Air Safety Culture – Turkish Style

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SafetyAtWorkBlog would not purport to be knowledgeable about airlines, Turkish or Australia but there was a fascinating article published in Europe on 12 March 2009 that discusses the safety culture in Turkish Airlines. The article is entitled “Islam and the art of aircraft maintenance” by Claire Berlinski

SafetyAtWorkBlog would not purport to be knowledgeable about airlines, Turkish or Australia but there was a fascinating article published in Europe on 12 March 2009 that discusses the safety culture in Turkish Airlines.  The article is entitled “Islam and the art of aircraft maintenance” by Claire Berlinski (Thanks to Melody Kemp for bringing this to our attention)

There are some similarities to the current issues running in Australian media and industrial circles over the maintenance services of Qantas aircraft.

The crash of a Turkish Airline flight in Amsterdam on 25 February 2009 gained worldwide attention.  According to Berlinski’s article this crash

“…was caused by mechanical failure, exacerbated by severe pilot error: The aircraft’s altimeter – which had malfunctioned twice in the past eight landings – was faulty, and the pilots failed to note this or respond appropriately.”

A spokesperson for the airline insisted that the quality of servicing was the equal of European airlines.  (God help, airline passengers in Europe.)

Berlinski reported that

“Technicians were given maintenance tasks after two or three hours of training”

and that according to a reputable Turkish publication “Tempo Dergisi”, a technician was interviewed who 

“..claimed to be responsible for engine maintenance: he admitted that he was not licensed to do this job.”

Lastly she reports that

“And in December, 2006, it was widely reported that Turkish Airlines workers had sacrificed a camel on an Istanbul airport ramp as a gesture of thanks for having at last got rid of a batch of troublesome planes.”

There is much more in Berlinski’s article of concern and the full article is recommended but the relevance to SafetyAtWorkBlog is its example of a dysfunctional safety culture in an industry that is used as a positive example throughout the world, principally, as a result of James Reason’s work.

There will be good and bad in every industry and one will always be able to find a poor example of safety management in some country somewhere but the airline industry is different.  It projects itself as well-regulated and operates to international benchmarks of efficiency and safety.  It promotes its maintenance industry as “world’s best practice” but the generalisation is as empty as all generalisations.

OHS professionals are taught to manage safety in a way that includes the lowest common denominator in the workplace.  Safety is built around the highest risk or the stupidest act. 

It is useful to read the Berlinski as an article that reflects the infamous Darwin Awards except that the victim is not only the pilot but hundreds of innocent passengers.

Kevin Jones

What’s really causing the reduction of Australian injury rates?

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Elsewhere in SafetyAtWorkBlog is a summary of the recent statistics released by the Australian Safety & Compensation Council.  Overall the injury trends are positive but it is worth looking at the report a little closer.

On page viii, the report says

Due to large increases in employment, incidence rates fell 16%, from 18 serious claims per 1000 employees in 2000–01 to 15 in 2005–06 and frequency rates fell 14% from 11 serious claims per million hours worked to 9.” [my emphasis]

The ASCC has identified this particular trend, the fall in incidence rates, to labour force variations, not necessarily due to any of the enforcement policies or marketing of the OHS regulators.

Australia is currently bemoaning the loss of manufacturing industry offshore, principally to south-east asia and China.  This will inevitably skew the workplace injury rates as with less heavy industry there is less work activity and less injuries.

There are all sorts of ways of measuring performance, of finding positive indicators, and indicators that are proportional are favoured – percentage reductions by specific industries, for instance.

All of this may look good for the OHS regulators and economic statisticians but those who glance over statistics for a general impression should consider that Australia is exporting a large part of its homegrown manufacturing industry.  The industry that we have from overseas, such as the automotive industry, is collapsing. (There are persistent rumours that, regardless of the US bailouts, General Motors, will disappear or have its Australian subsidiaries being nationalised by the Australian government.)

Australia is, in effect, exporting those industries with the highest long-term injury rates.  As the Compendium indicates (p.11) in 2007-8 the most hazardous industries remained agriculture and construction, industries that we cannot export.

