Safety in Action Conference Report – Day One

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The Safety institute of Australia has tried a different approach with their 2008 safety conference on April 29. It’s first day was dominated by a single stream of CEOs and senior executives talking about how they see safety. I expected a day of cliches but these were refreshingly minimal. There were a few mentions of “safety culture” and even more mentions of “leadership” but surprisingly very few speakers spouted the DuPont safety jargon that has dominated corporate safety presentations for many years.

Ziggy Switkowski was a real win for the SIA but sadly he spoke principally about climate change. I found his talk very interesting but it was only when he spoke about his advocation of safety at a board level that the relevance of his presence and experience had the audience sit up.

Switkowski’s presentation has set the agenda for the integration of environmental considerations in safety conferences and the SIA’s planning but the value of his climate change presentation will become obvious in the next few years.

The presentation by Peter McMorrow of Leightons was the stand out presentation of those I saw. His display of the personal commitments and safety pledges that Leighton executives need to sign off set the bar for the other CEO presenters. McMorrow’s links between safety and profitability were particular good.

I am constantly suspicious about corporates who say ” safety before all else” because there are more examples of companies sacrificing safety for profits than good corporate citizens. Peter Sandman, and others, have said in the past that the principal (sometimes the only) obligation on corporations is to the shareholders, and shareholders watch the share price. McMorrow seemed to provide an example that breaks the status quo but it wasn’t convincing.

Also, there was no mention of the recent prosecutions of Leightons by WorkSafe Victoria where the judge was highly critical of the level of operational awareness of the senior managers in the company. It seems that corporate and social goodwill were not the only motivators in providing organisational safety change at Leightons but the omission is telling.

Getting back on the horse

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Several weeks ago a long-lost warship, the HMAS Sydney, was discovered off the coast of Western Australia. The Sydney disappeared with over 600 crew. There are many interesting stories that are appearing about the discovery but one resonated with me at the Workers’ Memorial ceremony at the Victorian Trades Hall this morning.

Last Friday was ANZAC Day in Australia, a day when we remember the fallen, particularly, in World War 1. At the dawn service at Geraldton, the closest town to where the HMAS Sydney was found, there was a record number of people, many there because of the Sydney. Some of the Sydney’s sailors’ family have travelled to the site of the wreckage to remember and to say goodbye.
At the Workers’ Memorial today, I met a woman who had been permitted to visit the site of her son’s workplace death. He died almost 10 years ago and she told me that for many years she would not have dreamt of going there but how glad she was that she finally did.
People have an odd need to visit the sites of dead relatives. It is perhaps the last tenuous link we have to our friend’s last conscious memories. As I grow older, I might better understand this need but at the moment those sites remind me of pain, trauma and sadness – emotions that should have no place at work.

Nurse Rape – Update

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According to a report on 24 April 2008, the Queensland OHS authority has issued the health department with an improvement notice over the poor security in its facilities in the Torres Strait Islands.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland will also launch a review of Queensland Health’s security arrangements for remote accommodation across the state.

I realise that the wheels of bureaucracy take sometime to move and the action is to be applauded. But with much OHS activity, it is reactive and comes about because an organisation was deficient in its obligations to prevent injury and illness.

The attacks on employees in remote locations is not a tragedy because it happened but is a tragedy because it was allowed to happen. Foreseeable risks were not prevented.

Remember the personal on World Day for Health and Safety at Work

Today is the World Day for Health and Safety at Work. I will be attending the trade unions’ Workers’ Memorial service in Melbourne this morning as I do every year. The stories of those who have died at work keep my OHS morals grounded in the reality and the humanity of workplace safety. It reminds…

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The absurd “2-metre rule”

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Recently a colleague spoke to me about the absurdity of the OHS regulations on falling from heights. Australia has a “default” position that, in reality, establishes a 2 metre benchmark for fall prevention initiatives. In practice, workers take it that any work on a ladder where the “grounded” foot is higher than 2 metres from the surrounding area as requiring a risk assessment and, most likely, some fall protection equipment.
My colleague argued that the benchmark should be where a worker’s head is over 2 metres above the floor when working in an elevated position. This is based on the logic, my colleague says fact, that when someone falls, serious injury and death usually result from the worker’s head hitting the floor.
The advocation of a 2 metre criterion operates contrary to the hierarchy of controls which sets the aim of eliminating the risks associated with working at any height. If Australia is moving to a regime of nationally uniform OHS legislation, these laws should be reviewed so that there is also national consistency in safety advice.
As in many other circumstances the UK’s HSE seems to have its act together on this workplace hazard by emphasising the work tasks rather than getting bogged down on a measurement – a measurement that seems to have little science or logic to support it.