National OHS Review – initial comments

Free Access

Several OHS colleagues on an international discussion forum have expressed some opinions on the final report of the Australia’s National Model OHS Law review.

Safety Alerts

One asked that better and more frequent safety alerts be published by the regulators and that those reports be based on fatalities, injuries and near misses.  

There is an inconsistency of  incident reporting in Australia.  For instance, emergency service departments have different ways of notifying the media of incidents.  Most rely on regular (multiple times each day) visits to their websites.  This option doesn’t work unless one has tracking software or are doing nothing else.  Several distribute email bulletins on a daily basis.  Most of the bulletins deal with traffic incidents, floods or bushfires, but several also report on emergency incidents to individuals and, although not explicit, many occur in workplaces.

Incident alerts from emergency services are good because it is a service that OHS regulators and enforcers also receive and act upon.

For many years, various Australia safety organisations have published OHS solutions databases or, initially, folders.  The maintenance of these have fluctuated over the years in relation to technological change and political interest.  It is pointless trying to establish a fixed-point or hard-copy library when the Internet is now the primary resource tool.

It should be added that considerable information can be garnered from court reports of OHS prosecutions however, the Magistrates’ Courts do not provide publicly accessible court reports so any matters heard at that level are rarely reported, except by someone who is sitting in the court.  To gain a proper understanding of the OHS legislative process, coverage of all levels of legal action should be encouraged.

Risk Management

Another colleague expressed concern about the use of “risk” throughout the report.  Below is a section of the report that explains the review panel’s approach:

“In Chapter 30, we discuss the role of the risk management  process in the model Act.  As we noted in our first report, risk  management is essential to achieving a safe and healthy work  environment. We found that risk management is implicit in the  definition of reasonably practicable, and as such, need not be  expressly required to be applied as part of the qualifier of
 the duties of care.  Further, as we discuss in this report, risks  can be successfully managed without mandating hazard  identification and risk assessment in all cases, particularly  where the hazards are well known and have universally  accepted controls.

 Therefore we recommend that the model Act should not  include a specific process of hazard identification and risk  assessment, or mandate a hierarchy of controls, but that the  regulation-making power in the model Act should allow for the  process to be established via regulation, with further guidance  provided in a code of practice, as is contemporary practice.
 The application of risk management process should however be  encouraged…” (page xviii)

Throughout the review process the Victorian OHS Act was the most influential piece of legislation and that Act removed the previous requirement to assess workplace risks to determine the most appropriate control measure.  WorkSafe Victoria had, for years, advocated in its publications and guidelines to “Find-Assess-Fix”.  The “Assess” was dropped in many instances as the suitable control measure had been well-established just not widely applied.  

The WorkSafe position was in response to those business operators who may say “I don’t care how hazardous the bloody thing is just fix it!”  It was hoped that this would save time and “unnecessary” paperwork, and that other State jurisdictions would take the same approach.  None did, and the removal of “Assess” confused businesses and safety professionals as it is a major inconsistency with the Australian Standard on Risk Management.

WorkSafe tried to calm the confusion by saying that they still though assessing risks was a good idea for many new and developing hazards, just that assessment could be done away with as a legislative requirements in most instances.

It seems like the National Review Panel supports the Victorian approach to risk assessment.  Not so long ago, the New South Wales government subsidised a lot of training for farmers and others in the agricultural sector on risk assessment.  Now it will have to re-explain.

The other concern with the panel’s approach to risk assessment is that it sees risk management as fitting within “reasonably practicable”, a concept that SafetyAtWorkBlog is not convinced helps in managing safety.  “Reasonably practicable” is a concept that is defined and refined through prosecutions and court processes, therefore, it can change and it is best interpreted by lawyers.  OHS legislation was designed to be readily understood by the layman for where the responsibility for safety sits with the employer and, to a lesser extent, the employee.  As soon as law firms are brought into the process, information is locked away under lawyer-client privilege, the cost of safety skyrockets and any safety management lessons are delayed until the court case is heard (or not heard) years later.

