More thoughts on Standards

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Australian Standards have two, almost, distinct categories of standards – technical and management.   A safety colleague reminded me of the distinction recently, a distinction that greatly helps the debate of Australian Standards’ authority.

Perhaps there continues to be a role for some Standards, such as construction-related standards, that deal specifically with the environmental climate and peculiarities of Australia.  Bushfire-rated housing is an example that comes readily to mind.

My colleague also pointed out that as Australia has stopped manufacturing many articles of plant, the importation of plant from Asia and Europe has increased.   In the government’s chase for the reduction in red tape, the need to re-engineer, in some cases, plant to local regulatory standards that “mirror” European standards seems to be an easy target for reform.

The previous article on standards should, perhaps, have ended questioning the management standards as these standards are those most readily supplanted by internationals – the ISOs and the BS.   The challenge for Standards Australia is that thes Australian versions of the management standards are their biggest sellers.

Kevin Jones

Uncovered holes

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Recently SafetyAtWorkBlog reported on a new WorkSafe Victoria guidance on guarding cellar doors.  Comcare has started legal action against a company a similar hazard but one located in public.

Comcare has instigated proceedings against Australia’s leading telecommunications company, Telstra, for an unguarded pit in a public area.  According to the media release dated 19 August 2009,

“The proceedings arise from an incident on 31 January 2008 when two Telstra sub-contractors opened an access pit while conducting work.  The pit is located on a pathway between a train station in Brisbane and the office of an organisation that provides services to persons with impaired vision.  While the access pit was allegedly left open and unguarded, a member of the public, with a vision impairment, fell into the pit and sustained a serious personal injury.

The maximum pecuniary penalty for a breach of s17 of the Act by a body corporate is $242,000.”

This is not a new hazard and open telecommunications pits have been guarded for decades, often with canvas to provide weather protection for workers.   We’ll report on the judgement when it is handed down.

Kevin Jones

The future for Standards Australia will be hard

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SafetyAtWorkBlog has written elsewhere of how the global financial crisis has caused OHS related programs to be revised.  The latest bulletin from Standards Australia indicates the impact of the financial pressures on its plans and the reduction in the value of their investments has come at a time of other worrisome changes.

(In this article there is a focus on the safety-related Australian Standards.)

Bulletin_1_Standards_Australia_170809_Page_1According to the 17 August 2009 bulletin, Standards Australia has lost $A70 million from its investment portfolio since November 2007.  This has caused it to introduce a “New Business Model”  which reduces Standards Australia’s operating costs and also increases the costs to many of the voluntary participants on committees that develop Australian Standards through the new consultative strategies.

Hopefully during the period of reflection caused by the financial threats, Standards Australia should have considered whether it is worth continuing, at all.

Following are some ruminations about safety-related Standards and their applicability.  These may be relevant to quality, risk and environmental Standards, also.

  • Australia is a very small market for Standards compared to Europe and the United States, in particular.
  • The management professions are becoming more globalised.
  • Manufacturing is becoming more globalised.
  • Europe can draw upon a broader range of expertise in the development of management standards, than can Australia.
  • Several International Standards could be applied in Australia allowing for an international “compliance”.  Some Standards are already in place and promoted by companies as somehow more legitimate that the Australian Standards.
  • Safe Work Australia has informed SafetyAtWorkBlog that:

“The application and use of Australian Standards in model OHS regulations has not yet been decided and will be considered by the Safe Work Australia Council’s Strategic Issues Group”

  • SafetyAtWorkBlog has heard from a South Australian colleague that SafeWorkSA is considering replacing OHS Standards referenced in legislation with codes of practice. (SafetyAtWorkBlog has sought confirmation of this from SafeWorkSA)
  • Australian Standards can be expensive for small businesses, who may have the greatest need for OHS management standards, whereas government publications, such as Codes of Practice are generally free.

Australian Standards are important for many industries, particularly, those that are required to be audited and/or accredited.  Needless to say there is a considerable secondary industry of auditors for these sectors.