National OHS Strategy

The ASCC figures differ from those used to measure the performance of the ten-year National OHS Strategy 2002-2012.  The strategy set a reduction target of 40% on figures for work-related injuries with a 20% reduction by June 2007.  The Compendium reports:

“Data from the recently released Comparative Performance Monitoring Report, 10th Edition shows that the 16% improvement recorded from the base period up to 2006–07 is below the rate of improvement required to meet the target of a 40% reduction by June 2012.”  (p 11)

The OHS regulators have failed to meet their midway target even though the country has seen one of the most expensive safety awareness campaigns in its history and with a major reduction in the manufacturing industries.  No wonder some of them are falling back on the old-school, and expensive, measures of increased inspection and more robust enforcement.

The risk of setting any target is how to account for the failure to reach it.  Keep your eyes open for the preparative work by the regulators’ marketing departments on turning failure into  triumph, or at least in making it into an “SEF” – someone else’s fault.

Kevin Jones

Latest Australian OHS Statistics

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Below is an edited summary of the findings from the latest compendium of statistics issued by the Australian Safety & Compensation Council.  The stats relate to 2006-07 primarily but with some comparative data from 2000-01 onwards.  The full report is available for download as is a media statement from the Council Chairman, Bill Scales.compendium200607-cover

132 055 serious workers’ compensation claims in 2006-07  = to 14 claims per 1000 employees or 9 claims per million hours worked.

Men accounted for 68% of all serious claims

Incidence rates for male employees almost twice that of females

There were 9 claims per 1000 employees aged 15-19 years, which increased to 17 claims per 1000 employees aged 60-64 years.

“The Manufacturing, Transport and storage, Agriculture, forestry and fishing, and Construction industries had incidence rates substantially above the national rate of 14 claims per 1000 employees.”

The occupational group with the highest incidence rate of serious claims was Labourers and related workers (39 claims per 1000 employees).

Transport workers and some others had the second highest rate with 29 claims per 1000 employees.

The majority (73%) of the serious claims involved injury or poisoning (95 910 claims)

The remaining 27% (36 145 claims) were disease related.

The most common injury (41%of all serious claims leading to a serious claim was Sprains and strains of joints and adjacent muscles.

Fractures and Open wounds (8% of all serious claims )not involving traumatic amputation were the next most common injuries

The most common diseases were:

  • Disorders of muscle, tendons and other soft tissues (7% of all serious claims),
  • Dorsopathies – disorders of spinal vertebrae (6%), and
  • Mental disorders (5%).

23% of all serious claims involved the Back. Hand (13%), Shoulder (9%) and Knee (9%).

Manual handling mechanisms (Body stressing) were the cause of 41% of all serious claims, with: 

  • lifting objects (18%)
  • handling objects (15%)

The most common mechanism was Falls on the same level (13%).

Non-powered handtools, appliances and equipment represented 26% of all serious claims.

Over the period 2000-01 to 2005-06, the number of serious claims decreased 6% from 144 740 claims to 136 575.

“The Agriculture, forestry and fishing industry recorded the highest time lost from work of 4.6 working weeks in 2005-06 but due to the lower salaries in this industry, it recorded one of the lowest median payment amounts ($5100 in 2005-06 compared to the all claims median of $6100).  The highest median payments were recorded in the Mining industry ($10 400 in 2005-06).”

Compensated Fatalities

Preliminary data show that in 2006-07 there were 236 compensated fatalities = an incidence rate of 2.5 fatalities per 100 000 employees.

Of the fatalities, 91% were male employees.

Over the period from 2000-01 and 2005-06, the number of fatalities fell 21%.


The Construction industry recorded the highest number of fatalities (50).

Transport and storage industry = 45 fatalities (of which 31 were in Road freight transport).

Mechanism of injury or disease

A third of the fatalities (81) were due to Vehicle accident

33 deaths due to Long term contact with chemicals or substances,

19 due to Being hit by moving objects and

18 due to Being hit by falling objects.

Employee Accommodation and Executive Accountability

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SafetyAtWorkBlog has been following the aftermath of the rape and assault of a nurse working in a remote area of Australia for well over a year.  The issue has many personal and political aspects to it.  The most recent blog mention was the demotion of the CEO of the Torres Strait District Health Service.

Queensland is in the middle of a close election campaign and the Premier Anna Bligh on 11 March 2009 made an extraordinary move of removing the responsibility for employee housing from the Department of Health to the Department of Public Works.  Bligh was also scathing of her own ministers.  Her statement is below.

What Bligh’s decision seems to affect is a removal of the OHS obligations for a safe and healthy work environment from the organisation that is the employer of the health staff.  This will obviously need some clarification.

