign is about income.  To label it as anything to do with safety is misleading and the Australian Jockey’s Association should be roundly criticised for misrepresenting this campaign.

Note: I tried to contact Paul Innes today for clarification.  He was unavailable but his staff said that he will contact me in a few days.  I will publish his response.

“Negligence” and salvation

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SafeWork SA recently released details about the successful prosecution of MCK Pacific P/L (trading as Plexicor) over two injuries in a carpet manufacturing plant in South Australia that occurred in January 2006 and July 2007.

The company was fined a total of over $40,000.  The new management has been congratulated on its new OHS management program (to such an extent that it won a Safe Work Award in 2006) and for achieving a positive safety culture.

It’s a shame that the prosecution didn’t focus on the lack of a safety culture that had lead up to two injuries on the same machine at the same MCK Pacific plant both involving the trapping of a worker’s foot in exactly the same nip point.

Risk Assessment

According to the report from the SA Industrial Relations Tribunal a risk assessment had been undertaken after the first incident but the control measures were not undertaken:

“The recommendations involved re-wiring the machine and ensuring safe work practices were put in place. …… The defendant failed to act on the identified risk. Further there was no hazard identification or risk assessment done with respect to the particular issue of cleaning and maintaining the foaming press being the function Wilson was performing at the time he was injured.”

There are several issues raised in this prosecution that need discussing.  The first is that the company was able to save over $10,000 by “early guilty pleas, cooperation and contrition” assumably by the new management.  In other words, once you are caught, get an easy 25% deduction on the penalty by realising you’ve been caught and saying sorry.

What has happened to the previous management who allowed for a second injury from an unguarded machine 18 month’s after a serious incident?  Are those directors and executives excluded from managing a company unless they have had safety training?  Have they acknowledged that they were negligent?

Regardless of the argy-bargy over an executive’s personal accountability and what is a company’s “controlling mind”, this case seems to be a good example of business owners not being held accountable for their (in)action.  Once may be a mistake but twice is negligent.

It is also clear from the Tribunal findings that basic safety procedures were not followed and that workers were unaware of interlock devices.

“There was an isolation key but this was not common knowledge to all employees. Wilson and the other employees working on the machine at the time of the incident indicated that they were not aware of any lockout procedure. There was no documented lock out procedure with respect to the cleaning and maintenance of the machine.”

Following the second incident the company made substantial improvement:

Following the [second] incident … a lockout and isolation procedure was developed together with training for employees in relation to that procedure. Safe work practices were developed for all of the processes involved with respect to the foaming press. A space entry permit was required to be completed and signed prior to the entry of personnel into the press. Audible alarms were fitted. Hoses on the tool die were relocated to the front of the die which eliminated anyone standing behind the die and potentially out of sight of employees at the control panel.

Supplier Obligations

There is also a movement in OHS for contractors to meet the OHS standards of the commissioning company.  Plexicor lists the following companies as its clients – Chep Australia, Ford Australia, Holden, JC Decaux, Mitsubishi, Pacific Center Cyber Works, and Telstra.

In 2004, before the injuries mentioned above, Holden made this statement in its 2004 Community and Workplace Report:

“Supplier Management
GM’s Worldwide Purchasing Policy includes a number of practices that guide its suppliers in purchasing activities throughout the world. Suppliers and any goods or services supplied must comply with all applicable regulations or standards of the country of destination, including those relating to environmental matters, wages, hours, conditions of employment, subcontractor selection, discrimination, occupational health and safety and motor vehicle safety.” (my emphasis)

Holden doesn’t seem to have pushed this obligation with Plexicor.

Holden sets out its current expectations for its suppliers on its website.  One of the criteria, which seems a little contrary to well-resourced OHS management systems, is “Lean Manufacturing” – “the production of durable goods with a minimum consumption of capital investment, floor space, labour, materials, time and distance”.  Holden states that

“For Holden to be successful a a low cost producer of quality vehicles, Holden suppliers also must be committed to the lean ethic.”

Similar obligations are imposed by Ford Motor Company through its joint venture with Futuris Automotive (the new owners of Plexicor and the defendant in the SA IR Tribunal case).

The Magistrate was certainly optimistic about the safety future of Plexicor under the tutelage of Futuris.  If only Futuris had bought Plexicor earlier.

Workplace depression approaches are too narrow

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Further to other SafetyAtWorkBlog posts concerning Ms Paula Wriedt’s sacking, Ms Wriedt has issued a statement expressing her disappointment at Premier David Bartlett’s decision.

One comment from a newspaper columnist struck me as odd but worthy of note.  The columnist said that Paula Wriedt’s public statements have followed the line pushed by beyondblue, a depression support and lobby group.  I have had no dealings with beyondblue but note that newspaper articles often end with “For further information on depression contact…..” similarly television news reports.

beyondblue has been a spectacular success in self-promotion and, hopefully, increasing awareness of depression.  In the context of the Premier’s decision on Paula Wriedt, David Bartlett contacted the chair of beyondblue (and former Victorian Premier) Jeff Kennett, prior to his decision.  The Weekend Australian newspaper reported

“I have not taken this decision lightly; in fact, decisions don’t come any tougher than this,” Mr Bartlett said. He received support from former Victorian Liberal premier Jeff Kennett, the chairman of depression support group Beyondblue.

After speaking to Mr Bartlett, Mr Kennett told The Weekend Australian he believed the decision was a very tough call for the Premier, but added: “When you balance up all his responsibilities, the correct one. It might just be what Paula needs to start rebuilding her health.  That is, she doesn’t have other ministerial responsibilities now and she can now focus more directly on her recovery.”

beyondblue does admirable work and has acheived much but it is dominating the discussions on psychosocial issues in the workplace.  It is difficult for other groups to raise matters that are just as relevant to the workplace, if not more so, such as occupational violence, stress, dignity at work, and so on.

We are not yet clear on all the circumstances of Paula Wriedt’s suicide attempt, and we may never know.  We do not know if work stresses or private stresses caused her self-harm but that is not necessarily the point.  Occupational health and safety long ago left the confines of the workplace and controlling workplace hazards, particularly psychosocial issues, needs a bigger canvas.  There must be an approach that assists the individual in work and non-work contexts. 

Some countries and States are trying this through work/life balance initiatives but the approaches are usually skewed to focus on interventions on the individual rather than looking at the social structures.  In OHS we look at the “system of work” to determine the most effective interventions.  To affect true and lasting change, we must apply the “system of living”.  We must be careful not to over-emphasise the individual and be distracted from the cultural initiatives.

Politician who attempted suicide is “sacked”

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In early August 2008, Paula Wriedt, Tasmanian MP, tried to commit suicide.  Six weeks later the Tasmanian Premier has sacked her from Cabinet, according to an ABC report.

Premier David Bartlett denies this is a sacking, more a “withdrawal of commission”.  He says it is for the good of the government and for the good of Ms Wriedt.

Ms Wriedt was asked to resign her Cabinet position but the Premier says she was “not in a position to make such a decision”.

An audio interview with the Premier put to him that his decision was “despicable” and “reflects the way the state deals with people with mental health problems”.

Ms Wriedt’s suicide attempt had already raised discussion on the workplace issues of stress, compensation, workloads and mental health.  The listener’s question in the audio interview will reflect the majority of the community’s response to the Premier’s decision and Premier Bartlett will have a difficult time explaining how his decision was for Ms Wriedt’s benefit.

Ms Wriedt’s current situation and future career decisions will provide an interesting illustration on how the public service and Tasmanian politics manages an employee with mental health issues, particularly when, on OHS matters, the public service should be exemplars.