All Australian Standards are only guidelines but many have been granted legislative clout by being referenced in law.  As mentioned above a considerable industry has developed in support, providing some legitimacy to the guidelines through weight of numbers.

Safe Work Australia recognised the important role of Australian Standards, but with several qualifications:

“The COAG [Council of Australian Governments] Guidelines recognise that the use of prescriptive requirements, such as those in Australian Standards, while not preferable, may be unavoidable in order to ensure safety.”

Standards Australia must have realised by now that the days of automatic legitimacy through referencing in legislation may be numbered for many of their Standards .  Their previous operating model has had to be thoroughly revised, government and business are fierce on reducing red tape, international standards have been developed that can be applied in Australia, and contributing organisations are reviewing their own costs of participation.

In fact so keen is the government on the reduction of red tape that it established an Office of Best Practice Regulation in the Department of Finance.  On Finance’s website is a clear statement of aim:

“The Government has committed to reducing the regulatory burden on Australian businesses, non-profit organisations and consumers.  This is consistent with larger commitments to address impediments to Australia’s long-term productivity growth.”

Employer groups have identified industrial relations and OHS requirements as “impediments”.

There is no doubt that in many circumstances technical standards are essential reference documents for improving safety, in particular, and for showing that workplace safety is being managed in a systematic and verifiable manner.  The big question is whether those technical standards should be those produced by Standards Australia.

Kevin Jones

From worker safety to patient safety

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Many of us grew up under the “shadow of the mushroom cloud” and have strong suspicions towards radiation of any kind but the OHS achievements of those working with radiation should be acknowledged.

In the latest edition of the IAEA Bulletin (May 2009) this achievement is clearly summarised as it relates to those in medical radiation.

IAEA Mag 001The early emphasis on staff protection did pay rich dividends in terms of making staff safer.  Currently, most (nearly 98%) of those who work with ionizing radiation in any area of medical practice receive a radiation dose that is lower than what they get from natural radiation sources — the so-called background radiation, e.g., cosmic radiation, radon, radiation from building material, earth, food, etc.  Background radiation depends on the place you live, but typically is 1 mSv to 3 mSv per year, although in some places can be up to 10 mSv.  The dose limit for staff currently recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), and adopted by the IAEA and most countries with few exceptions, is 20 mSv/year, expressed as 100mSv over a period of five years.  Such has been the success of occupational radiation protection programmes that not even 0.5% of staff members who work in medical facilities (or in any nuclear facility) reach or exceed the dose limit.”

The siginifcance of the article from which this paragraph is taken comes from the next sentence:

“Since there are no dose limits for patients, many may incorrectly assume that there are no controls on patient exposure.”

The article by Madan M Rehani, and thankfully available online, discusses the possibility of introducing an ongoing monitoring system that records the cumulative exposure to radiation by patients.  The smart card project launched by the International Atomic Energy Agency will be one to watch as there could be applications of such a system to other occupations and work-related hazards.

The importance of such a program is high as Rehani writes:

“The risk of cancer from radiation doses imparted through a number of CT scans is not insignificant.  Most other radiation effects (such as skin injury, just to name one) can be avoided rather effectively, but this is not true for the risk of cancer.  There are estimates of few million excess cancers in the USA over the next two to three decades from about 60 million CT scans done annually.”

Kevin Jones

Beware Greeks bearing lasers

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For some years now, laser pointers have been misused in a range of activities, from the football field and to cinemas but, most significantly and in an OHS context, towards the pilots of aircraft. (A good summary of the significance of the hazard can be found at Wikipedia)

One example of government response to the hazard can be seen from a media release of the Queensland government in 2008.

The latest incidence of laser pointers and pilots comes from Greece only last week.  According to a report in Kathimerini:

“Two boys aged 13 and 14 were arrested on Saturday [15 August 2009] on Rhodes for forcing a pilot to abandon a landing at the Dodecanese island’s Diagoras Airport because they aimed a laser pointer at the airplane’s cockpit. The pilot of the flight from Alexandroupoli was forced to land on his second attempt.”

More details of the event are, of course, included in the news report.  The most curious piece of information is that police have also arrested the boys’ parents.

Kevin Jones