The Australian Government targets former PM, Kevin Rudd, over insulation deaths

The investigation into workplace deaths associated with Australia’s Home Insulation Program (HIP) was refreshed yesterday with the publication of some of the terms of reference for a new Government inquiry into the program.  The HIP deaths is an enormously politically charged issue in Australia and the politics, and associated media attention, could derail an inquiry that has the potential to provide important occupational health and safety, risk management and governance issues.

Greg Hunt, Environment Minister is quoted as saying that

“The Government is committed to a full inquiry into Kevin Rudd’s home insulation scheme that was linked to the tragic loss of four young lives,….”

According to the Courier-Mail newspaper on 27 October 2013 there will be ten elements in the terms of reference but only four are mentioned:

  • The process and basis of government decisions while establishing the program, including risk assessment and risk management;
  • Whether the death of the four men could have been avoided;
  • What if any advice or undertakings given by the government to the industry were inaccurate or deficient, and;
  • What steps the government should have taken to avoid the tragedies.

These four seem reasonable aims but this information has been leaked, the full terms of reference have not been released and a person to head the inquiry is yet to be announced.

iStock_000010997810 safety tape Medium crop Continue reading “The Australian Government targets former PM, Kevin Rudd, over insulation deaths”

The Salvemini court saga illustrates many problems with prosecutions, justice and care

Sometimes when there is a procedural or organisational blockage, an opportunity or potential solution appears out of the blue. A South Australian Supreme Court decision on 3 October 2012 (not yet available online) may be just such a case.

Almost seven years ago Jack Salvemini was working on a shark fishing boat in the Great Australian Bight when he became entangled in a net being winched and was, according to various reports, either strangled or crushed to death. SafeWorkSA prosecuted the company running the boat, Jean Bryant Fishing and the skipper of the boat, Arthur Markellos.  Both were found guilty of breaching the occupational health and safety laws in effect at that time.

The company was fined $A71,000 from a maximum fine of $A100,000. Markellos was fined $A17,000. Arguments and appeals have continued on over this case since the original prosecution in the Industrial Magistrate’s Court in November 2010. (This judgement also provides the best level of detail of the fatality and its impact on all parties including Arthur Markellos)

Following the Supreme Court decision, Jack’s father, Lee, said he would like to talk with the Attorney-General to discuss what more can be done on his quest for justice. Later in the evening South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill, commented on the case and offered to meet the family. There is a political element to the Premier’s offer as it makes an important point about the Work Health and Safety Bill currently stalled in the SA Parliament. Continue reading “The Salvemini court saga illustrates many problems with prosecutions, justice and care”

The Australian Government looks to apply “above-the-line” safety to quad bikes

At the end of August 2012, Australia’s Minster for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten, released a discussion paper on quad bike safety. The intention of the discussion paper is a:

“…calls for submissions on potential improvements to quad bike safety to reduce the alarming rate of quad bike fatalities and injuries….

The comments received will be discussed at a one day forum between all levels of government, farming organisations, unions, industry and community groups to be held in October 2012.”

The paper is fairly thin on details and is certainly not like other discussion papers which present a current state of knowledge or present a set of circumstances that comments are wanted on.  But most of the quad bike safety research is readily available on the internet so, perhaps Minister Shorten is acknowledging this reality and the intelligence of those interested in this issue. The paper poses the following questions: Continue reading “The Australian Government looks to apply “above-the-line” safety to quad bikes”

The need for safety stories

Many companies and organisations take in OHS graduates, often as part of a program of internships, but sometimes because they are “cheap” new starters.  Whatever the process, graduates are hungry to learn but often they believe their profession started when they did.  Increasingly there is an ignorance of history and this puts the graduates at a distinct disadvantage.

Graduates often are strong on theory and poor on the practical.  This is understandable in some ways but graduates can be handicapped by not knowing what their older and more experienced work colleagues know.  On the job training and instruction is often passed down but the stories are not and the history of safety seems passed over. Continue reading “The need for safety stories”

Lessons for everyone in the legal action against France Telecom executives over suicides

In 2009-10, SafetyAtWorkBlog followed the unfolding and tragic story of the spate of suicides at France Telecome that were directly related to the change of work practices and organisational policies instigated after privatisation.  SafetyAtWorkBlog stated that the suicides could be considered to be a case study of poor personnel management and, in more recent parlance, a failure of safety leadership.  This month French authorities have begun investigating France Telecom executives.

According to an AFP report in early July 2012:

“Louis-Pierre Wenes was placed under investigation on Thursday, a day after former France Telecom chief Didier Lombard, for workplace harassment, his lawyer Frederique Beaulieu said.”

At the time of the suicides Wenes was Deputy CEO and Lombard was CEO.

Interestingly and curiously, workplace bullying is not a term used in the France Telecome situation, although it may have met the criteria that Australia applies. Continue reading “Lessons for everyone in the legal action against France Telecom executives over suicides”

FindTheBest seriously misjudges on its data services for workplace deaths and injuries

Many organisations are beginning to assess their performance in occupational health and safety (OHS), mostly through spreadsheet graphics and lead and lag indicators.  These “databases” provide comparisons of activity with the hope of showing positive progress on safety.  FindTheBest.com has been building comparison websites for some time and has applied their mystical Web2.0 algorithms to workplace safety data from the United States in its FindTheData website.  It has several sites that may be of interest to OHS professionals – Work Injuries and Death and Dangerous Jobs.

