Breakfast seminar provides OHS tidbits

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In May 2016, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) and Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) held their annual safety breakfast.  The speakers were the usual blend of WorkSafe representative, SIA, Herbert Smith Freehills and remuneration survey results but there is always bits of useful information for the old hands and a lot of information for new entrants in the occupational health and safety profession. Continue reading “Breakfast seminar provides OHS tidbits”

Video of Level Crossing Survivor

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The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has shown a remarkable video of a Turkish man who was involved in a level crossing incident and survived.  

Initially it is difficult to identify the man from the aerial perspective but the side view shows clearly how lucky the man is.

It is not the policy of SafetyAtWorkBlog to show gratuitous videos with no point.  That is a role, it seems, for the internet generally.  However this video has instructional uses beyond the “gosh” factor.

It is worth looking at the video and considering the following issues

  • Rail location
  • Visibility of truck driver
  • Isolation of pedestrians from rail and vehicular traffic
  • Signage

There are many other issues that could be pertinent but are not identified in the video, such as administrative policies, compliance, even behavioural safety.

In this instance it is highly unlikely that the worker complementing the hard hat with a high visibility vest would have made much difference to the outcome.  But then an unfastened vest may have presented its own non-visibility hazard as a catch point for the wheel structure of the truck as it passed over him.

Please note that it is his survival which makes this video of interest but there are clear safety improvements to be made.

Political argy-bargy on level crossing safety

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Earlier this week Queensland MP Tim Nicholls, of the Liberal-National coalition gave the Queensland Transport Minister, John Mickel, a serve over the $10 million program on level crossing safety by calling the response “window dressing”. 

Nicholls seems more interested in political point-scoring than safety but he asks

“What has happened to all their much vaunted safety studies over the last decade.  It’s about time this Government came clean and explained whether it would actually commit new funding, what ongoing rail safety programs, if any, it has and whether today’s announcement will mean money is redirected from other maintenance and safety programs.”

He points out that

“Railway level safety was included in the National Road Safety Action Plan in 2003 and the Australian Transport Council has previously described railway level crossing crashes as ‘one of the most serious safety issues faced by the rail system in Australia'”

Today, Shadow Transport Minister Fiona Simpson got the focus back to safety for political procrastination and funding arguments describing the Queensland Government’s staunch defence of its “risk model” for determining upgrades was “dangerous“.

The Transport Minister has responded with political bluster but within John Mickel’s bluster is some points worth noting.

“For example, she [Fiona Simpson] might want to familiarise herself with the research which shows that the overwhelming number of level crossing accidents are caused by road driver behaviour, and how more than half of the accidents happen at crossings where there are boom gates or flashing lights.”

Mickel goes on to say

“Under this [uniform national assessment] process a review of level crossing characteristics such as topography and visibility takes place, which is then combined with the volume of road and rail traffic. The assessed level of risk is then used to prioritise any work that needs to be done.

The approach developed by Queensland forms the basis of what is known as ALCAM – the Australian Level Crossing Assessment Model – which has now been accepted by all state Transport Ministers as the method to be used to evaluate railway level crossings across Australia.”

ALCAM is receiving a great deal of attention through the Victorian Parliamentary investigation into level crossing safety. 

The need for uniform assessment processes is worthy but decisions on upgrading government infrastructure always considers the political imperatives, some would just, just as strongly as independent scientific advice.

Over decades workplace safety has developed assessment processes based on a range of techniques from plain observation to QRA, FEMA and many others.  Only recently has OHS got to the point of realising that greater and longer-lasting safety can be achieved through designing workplaces safely from the beginning rather than trying to achieve safety through retrofitting.  Recently in Australia, there is a growing movement to apply safety case techniques to workplaces that are not high-risk organisations.

Level crossing incidents, as do workplace fatalities, indicate that there was something not right with the initial design or that necessary safety improvements were permitted to lag behind the status and technology of the users of the facilities.  The fact remains that there are too many unsafe level crossings in Australia and each fatality is generating a reactionary government response rather than instigating true leadership.

