Australian Level Crossings

The State Government has instigated a Parliamentary Inquiry into level crossing incidents. Submissions have been received and the final report is expected at the end of 2008. For the next couple of SafetyAtWork blogs I am going to look at some of the submissions from an OHS perspective and in terms of grade separations, the most effective control measure for level crossings.

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The State Government has instigated a Parliamentary Inquiry into level crossing incidents. Submissions have been received and the final report is expected at the end of 2008. For the next couple of SafetyAtWork blogs I am going to look at some of the submissions from an OHS perspective and in terms of grade separations, the most effective control measure for level crossings.

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OHS and Climate Change

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Many of my OHS colleagues have responsibility for environmental safety, some to the extent of being rebadged HSE or OHSE. I have been an ardent advocate of managing business safety and risk issues in a coordinated and integrated manner. Historically, I would have applied the risk management standard as the umbrella framework, others do not.

Many of my OHS colleagues have responsibility for environmental safety, some to the extent of being rebadged HSE or OHSE. I have been an ardent advocate of managing business safety and risk issues in a coordinated and integrated manner. Historically, I would have applied the risk management standard as the umbrella framework, others do not.

The balancing act for health, safety & environment managers is to consider a vast array of matters without losing the focus of the core task, in my case workplace safety, for others this may be public liability, or triple-bottom-lines etc. Depending on the industry you work in, environment can have a greater or smaller role in your business.

I remember working on safety management for a transport company where I reported to the quality manager. I can report to lots of different titles but in this case the quality manager allocated an uneven priority to safety compared to other business elements. He saw quality as by-far the most important element, perhaps it was because he was uncomfortable in other areas outside of his expertise, I don’t really know. But his attitude did not allow for integration only sublimation. I remember his attitude when I have to consider elements beyond my expertise and have them fit into the business strategy in which I have responsibility for safety or maybe risk.

Time management and the prioritizing of tasks is never far away from occupational safety and business operations. It is important that environmental impacts of your business, and those on your business, are discussed in a serious manner at all levels of your company. If it is not on the agenda, it is not in people’s minds. Indeed some have said that the environment is the new OHS. I am not so sure as environmental issues have a global impact where OHS is limited to a smaller community.
In the context of community, an important consideration is whether the implementation of environmental strategies will re-organise business structures to the extent that there are staff losses. In a relatively small nation like Australia, if the environmental management trend continues to grow at the same time, the social impact from unemployment could be significant. However similar concerns have been voiced in recent memory over the level of automation in workplaces and the impact of automatic teller machines on the banking sector. In a fairly short amount of time, the workforce is redistributed to areas of need but for the unemployed and their families this short period can be very painful.

I was taught that risk management can be a major force for good by tying important business elements under the one, fairly broad, set of criteria. When I entered the real world of risk management I encountered as much narrow-mindedness in the risk management profession as I had seen elsewhere. I hope that as the environmental business issues gain prominence that the other disciplines listen, consider and, maybe, embrace the environmental so that all the important elements in our lives and our businesses are weighed, balanced and integrated. Work/life balance is far more than just hours of work and time with the kids.

Is OHS a Joke?

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Recently, occupational health and safety (OHS) has been given a “bad press” in the electronic media in Australia with many examples of how an activity or behaviour has been stopped or excluded on the “unreasonable” grounds of OHS.

Recently, occupational health and safety (OHS) has been given a “bad press” in the electronic media in Australia with many examples of how an activity or behaviour has been stopped or excluded on the “unreasonable” grounds of OHS.

Recently in my local supermarket I asked a worker in the vegetable section whether the store had loose-leafed baby spinach. He responded that they only have packaged spinach. On asking why I was told that it was because of OHS requirements. I contacted an OHS representative within the supermarket’s head office who told me this was not the case. He told me that the packaged option was more likely to be on the grounds of food safety and hygiene.

This example highlights a major challenge to OHS managers and organisations. WorkSafe and unions have been very successful over the last decade in raising the community awareness to issues of workplace safety, to the extent that OHS has a higher profile than the issues that the supermarket and others are applying.

Food safety and hygiene has been revolutionised with the introduction of HACCP, the legislative requirements for food preparation. Public liability has increased for school excursions, council garden maintenance, small business, retail outlets and everywhere else it seems. These two issues are being misunderstood as workplace safety matters because OHS has a higher general prominence. HACCP requirements are only relevant to the food industry and impinge on the public, usually, only when we ask for a doggy bag. Public liability is a cost to business and councils but doesn’t affect the public unless someone suggests that you take action after tripping on a cracked footpath.

In Victoria in 2007 there were four workplace fatalities in ten days. According to WorkSafe:

  • On April 19, a truck driver died when his tip truck hits power lines on a farm near Nhill while making a delivery.
  • On April 20, a man died after being crushed between the hydraulically operated door of a machine and a rail earlier on 13 April.
  • On April 22, a man died after suffering an electric shock while changing light bulbs at Coburg North car yard on 18 April.
  • On April 23, a man died on a property near Wodonga when a tree he was cutting down with a chain saw fell and hit him.

