Longford explosion anniversary, Andrew Hopkins and a new book

October 2008 was the tenth anniversary of the explosion at Longford gas plant in Australia that resulted in many injuries, two fatalities and almost two weeks of severely interrupted gas supply to the State of Victoria.

The Longford explosion at an Exxon-Mobil site resulted in a Royal Commission, an OHS prosecution and a record fine.  Recently it was often invoked in comparison to the Varanus Island pipeline explosion in Western Australia.

Professor Andrew Hopkins, sociologist with the Australian National University, was studying safety management systems well before the Esso Longford explosion but it was that major disaster that added international prominence, and a substantial extra workload, to Andrew.  Other than domestic acclaim, in July 2008, the European Process Safety Centre declared Andrew winner of the EPSC Award for 2008.  He is the first person outside of Europe to win this award.  It is believed that Andrew was formally presented with the award at the EPSC conference earlier this month.

Andrew has a refreshing perspective on safety management systems, partly because he has brought a sociologist’s eye to management decisions; his vision is not clouded by the OHS baggage through which many other analysts struggle.

Andrew’s next book due out this month through CCH Australia is Failure to Learn The BP Texas City refinery disaster and could have him travelling frequently the United States to offer his wisdom.

SafetyAtWorkBlog is working on a new interview with Andrew when he returns to Australia but in the meantime, a 2000 interview with Andrew is available as a page on this blog.  The interview was conducted at a book launch in September 2000 for Lessons From Longford.

Professor Andrew Hopkins (right) receiving the award from Christian Jochum, Director of the European Process Safety Centre
Professor Andrew Hopkins (right) receiving the award from Christian Jochum, Director of the European Process Safety Centre

Is technology the solution to everything?

Today, I received a media statement by the Acting Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Mark V. Rosenker.  He said that new technologies have the potential to substantially reduce rail incidents.  Rosenker is quoted as saying

“Just think how far computer and GPS technology has developed in the past 10 years.”

He urged the delegates at the International Railroad Safety Conference in Denver, Colorado on 6 October 2008 to

“… be forward thinking.  Work closely with the highway industry to develop useful, intelligent transportation safety systems that can prevent accidents at grade crossings.” 

In mid-September 2008, the a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train collided in Chatsworth, California, killing 25 people.  The engineer of the Metrolink train was using new technology – he was texting on his mobile phone instead of paying attention.

I can’t see how the new technologies that Mark Rosenker discusses:

electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking, acoustic bearing detectors, wheel impact detectors, … truck performance detectors [and] intelligent transportation systems (ITS)…”

would have stopped the deaths of 25 people in Chatsworth?

I realise that the NTSB investigation into the Chatsworth collision has a way to go but I will be listening for some non-technological control measures to be proposed as well.  The NTSB is going to need to keep up its “qualification, training and oversight of employees” that it has implemented in the last decade or so becasue clearly in the case of the Metrolink engineer, Robert Sanchez, these techniques failed.

Latest Australian farm injury statistics

The Victorian Injury Surveillance Unithas released its latest quarterly statistical report, HAZARD.  Number 68 provides a fascinating picture of the farm safety in Victoria, Australia.  I strongly recommend that you get on the mailing list so that you can understand their statistical sources and limitations, as these are important and there is not enough time to discuss them at SafetyAtWorkBlog.HAZARD - Edition 68

Farm injury statistics for the period 2004-06 found 41 unintentional farm injury deaths, 1,765 hospital admissions and 7,259 presentations to hospital emergency departments.  Years ago I remember (vaguely) a ratio of 17 injuries to every farm death.  On my calculations (and remember I am an Arts graduate) the new statistics show a ratio of 43 hospital admissions for every fatality or 177 injuries (ED presentation for every fatality.

The detailed breakdown of agency of injury, age of injured person etc. makes this a fantastic resource for those working in farm safety.

One of the benefits of this type of research is that it allows us to determine the success of safety interventions, usually coordinated by government agencies.  (One could argue that this is one reason for the paucity of research on intervention activities) In the VISU report’s discussion it said that

“No studies have reported that farmers’ or farm workers’ attendance at farm safety courses has reduced injury risk on their farms…. [and]… the authors suggest that safety training is better applied by farmers and farm workers if it is delivered in the context of farm skills-based training rather than stand-alone farm safety sessions.”

This confirms the adage that one can know how to do something safely but one has to see it being done, to be convinced it is the right way.

Part of the report’s conclusion is that

“…. the evidence suggests that education alone is insufficient to affect the adoption of safe behaviours and technologies.”

I strongly recommend you download the report and read it carefully.  There may be only a small amount of evidence and research in this sector but what there is VISU has identified and analysed.

Unacceptable levels of death at Australian mines

In The Australian on 28 August 2008 was an article about the Australian Workers Union wanting to strengthen its industrial presence in the mining communities of the Pilbara region.  Nothing surprising in that but the spur for this latest move was the death on 25 August of a 29-year-old worker in the Yandi mine workshop owned by BHP Billiton. The company acknowledged the fatality a media release.

The company has had several recent deaths in its facilities.  According to a report on 30 July 2008:

“A 52-year-old Port Hedland man was conducting maintenance work on a scissor lift at Port Hedland when it fell on him at 1300 AEST on Tuesday, a police spokeswoman said.”

CEO Marius Klopper admitted on 20 August 2008 that BHP Billiton has had 11 fatalities so far in 2008. He is quoted as saying:

“The fatalities are difficult to talk about without getting emotional. The event that really shook us was that we had a helicopter crash where basically a pilot flew a helicopter into terrain and we had five fatalities. That was a truly tragic event and would be the single biggest event that we’ve had.”

“I think historically, we probably have reduced our fatality rates over time. It varies certainly from year to year but unfortunately we still have multiple fatalities every year in this business, which is something that we’ve got to continue to work on.”

Klopper’s comments received minimal media coverage outside of Western Australia.  Perhaps that was because the CEO made those comments at the same time as announcing his company’s record profit of almost $A18 billion.

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…

Login or subscribe to SafetyAtWorkBlog to continue reading.