Safe Driving and OHS management impacts

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SafetyAtWorkBlog has always been critical of those OHS professionals who try to explain OHS in comparison with driving.  They are different processes in different environments with different purposes and different rules.

However, there is a section of overlap and this relates to those whose work environment is transport and driving.

Worksafe Victoria has released a “Guide to safe work-related driving“.  This is essential reading for fleet managers, in particular, but good fleet managers would already have OHS as part of their driving policies.

For those of us who have not known how to interpret OHS obligations for our company vehicles, WorkSafe has issued these clarifications:

  • purchasing and maintaining a safe and roadworthy feet
  • ensuring employees have the relevant appropriate driver licences
  • scheduling work to account for speed limits and managing fatigue
  • providing appropriate information and training on work related driving safety
  • monitoring and supervision of the work related driving safety program.

In this type of workplace, workers seem to have as many obligations as employers but WorkSafe has listed for following as employee duties:

  • holding a current, valid drivers licence
  • abiding by all road rules (eg speed limits)
  • refraining from driving if impaired by tiredness or medication
  • reporting any incidents required by the employer’s program
  • carrying out any routine vehicle checks required by the employer.

There are many areas of contemporary life where the OHS obligations can seem absurd but work-related driving has always been a neglected area of workplace safety.  Every time SafetyAtWorkBlog receives notification of traffic incidents, the emergency services are asked whether the vehicle was being used for work purposes.  Unless it is a bus or a chemical tanker, the question is rarely asked or the information recorded at the scene of the crash.  As a result, the data on work-related driving incidents is scant and WorkSafe has done well in applying what there is.

The guide is terrific but it won’t raise the awareness of these necessary business and employee obligations until WorkSafe’s enforcement and investigative resources are included in traffic incidents and until a case law of OHS prosecutions for work-related driving is established.

The practice of having police and criminal prosecutions replacing OHS prosecutions for work-related incidents must end.  A transport vehicle is a mobile workplace and should be treated as such by having prosecutions under the road transport legislation AND OHS laws.  If not, we will be getting more airbags and less hazard elimination.

Drug use in transport workplaces

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There is a continuing and contentious parallel between road safety and occupational safety. OHS specialists are worsening this problem by trying to illustrate OHS issues in relation to road safety because road safety is seen to be more easily understandable by the public.

But this approach confuses the public more than enlightens, and it also puts workplace safety in a difficult context

There is a continuing and contentious parallel between road safety and occupational safety. OHS specialists are worsening this problem by trying to illustrate OHS issues in relation to road safety because road safety is seen to be more easily understandable by the public.

But this approach confuses the public more than enlightens, and it also puts workplace safety in a difficult context. This is illustrated, particularly, in an article in Melbourne’s HERALD-Sun newspaper ( 25 February 2008), entitled “Road Killers – Truckies in drug binge“.

I am of the opinion that vehicles used for work purposes make the vehicles, for most of their time, workplaces, and should be subject to occupational health and safety laws and obligations. OHS regulators support this perspective for vehicles such as taxis and cattle trucks, as they participate in taxi industry safety programs and provide guidance on accessing the outside of cattle truck in a safe manner. But they hesitate when relating driver behaviour to a safe workplace.

Car drivers operate within a different set of rules. They drive without OHS obligations. But truck, and commercial vehicle, operators must operate within road and workplace rules providing drivers and employers with a detailed set of rules that cover all the hours and activities within their work shifts.

There are legislative OHS obligations on all employees to undertake work tasks in a manner that does not threaten or injure themselves and others. (This obligation reflects the common sense attitude that most individuals have over their own welfare.) There is also a legislative OHS obligation on employers to provide a safe and healthy work environment. If the transport industry, and OHS regulators, were serious about applying these obligations to all workplaces, they would be applying them more heavily to the drivers and trucking companies.

Inaction is unforgivable when there are rules governing the actions of individuals and employers. The rules are good rules but are not being enforced.