Dangerous Jobs allows you to select the occupational categories you are interested in and then compare their statistical data.  For instance, comparing Farmers and Ranchers to Structural Steel Workers shows an annual fatality rate of 39.7 to 30.3 based on hours, respectively.  These comparisons are based on data from the United States Department of Labor statistics.  But the question on the comparison is so what?  What benefit can be gained by comparing these two sets of data?  None, as far as I can see.

The glossary for Dangerous Jobs lists the top couple of popular comparisons as

  • Top 7 Most Dangerous Jobs in US
  • Police and sheriff’s patrol officers vs. Electricians

The first has curiosity value but the second is reminiscent of the adolescent (or drunk) speculation on who would win in a fight between Darth Vader and Gigantor?  Pointless speculation that sounds like it could result in some interesting information.  Just maybe.  Perhaps. Continue reading “FindTheBest seriously misjudges on its data services for workplace deaths and injuries”

Where can I get my own Cynthia Carroll?

The June 2012 edition of the Harvard Business Review includes a fascinating article (extract online ) on safety by the controversial CEO of Anglo American, Cynthia Carroll.  The whole article is well worth reading but there was one element that I found particularly interesting, Carroll’s mention of zero harm.

Carroll visited operations in South Africa where Anglo American employed 86,000 people from various cultural background s and literacy. She writes:

“When I visited the operations, my conversations with local managers were frustrating. Safety was improving, they assured me, but it would never be perfect. My goal of zero harm was simply not achievable. The head of our platinum operations at the time insisted repeatedly, “Cynthia, you just have to understand…” As I talked to people and examined the facilities, I wondered how much authority someone who is underground for hours on end, with a shift supervisor right behind him, really has. I questioned whether a line worker had the power to put up his hand and say, “I’m not going to do this, because it is unsafe.””

Following a fatality on the day of her visit and in conjunction with the safety concerns she had, Carroll closed the Rustenburg platinum mine for a structural safety makeover. Continue reading “Where can I get my own Cynthia Carroll?”

Safety posters about the reality of safety

Recently a colleague was asking why there was no reality in many of the workplace safety posters.  Many countries are continuing with confronting campaigns or workplace injuries and fatalities but it is easy to suffer from graphic “fatigue” and a new approach is required.  Part of this cycle has resulted in WorkSafe Victoria’s successful Homecomings campaign but even that campaign has a diminished impact, over time.

So I had a go at a couple of posters that I thought reflect the reality of workplace injuries and fatalities but also pack a punch.  These posters were produced separately to any safety campaign and solely in response to my colleague’s comment.

I would welcome constructive criticism on these posters and their relevance to workplace safety.

I have also Mummy equivalents available and should add that these images have come from a photo library.

Kevin Jones

Workplace bullying hits the national agenda in Australia

On Saturday morning, May 26 2012, the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and her Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, announced an inquiry into workplace bullying to be undertaken by the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment and to report to Parliament in November 2012.

This announcement seems to be another that is buried or overtaken by current political events.   The Australian Broadcasting Corporation mentioned workplace bullying as a “silent epidemic”.  There is a strong risk that the politicians are overstating the workplace bullying case.  WorkSafe Victoria receives thousands of enquiries about workplace bullying but only a portion of them fit the workplace bullying definition and only a handful proceed to a prosecution.  The government needs to be careful that it is not operating to a perception of workplace bullying instead of the reality, even though the community outrage is genuinely felt.

The Age newspaper and AAP, basically printed an edited media release but the most significant statements have not been printed.  These are the comments by the Prime Minister, Minister Shorten and the parents of Brodie Panlock, Damian and Rae.  Below is a selection or statements from the doorstop transcript:

PM : “I’ve have had the opportunity to have a conversation with Damian and with Rae about their family experience and they will talk about that family experience themselves, but it led to the loss of their daughter Brodie. And they fought hard here in Victoria for Brodie’s law, to have a law that deals with serious bullying at work. Continue reading “Workplace bullying hits the national agenda in Australia”

Australian senator sees OHS consultation as “collusion”

In response to correspondence from an Australian safety professional, Senator Eric Abetz, Federal Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, has displayed his ignorance of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.  In the  email response, reproduced in full below and dated 26 April 2012, Senator Abetz, accuses “big Government” “big unions and big business” of colluding on the development of Codes of Practice.

Abetz shows his misunderstanding of the status of codes of practice in the regulation of OHS.  He also uses a DRAFT  code of practice to illustrate the absurdity of new OHS laws, a draft that is having a contentious route but is expected to be considerably changed in the final version.

The draft code he chooses is workplace bullying and the senator tries to illustrate how silly this code’s suggestions are by hypothesizing a small business.  He chooses a two person plumbing firm.  How different his perspective could have been should he have chosen a real small business workplace bullying case that resulted in a worker killing herself.  How convenient to avoid the Cafe Vamp example. Continue reading “Australian senator sees OHS consultation as “collusion””