Dangerous Forklift Behaviour

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At the risk of increasing a young person’s infamy, SafetyAtWorkBlog draws your attention to a (former) YouTube video of a young forklift driver misusing a forklift.

According to a WorkSafe media release:

Dangerous forklift driving has cost a young worker his job, his forklift licence and earned him 50 hours of community work and an order to do a 5-day health and safety course.

WorkSafe today prosecuted 20-year-old Seymour man, Matthew Garry Ward, after posting on YouTube a video of him doing stunts on a forklift.

The video, which has now been removed, showed him deliberately crashing into concrete pipes, doing burnouts and overloading the machine so he could do wheelies.

Seymour Magistrate Caitlin English convicted Mr Ward, ordered him to do 50 hours of unpaid community work complete a five-day Occupational Health and Safety course and pay WorkSafe’s court costs of $1200. 

Mr Ward was also sacked for misconduct.

Forklifts are possibly the most dangerous piece of equipment on worksites.  Statistics show a high frequency of death and injury associated with their use.

Before phone cameras and YouTube this type of workplace behaviour would never have received the attention that this case has.  The worker may have been sacked for being “bloody stupid” but there would not be the notoriety that can come from this type of act.  The Ward case has appeared on several television broadcasts, is in the papers and is mentioned in blogs like this.

The worker’s actions only came to light when his employer at Australasian Pipeline and Pre-Cast Pty Ltd, which produces reinforced concrete pipes at nearby Kilmore, viewed the video.  If Ward did not have a vigilant internet-savvy boss, it is likely the video would still exist on YouTube and the worker would not have come to the attention of the OHS regulator.

The Ward prosecution came at an opportune time for WorkSafe to re-emphasise their young worker safety campaign in the context of their long-active forklift safety program.

The Ward case indicates the choices young people make between potential internet fame and personal trouble.  There are many examples of this risk management decision in a range of areas related to the internet. Matthew Ward made the wrong decision, or he just took things that little bit too far.  At least he is facing the consequences of his decision.

The right time to do something, or union shortsightedness

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The title of this blog is deliberately positive because I find it hard to understand why, when union right-of-entry is such a hot political topic, a New South Wales Minister would defy Federal Court action and accompany union organisers onto a construction site against the wishes of the company who operates the site.

The legal action has been considerably drawn-out but Minister Phil Costa’s seems purposely inflammatory.  In a report on the visit in The Australian on 12 November 2008, the Minister said he was given permission by Sydney Water and a building contractor.  This confirms the confusion over control of a workplace that is being worked through as part of the National OHS Law Review panel.  Who  is the principal contractor?  Who runs the site?

The minister says that permission was obtained from John Holland Construction and the company was accommodating.  The media report did not say if there was any particular reason the minister visited although a media handler said it was a PR visit.

The CFMEU assistance secretary said the only way the union could get on site Was “as a visitor with the minister” and that OHS issues have been raised including dust, wetness and falling from heights.

The minister’s visit just confirms the beliefs of the New South Wales employers that the Labor government’s relationship with the unions is too friendly.  There is some support for this perspective when the government chooses to keep Sydney Ferries out of the credit-rating fire sale, “after intense pressure from union leaders” according to one media report.

In a national context, Minister Costa’s visit illustrates the need for clarity on national OHS laws as John Holland moved from the state workers’ compensation system to the national version, Comcare, a couple of years ago.  So not only did the visit raise matters of workplace control, there was jurisdictional problems.

Unless you are a construction union member in New South Wales, minister Costa’s actions had no positive result.

I have been a union member for several decades and support many of their initiatives but occasionally some in the union movement take short term gains and narrow interest over the bigger picture and the best interest of the whole union movement.  Isn’t short-term gain over long-term benefit what the unions accuse the banks and the corporations of?

Mining fatalities and accountability

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The 11 November 2008 edition of The Australian includes a page 2 story where the previous manager of the Beaconsfield Mine has been called on to be held responsible for the management failures that led to the death of Larry Knight in 2006.  The call was made by counsel for Larry Knight’s family and the Australian Workers’ Union in a submission to the Tasmanian inquest into the fatality.

According to the media report, the wrong decision was made in trying to stabilise the working area of the mine and that the risk assessment process was inadequate.  The latter comment should be of considerable interest to OHS regulators and safety professionals.

The importance of the Tasmanian Coroner’s findings are illustrated by comments in the submission by the counsel for the mine.  The media report says that 

“…Dr Neal tells the Coroner the mine had done all it reasonably could to guard against the risk of rockfall and to manage the mine’s notorious seismicity.” [emphasis added]

This is particularly important when considering the introduction of “reasonably practicable” into the OHS legislation throughout the Australian States being considered by the National OHS Law Review.

It is regrettable that the to-ing and fro-ing in the inquest is not getting as much media attention in the non-mining states, as there have been many risk management and accountability issues raised.  The media is likely to wait until the findings of the Coroner, Rod Chandler, and focus on the result rather than the journey.

