Stress and job mobility

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In The Age newspaper for 31 July 2008, James Adonis wrote the article “Eight signs your workplace is crook”.  One of those signs was stressed workers.  He quoted a report by Watson Wyatt where employees listed stress  as a major reason for leaving a job.  Stress did not rank in the employers’ top five reasons for people leaving.

This disconnect illustrates a major misunderstanding about workplace stress by employers and, maybe, employees.  The ultimate control measure for workplace stress is to leave a job and I recommend this to colleagues who do not see it as a viable hazard control option.

The challenge is to make sure that the next job is not, or does not become, a similarly stressful job.

The executive summary of the report says

“Forty-eight percent of organizations say that job-related stress — created by long hours and doing more with less — affects business performance. Although only 5 percent are taking strong action to address it…”

The focus on business performance may reflect the perspective of the report writers but as it is only available for purchase for $US49, I would ask for the report (2007/2008 Staying@Work Report: Building an Effective Health & Productivity Framework) at a library.

Closing of Don Smallgoods factory in Victoria

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Manual Handling in the Food Industry - First Edition

 

Manual Handling in the Food Industry - First Edition

 

Several years ago, I visited the Don Smallgoods food manufacturers in the west of Melbourne. I was visiting food manufacturers during the writing and design of the first edition of the WorkSafe Victoria guide on Manual Handling in the Food Industry. (The current edition is available HERE) Many photos in that first edition came from the Don factory.

Now its owners have decided to close the plant which has a workforce of 600 people.  Many of the workers I spoke with had worked there for decades.  Many of them had multiple relatives working alongside them and most of the workforce came from non-English speaking backgrounds.

The closure will have a heavy economic effect on those families and the economy of the western suburbs.  My sympathy and best wishes go to those workers.

Bank influence on Beaconsfield Mine

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It is all too easy to misread the headline on page 7 of today’s Australian newspaper:

MacBank ‘had input’ into goldmine

This seems to confirm the recent statements by miners to the coronial inquest into Larry Knight’s death at Beaconsfield Mine, and accusations by unions.  The headline is based on the statements made by Michael Ryan who was the administrator to Allstate Explorations.  Ryan said that the Macquarie Bank had representatives on the joint venture committee and those bank representatives asked questions about the mine.  However Ryan could not recall if questions were raised by them about production levels.  

Ryan said that Matthew Gill, the mine manager, had made several unsuccessful attempts to have government safety inspectors visit the mine.  The article does not specify the reason for Gill’s attempts.

Michael Ryan said that he would approve any expenditure on safety at the mine.

The article says that in the month prior to the April 2006 rockfall, Ryan asked about safety in the mine.

“He said he asked Mr Gill on a number of occasions if the mine was safe, including in March 2006, after observing an unusual number of rocks caught in support mesh. “(Gill’s) answers were to the effect that it was (safe).”

Matthew Gill has spoken publicly several times about his experiences following the rockfall and is now on the professional speakers’ circuit.  He was appointed the Managing Director of Monarch Gold Mining Company.

Crandall Canyon Mine Investigation Report

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On 24 July 2008 the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced that it has fined the operator of the Crandall Canyon Mine in Emery County, Utah, $1,340,000 for violations that directly contributed to the deaths of six miners in 2007.

According to MSHA’s media release, Agapito Associates Inc., a mining engineering consultant, was fined $220,000 for faulty analysis of the mine’s design. MSHA cited the mine operator for 11 additional, non-contributory violations issued as the result of the investigation. The proposed penalty for these violations is $296,664, bringing the total proposed penalties against the mine operator to $1,636,664. Crandall Canyon Mine is operated by Genwal Resources Inc., whose parent company is Murray Energy Corp.

Safety At Work magazine covered the incident extensively as it provided a stained mirror to the lucky rescue of the miners from Tasmania’s Beaconsfield mine. I reported elsewhere on the fresh seismology findings.

Safety at Work magazine - August 2007
Safety at Work magazine - August 2007

The MSHA report states that

“Three separate methods of analysis employed as part of MSHA’s investigation confirmed that the mining plan was destined to fail.” (my emphasis)

To a non-US observer the fine seems remarkably light given that the mining plan was critically deficient, 6 people died in the first incident and 3 died ten days later.

Not everyone is happy with how the investigation has been conducted.

MSHA accident investigators have cited Genwal Resources Inc. and Agapito Associates Inc. for the following violations:

  • The mine operator did not immediately contact MSHA after coal outbursts threw coal into the mine openings and disrupted regular mining activities for more than one hour on three separate occasions prior to the August 6 outburst.
  • The mine operator failed to propose revisions to the roof control plan when conditions (coal outbursts) clearly indicated that the plan was inadequate and miners were being exposed to dangerous conditions.
  • The operator violated the approved roof control plan by removing coal that was required to support the roof.
  • The operator’s outside engineering firm failed to recommend safe mining methods and pillar/barrier dimensions, and the operator failed to maintain pillar dimensions that would effectively control coal outbursts.

The complete accident investigation report (16 megabyte) is available at as is MSHA’s response and additional content.

The earlier investigation report by the Utah Mine Safety Commission is available HERE

Imperial Sugar explosion update

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Last month America’s 60 Minutes broadcast an article on the explosion at the Imperial Sugar plant (pictured below) in Port Wentworth which killed 13 workers and hospitalised 40.  On 25 July 2008, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued citations proposing penalties totalling $8,777,500 against the Imperial Sugar Co. and its two affiliates alleging violations at their plants in Port Wentworth and Gramercy. 

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released some details about its appearance at the US Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, on 29 July 2008. (Transcripts and video are available HERE)

CSB Chairman John Bresland said the tragedy demonstrates the need for a new OSHA standard that would cover a range of industries exposed to this hazard, such as food, chemicals, plastics, automotive parts, pharmaceuticals, electrical power (where generated by coal) and others.
According to the CSB, Chairman Bresland told the subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington,

‘After witnessing the terrible human and physical toll from the Imperial explosion, I believe the urgency of a new combustible dust standard is greater than ever. A new standard, combined with enforcement and education, will save workers’ lives.’
‘We obtained documents indicating that certain parts of Imperial’s milling process were releasing tens of thousands of pounds of sugar per month into the work area. Based on our evidence, Imperial did not have a written dust control program or a program for using safe dust removal methods. And the company lacked a formal training program to educate its workers about combustible dust hazards.’

Bresland emphasised the need for a uniform Federal standard:

‘Instead of the present patchwork of miscellaneous federal, state, and local requirements, the Chemical Safety Board has recommended that OSHA develop a single, comprehensive, uniform standard – based on the sound, consensus-based technical principles and practices that are embodied in NFPA standards,’ Chairman Bresland said.  ‘Ambiguities in the NFPA standards need to be resolved in clear, enforceable regulations developed by a thorough, public rulemaking process.’