It should be remembered that the National OHS Model Law was about the law relating to workplace safety not the implementation of safety management.  It is this differentiation that needs to be constantly pushed to the government to avoid workplace safety becoming a management task that cannot be undertaken without a lawyer watching intently over one’s shoulder all the time.

Kevin Jones

Eye injury statistics for workplaces

Free Access

In early February 2009, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released a statistical report on eye injuries in Australia.  There was a small chapter on eye injuries that occurred in workplaces.  Seeing as how the readers of SafetyAtWorkBlog love statistical reports, some of the data is presented below.

For further data, and graphs, it is recommended you download the report.

According to the report, Eye-related injuries in Australia,

 A total of 8,640 workers compensation claims with eye injury or disease as the primary diagnosis were contained in the NOSI database for the period July 1999 to June 2005.

Median time lost because of eye injury in total decreased from 2.0 weeks in 2000-01 to 1.6 weeks in 2004-05. In 2004-05, injuries described as ‘eye: other and multiple’ resulted in the longest median time loss (2.0 weeks).

Australia’s final report of OHS Model Law Review released

Free Access

The final report of the review into Model OHS Law in Australia has been released.  As usual Deacons law firm is the first to provide an analysis of the major recommendations of the report.

Over the next week there will be a flurry of activity from, particularly, the labour law firms but the rush is unnecessary.  The timetable for when change becomes a reality is well over 12 months away and the global financial crisis has thrown political timetables to the winds. 

The timetable for Australia’s emissions trading scheme are becoming vague, state elections are perhaps being brought forward, where they can, and, most importantly, the business sector will be protesting long and hard on any regulation that may increase their costs.  If ever there was a time for safety professionals and associations to be campaigning on the truth that safety decreases operating costs in the long term, that time is now.

Judge leaders by how they react in a crisis not in the easy times.

New evidence of the risks of using glyphosate

Free Access

RoundUp and other glyphosate products are herbicides used domestically and commercially.  New evidence supports the calls by the Institute of Science in Society for a ban on the use of these products. 

Scientists pinpoint how very low concentrations of the herbicide and other chemicals in Roundup formulations kill human cells, strengthening the case for phasing them out, and banning all further releases of Roundup-tolerant GM crops

Research that shows an alternate perspective is available through Monsanto’s website.

This type of opinion or science war makes it very difficult for safety professionals to determine appropriate control measures when the evidence fluctuates however, as ever, protect to the lowest common denominator and eliminate the hazard wherever possible.

Chronic disease report

Free Access

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has released a report on the labour force effects of chronic illnesses.  The report, Chronic disease and participation in work,

shows that chronic diseases are associated with more days off work and/or being out of the workforce, and some of the biggest culprits are depression, arthritis and asthma.

The report focuses on chronic illnesses rather the workplace impacts of the illnesses themselves but there is information that is relevant to how we manage our employees and psychosocial hazards.  For instance the report says

Arthritis, asthma and depression were associated with 76% of the total loss due to days away from work (29% associated with depression, 24% with arthritis and 23% with asthma).

For people participating full-time in the labour force, there was a loss of approximately 367,000 person-years associated with chronic disease, approximately 57,000 person-years in absenteeism associated with chronic disease and 113,000 person-years were lost due to death from chronic disease.

The report acknowledges that any estimates of loss are underestimated and also provides very useful data on chronic diseases and absenteeism

Loss due to absenteeism from full-time and part-time employment was calculated as the difference between the number of days off work for people with chronic disease, and the number expected if age and sex-specific rates of absenteeism among people without chronic disease applied.

The loss from absenteeism associated with chronic disease was approximately 500,000 days per fortnight. This was equivalent to approximately 13.2 million days per year or 57,000 person-years of full-time participation (assuming 48 working weeks of 5 days duration with 10 public holidays per year).

About two-thirds of this cost was carried by males, and people aged 35-44 and 45-54 years accounted for the majority (75%) of lost days.

Analysis of absenteeism by specific chronic disease showed that depression, arthritis and asthma were associated with around 76% of days away from work.