Suicide challenges the OHS profession

Safety and risk professionals often need to consider the “worst case scenario”.  But we hesitate to look at the worst case scenario of workplace mental health – suicide.  On 26 August 2011, Lifeline presented a seminar to Victorian public servants that was brilliant, confronting and worrying.

Lifeline campaigns on suicide prevention and it seems to do this through discussion and counselling.  It outlines not the “warning signs” but the “help signs” that one needs to look for in our work colleagues.  According to Lifeline, possible life changes can include:

  • “Recent loss (a loved one, a job, an income/livelihood, a relationship, a pet)
  • Major disappointment (failed exams, missed job promotions)
  • Change in circumstances (separation/divorce, retirement, redundancy, children leaving home)
  • Mental disorder or physical illness/injury
  • Suicide of a family member, friend or a public figure
  • Financial and/or legal problems.”

Many of these issues can be helped by talking about them but, in OHS-speak, that is an administrative control in the hierarchy of controls.  The OHS professionals’ job is to determine if the risks can be mitigated or eliminated and this is where many OHS professionals fail.

It may be unfair to call it a failure, as the professional may simply not have the skills necessary to look beyond the hazard and determine a control measure.  In this context, the OHS profession and its members must be engaged in social reform.  If any of the workplace hazards are generated by, or exacerbated by, n0n-work related factors, the OHS professional must consider methods to reduce those non-work hazards. Continue reading “Suicide challenges the OHS profession”

Santos slapped with stale celery over near-miss

More often than not people are disappointed by the sentences handed out by Courts on OHS breaches.  Even with sentencing guidelines, the ultimate decision rests with the judgement of the Court.  Today’s $A84,000 fine against Santos Ltd appears low considering that the incident had the potential to be catastrophic and the company has just  reported “half-year profit up 155% to $504 million”. (ABC News provides a good pocket description of the incident with The Age discusses the corporate impact at the time)

The 2004 incident involved a near miss but a near miss that was just a second away from a catastrophe.  The fact that no one was directly injured has been mentioned in many media reports but not being injured is not the same as not being affected.  Industrial Magistrate Ardlie’s decision records that some employees had to run through the gas cloud to reach the muster point.  Some had difficulty breathing.  One worker was knocked off his feet by the blast and had the fireball travel over him burning the exposed parts of his body.

Dr John Edwards of Flinders University is quoted in Industrial Magistrate Ardlie’s decision that, without prompt evacuation, “the exposure dose [to hydrocarbons] could have been considerable and life-threatening”. Continue reading “Santos slapped with stale celery over near-miss”

Quad bike safety is showing a political shift

A young boy has died in a quad bike incident on an Australian farm last weekend.  What the boy was doing at the time of the incident is unclear and whether the quad bike was a work vehicle or recreational is also unclear, but the current sensitivities of the issue of quad bike safety have raised media attention once more.

In this week’s edition of The Weekly Times, the motorcycle manager of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, Rhys Griffiths, seems uncertain of the type of safety measures being considered for quad bikes by manufacturers.  He is reported as saying

“…. research and development spending and direction was a “closely guarded secret of each manufacturer”.

“My guess is they may be spending money on things like active suspension, which helps the stability of the ATV. But a roll bar or crush bar is probably not under development.”

Since quad bike safety advocates began producing robust research to add to the existing safety evidence, the FCAI seems to have been on the back foot a little by reacting instead of proposing change.   Continue reading “Quad bike safety is showing a political shift”

Targeting the most dangerous industries but not those with the most deaths

On 4 July 2011, WorkSafe Victoria released a media notice entitled “WorkSafe to target state’s most dangerous industries“.  (The title of the media release currently available on-line has been changed from “dangerous” to “risky”.)  Below are the industries that WorkSafe considers the most dangerous:

  • Food manufacturing and processing,
  • wood product manufacturing,
  • fabricated metal,
  • transport equipment manufacturing,
  • plastics and rubber manufacturing,
  • road transport,
  • warehousing and storage and
  • residential aged care services.

WorkSafe advised SafetyAtWorkBlog on 4 July, that these eight industries were chosen as the targets for an OHS enforcement blitz because in 2010 these sectors generated 7,075 workers’ compensation claims.  2,808 of the claims related to manual handling injuries. Continue reading “Targeting the most dangerous industries but not those with the most deaths”

Government department fined $285k over prison van death

In January 2011 WorkSafe indicated its intention to prosecute the Department of Corrective Services and others in relation to death of Mr Ward.  A $A285,000 penalty was imposed on 7 July 2011.

SafetyAtWorkBlog reported on the WorkSafe actions at the time but an excellent clearinghouse for information on this case is the  website of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Four Corners program which examined the 2008 death of  Mr Ward in Western Australia.

The Four Corners website has a considerable amount of background information on the case, including the coroner’s findings, which some readers may find confronting and, as the ABC says “This report contains images of the deceased which may disturb Aboriginal viewers”.

Mr Ward was being transported to Perth in the rear of a prison transport vehicle following a traffic offence.  The vehicle’s air-conditioning system was not operating, the temperature within the rear of the vehicle increased so much in the Western Australian heat that, according to one commentator, Mr Ward was “cooked”.  When Mr Ward’s body was being removed from the prison van at the hospital “the air from the van was “…like a blast from a furnace”” according to one witness.  The coroner found that  “no effective air-conditioning was being supplied to the rear pod of the vehicle.”

There are many management issues involved with this unnecessary death but some will be familiar.   Continue reading “Government department fined $285k over prison van death”

France Telecome’s CSR report is telling but sets high expectations

In 2009, France Telecom’s management practices came to global attention as a result of a spate of over 20 suicides that were identified as work-related.  On 6 June 2011, France Telecom released its Corporate Responsibility Report that covers the period of the management turmoil touched upon in earlier SafetyAtWorkBlog articles.

The document is an impressive document that sets an enormously high benchmark on a range of corporate and personnel issues but one will find no mention of suicides.  The best indication that this was a company in crisis is the level of inquiries, reviews, audits and workplace safety control measures that have been implemented over the last two years.  It is also important to remember that the control measures are designed to bring about a cultural and organisational change to this corporation and that this will take a considerable time.  The struggle can be best, and most tragically, illustrated by the April 2011 self-immolation of a France Telecom employee in the company carpark in Merignac.

By acknowledging that this report has come from a company in crisis it is possible to identify some useful OHS, human resource and organisational cultural initiatives that may be applied in other large corporations around the world. Continue reading “France Telecome’s CSR report is telling but sets high expectations”

Tasmanian Workers’ Memorial Park officially opened

Workplace safety is littered with good intentions that are not fulfilled but thankfully Tasmania has followed through on a pledge to create a workers’ memorial park.  SafetyAtWorkBlog reported on the design launch by the, then, Minister for Workplace Relation Lisa Singh, two years ago.

The Tasmanian Workers’ Memorial Park, located in Elizabeth Gardens, Launceston, was opened in beautiful winter sunshine on 18 June 2011. Photographs of the park’s official opening are to be provided.  Unions Tasmania Secretary Kevin Harkins said in a media release (not yet available online)

“…it is hoped that those affected by a workplace death would use the site as a memorial to their lost family member or friend, and that people walking through the park would be reminded of the need to be safe at work.”

This type of horticultural memorial provides a place of reflection for many issues and worker safety is as legitimate as any other issues but what needs to be reinforced is the purpose of the park.   It is common to wander through a park and be oblivious of that park’s significance.   Continue reading “Tasmanian Workers’ Memorial Park officially opened”