The whole aim of OHS management and legislative obligations is to avoid death and injury. As we move to the international day of mourning for those who die at work, in late April, we need to remember that safety should always be seen in the context of its relation to people. People should not be sacrificed for profit or corporate peace of mind.

Kevin Jones

Drug use in transport workplaces

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There is a continuing and contentious parallel between road safety and occupational safety. OHS specialists are worsening this problem by trying to illustrate OHS issues in relation to road safety because road safety is seen to be more easily understandable by the public.

But this approach confuses the public more than enlightens, and it also puts workplace safety in a difficult context

There is a continuing and contentious parallel between road safety and occupational safety. OHS specialists are worsening this problem by trying to illustrate OHS issues in relation to road safety because road safety is seen to be more easily understandable by the public.

But this approach confuses the public more than enlightens, and it also puts workplace safety in a difficult context. This is illustrated, particularly, in an article in Melbourne’s HERALD-Sun newspaper ( 25 February 2008), entitled “Road Killers – Truckies in drug binge“.

I am of the opinion that vehicles used for work purposes make the vehicles, for most of their time, workplaces, and should be subject to occupational health and safety laws and obligations. OHS regulators support this perspective for vehicles such as taxis and cattle trucks, as they participate in taxi industry safety programs and provide guidance on accessing the outside of cattle truck in a safe manner. But they hesitate when relating driver behaviour to a safe workplace.

Car drivers operate within a different set of rules. They drive without OHS obligations. But truck, and commercial vehicle, operators must operate within road and workplace rules providing drivers and employers with a detailed set of rules that cover all the hours and activities within their work shifts.

There are legislative OHS obligations on all employees to undertake work tasks in a manner that does not threaten or injure themselves and others. (This obligation reflects the common sense attitude that most individuals have over their own welfare.) There is also a legislative OHS obligation on employers to provide a safe and healthy work environment. If the transport industry, and OHS regulators, were serious about applying these obligations to all workplaces, they would be applying them more heavily to the drivers and trucking companies.

Inaction is unforgivable when there are rules governing the actions of individuals and employers. The rules are good rules but are not being enforced.

OHS, Shareholders & Work/Life Balance

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I have always believed that safety practitioners in one country can learn much about safety management from the activities and events in other countries. Often it is possible to anticipate hazards by being able to look over our factory fences or national borders.

The increased risk of terrorist attack and the concerns over bird flu or H5N1 have changed our perception of workplace safety risks. During my studies we took an airplane crash as the extreme example of a high risk low probability event. That criteria has undergone some re-evaluation.

I have always believed that safety practitioners in one country can learn much about safety management from the activities and events in other countries. Often it is possible to anticipate hazards by being able to look over our factory fences or national borders.

The increased risk of terrorist attack and the concerns over bird flu or H5N1 have changed our perception of workplace safety risks. During my studies we took an airplane crash as the extreme example of a high risk low probability event. That criteria has undergone some re-evaluation.

The line between public health, public safety and OHS has always been fuzzy but that fuzziness is receiving more and more attention. Some are trying to clarify the line, others are trying to erase it altogether. I don’t think that Western societies are structured to have a complete overlap of these disciplines although New Zealand has a more social workers’ compensation system than others, Scandinavia almost has no distinction, and some non-Western countries rely on the various levels of social security to pick up workplace injuries.

Safety practitioners should, perhaps, ignore whatever distinctions the categories, regulations and government demarcations may provide by looking at the hazard. This is the way that OHS has traditionally been practiced but can this approach cope with the new workplace hazards that are generated from social, non-work activities?

Some of my clients continue to have workers claim that a weekend injury has occurred at work so that workers compensation will cover the rehabilitation and repairs. One client is experiencing a noticeable increase in hip replacements and knee reconstructions in the workers who are close to retirement age. Of course that the workers are keen football players or undertake very physical labour outside of work is not permitted to be taken into account. If the principle work is physically demanding then how can the injury be proved to be not caused by work?

This type of work expense for non-work incidents is a constant sore spot for employers but I wonder if government silently acknowledges these practices and structures its workers compensation systems accordingly. Should we see workers compensation as having its principle role in social security rather than in the business world, even though companies fund the scheme? Should business leaders see workers compensation premiums as their social contributions, rather than an annoying cost of operation?

Certainly shareholders would require some balance in these contributions as the companies exist to generate profit and dividends for shareholders, but would the drive to screw down workers compensation premiums be less strident if workers compensation was also seen as a community premium?

Companies are expected to change their working environment, management practices and workplace design to accommodate the work/life balance, a concept that acknowledges the workplace impact of non-work stressors. Perhaps businesses should specifically identify to shareholders the reductions in dividends and profits that the accommodation of work/life balance cause. Shareholders can then decide where to best invest for profit.

The difficulty is that by facing the fact that work/life balance costs (before it ever returns benefits) we are faced with the ruthless greed that most shareholders operate from. Yes, companies exist to make profits but we can’t blame the companies for that as it is the shareholders who provide the companies’ motivations.

Perhaps OHS professionals and practitioners should be trying to explain to shareholders how adequate investment in OHS can have a company and social benefit, as well as controlling workplace hazards. Safety from a moral basis, now there’s a challenge!