Extraordinary duty of care prosecution over a near miss

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Near miss events, or “close calls”, are important opportunities to review safety and work processes.  In fact they can be the best opportunities as the participants and witnesses are still alive and can provide detailed information on the mistakes, breakages or oversights.  But rarely are companies prosecuted for near misses.

In Western Australia, a company has been found guilty of breaching its duty of care after two of its workers were lost for almost a whole day, and was fined over $A50,000, the highest fine of this type.  The near miss is almost comical and at least one newspaper has described it as a “comedy of errors“, except that it could easily have resulted in tragedy.  WorkSafeWA’s (long) media release, provides the details:

MAXNetwork was contracted to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations to consult with disadvantaged job seekers, in this case through their office in Kalgoorlie.

A number of employment consultants work at the Kalgoorlie office, and they regularly travel to remote areas – some accessible only by dirt roads and narrow tracks – to work with job seekers.

In December 2009, two of the company’s Kalgoorlie area employment consultants were instructed to do an “outreach visit” to the remote community of Tjuntjuntjara, around 600km north-east of Kalgoorlie in the Great Victoria Desert.

The two consultants departed Kalgoorlie in a Toyota Prado leased by MAXNetwork at around 6.00am on a journey estimated to take nine to ten hours on a road with no signs that was a narrow track in some places.

The women were not provided with a map, GPS or any other navigational aid, and consequently they became lost. They had received no training or instruction on travelling in remote areas, and so did not know what to do in the event of becoming lost.

The satellite telephone provided to the consultants did not work, and management was aware of this prior to the trip. In addition, there was no schedule for regular contact with workers in remote locations so no-one realised the women were overdue. Continue reading “Extraordinary duty of care prosecution over a near miss”

Unnecessary pissing contest in the Western Australian safety profession

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In Western Australia in 2010, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) conducted its conference, the WA Safety Show, at the end of August.  In 2011, the SIA did not hold a conference in that State but in 2012 the WA Safety Show returned to Perth however it was oddly rescheduled earlier in the month, August 7-9.  Curiously there is another safety conference occurring in Perth on those very same days, only 500 metres away and it happens to be conducted by Safety In Workplaces Australia (SIWA), a recent safety professional association that emerged from disenfranchised SIA members.

The 2010 WA Safety Show was organised by the then secretary of the WA branch of the SIA, Gavin Waugh, who is now the President of SIWA.  In 2012 there is both a WA Safety Show and a WA Safety Conference happening on the same days within 500 metres of each other but run by different safety professional organisations.

What the ??? Continue reading “Unnecessary pissing contest in the Western Australian safety profession”

Vulnerability and arrogance

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“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”

New book on OHS laws challenges current understandings of workplace safety

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With the change of political heart from some of Australia’s state governments over the harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws, many academic and legal publishers revised their book plans as the national market was less national. However, some continued to publish understanding that although OHS harmonisation had a political deadline of 1 January 2012, refinement of the laws would continue for several years.

Federation Press has released a new book by prominent labour lawyer, Michael Tooma, and academic, Richard Johnstone, called “Work Health & Safety Regulation in Australia – The Model Act“. The title states an immediate limitation that other publishers squibbed at. The book is based on the Model Work Health and Safety Act and not, necessarily, the versions of the Act implemented at State level. Production timelines are responsible for this but it makes it even more important to follow the writings and research of Johnstone and Tooma to understand developments.

The Social Context of Safety

The authors reiterate an important element of the WHS Act in their introduction:

“[the laws] are no longer workplace or occupationally based, nor predicated on the employment relationship; rather the laws protect persons involved in ‘work’ in a business or undertaking, and, in addition, protect ‘others’ whose health and safety is affected by work. Consequently the scope of the Model Act is limited only by the imagination of those entrusted to interpret them and to enforce them.” (page 3)

This paragraph summarises well the elements of the laws that are causing so much fear in the Australian business community. Continue reading “New book on OHS laws challenges current understandings of workplace safety”

An Olympic first really worth celebrating.

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Just over a coupla years ago I waved optimistically in the Twitterverse with “14 Athens, 6 Beijing, 43 New Delhi. How about the London Olympics uses the slogan: “No one had to die to make this happen Games”?

Well, they done it! No work oriented fatalities recorded and a record-breaking drop in injury rates. (I did see that there was a death of a crane driver on one of the sites, but it seems it was subsequently revealed the chap died of a heart attack.)

A fantastic achievement, and the British Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is justifiably proud of their role; and bravo to them.

Better still, you can find a whole bunch of research and analytical papers based on the things learned from the very deliberate and measured work safety approaches used.

I’ve only had time to have a quick squizz through the host of papers available. But it does seem that the use of a systematic approach to managing contractors, support for supervisors, a major engagement of workers to improve safety outcomes – all those things contributed to an excellent safety result. In other words, they implemented the work safety principles that have been bandied about for years, and it worked beautifully.

Here be a bunch of handy links on the outcomes and findings, there’s lots to use in this stuff:

Lessons for industry from the HSE site: http://www.hse.gov.uk/aboutus/london-2012-games/lessons-for-industry.htm

A news release from the British Institute of Occupational Safety and Health; a handy summary of outcomes with other links: http://www.iosh.co.uk/news/latest_news_releases/31_olympic_build_research.aspx

Col Finnie
finiOHS