It may mean that Queensland Health may have to be the go-between between staff requests for repairs and the agency that undertakes the repairs.  It is doubtful that such an administrative process will be any quicker than what has already occurred – a process that Bligh says “does not meet a reasonable timeframe”. 

The broader political messages for the Premier’s Cabinet colleagues is discussed in an article in today’s Australian newspaper.

The issue of the security of government employees was again in the media when commonwealth government-employed staff were attacked in remote areas of Australia.  

“Statement by Premier – health staff housing

This afternoon I have spoken with both the Health Minister and the Director General of Queensland Health and have been advised as follows:

  • All health staff houses classified as extreme or high risk by the audit in the Torres Strait region have had all required work completed
  • Two of the 101 houses identified are no longer used for staff accommodation and the remaining 99 have all had locks checked and passed inspection or had new locks fitted
  • To date, 45 houses have had all work completed
  • Further work to be completed on the remaining 54 houses includes additional work such as the installation of path lighting

However, even though progress on this work is on-going in regional centres, it has failed to meet a reasonable time frame.

This failure to meet a reasonable time frame highlights that the core business of Queensland Health is running our hospitals and other health facilities and taking care of sick Queenslanders – not the business of maintaining staff accommodation and housing.

Accordingly, today I have directed that responsibility for health staff accommodation maintenance and upgrading be transferred in full to the Department of Public Works.

Further, I have directed that the work on this staff housing be completed by Easter.

It is completely unacceptable that this work has taken such a long period of time to bring to this standard and I’ve made this absolutely clear to both the Minister and the Director General.

From tomorrow, Queensland Health will no longer be responsible for staff accommodation.”

Kevin Jones

Morality in business

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A good safety manager is one who is aware of the social context of the job and the social consequences of injury on employees.  The manager also needs to consider the operational parameters of the company.  This is a difficult balancing act that many spend their careers trying to attain.  But what if morality or legislative obligation was removed from the workplace, or was never there in the first place.  How would employees be treated then?

GHOSTS is a movie, ostensibly, about one person, Ai Qin, who travelled illegally from China to England in order to earn a living, a living that she believed she could not achieve in China.  As the opening scenes of the film show, she, and many others, are drowning in Morecambe Bay when the tide comes in rapidly while they are picking cockles.  The reality behind this fictional film radically changed England’s approach to gangmasters and resulted in prosecutions of the operators of the cocklepicking business.  Those operators were found responsible for the deaths of 23 cocklepickers in 2004.


As with many memorable films, the story of a single individual can fascinate and shame us at the same time.  GHOSTS is not an enjoyable film as the hardship and the choices faced are uncomfortable to watch but it is an important film for many reasons. One is that gangmasters, and immoral companies, do not exist in a vacuum.  Minor bribery, institutional ignorance, laziness and a disregard for human life are shown by various characters throughout the film.  There are combinations of these elements which push Ai Qin into certain decisions where others would be provided with options.

Another is that we need to be reminded of these events.  Often workplace tragedies fade as quickly as the media’s interest in them.  People often follow events only as long as they are on the telly but this habit provides an extremely skewed view of reality.  People are not expected to follow all issues, or be passionate about all the issues.  That way lies madness, confusion and inaction.  It is necessary to filter our ideological passions while retaining an interest in other related matters.  We categorise our priorities in relation to our resources, emotions and circumstances at one particular time.

But investigations take time and the truth often appears years later, sometimes when the heat in an issue has diminished, or we have had to reprioritize, or the media is looking elsewhere.  Outrage is always more attractive to the media than reason but we need to follow issues to their conclusion.  This is why families revisit the heartache of a fatality by sitting through coronial inquests or prosecutions.  They need to know the truth and find some answer to why the world has turned out as it has.

The conditions for trafficking, illegal migration and unregulated work continue in England today, just as they do in most countries.  GHOSTS is not a film about sex trafficking.  But whether people are being trafficked for sex, fruit picking, working in supermarkets or in take-away kitchens, is irrelevant.  Trafficking is inhumane and must be actively discouraged.

The issue will grow in its economic, human rights and political significance.

It may be heresy to apply the hierarchy of controls outside the workplace safety domain but if safety professionals investigated the contributory factors behind trafficking, it would be hard to argue against the elimination of the hazard for a lower order control measure.  If all physical journeys begin with a single step, then cultural change can begin with a single thought.

Kevin Jones

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