There was a similar experience in New South Wales with the inquiry that followed the drowning of four mine workers at the Gretley mine in November 1996.  The information did not resonate to the rest of Australia except through the mining sector, yet there were important lessons from the inquiry.  Most OHS professionals, if at all, would recollect the prosecution of Gretley mine managers on matters of culpability, rather than the death of the four workers.

When the Tasmanian Coroner hands down his findings in the near future, it will be very useful to consider them in the light of the earlier reports, assessments and papers, among many others, listed below. 

SafetyAtWorkBlog is a strong advocate of learning new OHS management practices by looking beyond one’s field of expertise.  OHS professionals, safety managers and risk managers need to watch the action in Tasmania and other jurisdictions for themselves and not rely on a small group of OHS lawyers to bring matters to their attention and advise them how to avoid their responsibilities.  Accountability is a moral and legal responsibility.

Holding Corporate Leaders Responsible by Andrew Hopkins

The Impact of the Gretley Prosecutions by Andrew Hopkins

Mine Safety – Law, Regulation, Policy by Neil Gunningham

A submission by the Tasmanian Minerals Council on CRIMINAL LIABILITY OF ORGANISATIONS – ISSUES PAPER NO 9, JUNE 2005 to the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute

N Gunningham, ‘Prosecution for OHS offences: deterrent or disincentive?’ (2007) Sydney Law Review, 29 (3), pp 359-390.

R Guthrie and E Waldeck, ‘The liability of corporations, company directors and officers for OSH breaches: a review of the Australian landscape’ (2008) Policy and Practice in Health and Safety 6(1),
pp 31-54. 

N Foster, ‘Mining, maps and mindfulness: the Gretley appeal to the Full Bench of the Industrial Court of NSW’ (2008) Journal of Occupational Health and Safety – Australia and New Zealand 24(2),
pp 113-129.

Maintaining professional standards by looking outside the discipline

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I am a great believer that solutions to hazards in one industry can be applied or adapted to other industry sectors.  Regular readers of SafetyAtWorkBlog are aware of the cross-referencing between general workplace hazards and some solutions from the sex industry.

However, solutions can come from other countries as well, and not just from the United States.  Last week, a car bomb set off by Basque separatists in the University of Navarra in the northern city of Pamplona resulted in 248 people being treated for respiratory trouble, coughing and nausea from inhaling unidentified gases.  A university spokesperson, Javier Diaz, reportedly said that the fumes were generated by repair works that “are related to the terrorist attack.”

This occurred seven years after the 9/11 attacks in New York and after the resultant and widespread reporting of persistent health issues suffered by relief workers and emergency services personnel.  Yes, fumes are different from airborne particles of asbestos but the hazard, and the control mechanisms, are similar.  The lessons of exposure by emergency workers in disasters are obviously still to be learnt.

This morning, 10 November 2008, we wake up to a Russian submarine disaster that immediately reminds us of the tragedy of the Kursk in 2000.  Overnight 200 submariners and shipyard workers were affected in  the K-152 Nerpa submarine from exposure to freon gas.  Three servicemen and seventeen civilians have died.  Initial reports say that the gas was released when the fire extinguisher system was activated.

Russian submarines off the east coast of Russia can easily be dismissed by newspaper readers and business professionals as largely irrelevant but the media has said that 

“A Russian expert has reportedly said that a lack of gas masks among too many untrained civilians may have elevated the death toll in the submarine.”

Does insufficient PPE and training sound familiar? The release of gas in a restricted area?

For OHS professionals everything is relevant to making the best decisions possible for clients and employers.  The trick is to allocate the appropriate level of relevance to the information.  Risk managers and OHS professionals need to filter information from the widest possible pool of knowledge in order to provide the best advice.

We are not all Russian shipyard workers in a just-built submarine but, increasingly, we could be helping people from the rubble of a collapsed building, or helping in the aftermath of a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, or advising on a fire safety procedure and safe design of buildings.  We need to read, listen and digest so as to maintain and improve our personal core body of knowledge.

Legal summary on OHS Review report from Mallesons

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Mallesons is the next Australian OHS law firm to issue a statement on the first report by the National OHS Law Review panel.  The report is not much more than a summary, as commentary is kept to a minimum.

What is interesting is that they mention the alternate sentencing options of 

  • adverse publicity orders
  • remedial orders
  • corporate probation
  • community service orders
  • injunctions
  • training orders, and 
  • compensation orders.

As with the monetary and custodial sentences, if these become included in the law it does not mean that the will be applied very frequently, if at all.

Adverse publicity orders seem peculiar and outdated as they usually apply solely to the print media.  With the growth of the internet and with most companies having websites of some sort, it would be useful to vary such orders to include longevity and reach, rather than a single ad in a newspaper that does not remain in the public mind for long.

Now there is an opening for a safety-monitoring weblog.