“How can this be allowed to happen nowadays?” the distressed wife of a seriously injured worker asked me recently. Her husband was sitting next to her, his eyes still victims of the recent terror that nearly killed him. She saw that and struggled to join him in his very dark and personal space. This now would become a life time job for her.
This meeting captured for me one of the most fundamental factors at most workplaces. That workers’ most common feeling at work is that of vulnerability. Of course many workers find comfort and pride in their job. Of course it feeds them and their families. Of course it can provide personal identity and purpose. And of course there are many managers who understand all this.
But it’s also true that much too often this is not the case. That’s one reason why when suddenly factories or mines close, or car manufacturers ‘shed’ 200 workers, or car part factories go bust workers are not only shocked, but it substantiates their sense of vulnerability, “What a shock, I thought they loved us!”
Not only is this painfully evident when a negligently poor H&S standard results in crippling a worker for life, but is typically present on a daily basis. Permanent fear of job loss results. The fact that a worker can be disciplined or sacked for a number of events that can be defined and redefined by creative managers feeds that feeling. That’s another reason why so much bullying and humiliation occur and so much stress is experienced. Continue reading “Vulnerability and arrogance”
The development of Australia’s new Work Health and Safety laws relies on potential prosecutions and Court rulings to clarify various elements and definitions. Some labour lawyers have forecast this clarification to take several years however last week The Warrnambool Standard reported on a decision by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) that provides a worrying clarification on the contentious definition of “as far as is reasonably practicable” from outside the anticipated Court structure.
WorkSafe Victoria placed an improvement notice on a woodchipper owned by the Warrnambool City Council following an incident in September 2011 where a worker, David Johnstone, had both hands removed by the blades of the woodchipper. The improvement notice stated that additional guarding in the form of a “bump bar” be installed on woodchippers. The Council requested a review of the notices through WorkSafe’s review processes. The directions stood and the Council appealed to VCAT, as per the normal process. VCAT found that the engineering controls demanded by WorkSafe were not required as the administrative controls advocated by the Council were found to have “reduced risk “so far as is reasonably practicable”.
The VCAT decision is concerning because it seems to conflict with the application of the Hierarchy of Controls for risk in which machine guarding, an engineering control, is considered a more effective control measure that administrative controls such as those favoured by the Council Continue reading “Woodchipper decision could set a worrying safety precedent”
Just before Christmas in 2009, Dr Yossi Berger speculated for an information network about the safety of quad bikes. He called it QuadWatch. Over two years later, on 13 July 2012, Australia’s Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten announced his own QuadWatch.
In the 2009 Croaky Blog, Dr Berger suggested
“a network could be called QuadWatch and it would become a clearing house for all needs related to quad bikes, particularly in relation to safety standards. All training needs, advice about accessories, advice about the correct machine for a certain job or terrain could be handled by such regional cells.”
Shorten described the new QuadWatch as
“… a community based network bringing together farmers, community groups, emergency services and local government.
Shorten’s QuadWatch is broadly consultative but is a little different in its communication strategy. Establishing websites in support of a political strategy have not had the greatest success in the last few years under the Federal Labor Government and QuadWatch is not the end point in the safety debate.
It is worth deconstructing the Minister’s media release a little.
Continue reading “Australian Government moves on quad bike safety”
SafetyAtWorkBlog has been informed that an Irish backpacker was working on a farm near Gravesend in New South Wales in late May 2012 and received serious back injuries when the quad bike, from which he was spot spraying weeds, rolled on an embankment. The man was taken to hospital after contacting the farmer for assistance.
A spokesperson from WorkCover NSW has confirmed that
“….a 26 year old male worker was injured on a property at Gravesend near Moree …. on Thursday, 31 May. Initial enquiries indicate that the worker was spot spraying weeds on the property and has suffered back injuries from a quad bike incident when he attempted to ride out of a gully.”
At this time, Workcover was unable to say whether
- the worker had received any motorcycle or quad bike training.
- the quad bike had any attachments or modifications.
- the worker was wearing a helmet or other PPE at the time.
It is understood that the worker had been on the farm for only a few days.
We have been unable to find any media or online references to this incident.
On 24 May 2012, a week before the incident above, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s AM program ran an interview about the quad bike related fatality of an 11-year-old boy in 2011.
A longer audio interview on quad bike safety was conducted by ABC Rural in September 2011. The participants were Tony Williams of WorkCover NSW and John Lambert of the Forensic Engineering Society of Australia but the most significant quality of the interview was the solid understanding of agricultural safety shown by the interviewer.
Dr Tony Lower of the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health & Safety has released new information about deaths and injuries associated with quad bike use in Australia for 2011. His report lists media reports that
“There were at least 23 quad bike related fatalities and 56 major injuries, many of which are likely to be life‐changing…”
He also continues to keep pressure on the quad bike manufacturers:
“It is an absolute insult to quad bike users and particularly to those families that have lost loved ones in rollovers that the manufacturers and the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) simply continue to defend the indefensible. There is an urgent need to address this issue through better design of the quad bikes themselves and also ensuring crush protection devices are fitted”
But the severity of the risk and potential consequences of using quad bikes is well established. This article is going to look at a couple of other issues raised by Dr Lower’s media release (not yet available online) and the Media Monitors report. Continue reading “The fact that quad bike use is dangerous needs a fresh communication strategy”