Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 51 – Occupational Heath and Safety – OHS

November already, where has the year gone? I hope you are enjoying the start of the run up to the end of the year, and of course the “silly season” otherwise known as Christmas.
This month we are going to be focussing our discussion on the topic of Occupational Safety and Health. Hardly an interesting topic you might think, but one that we haven’t looked at in a long time. As you will be out and about over the next couple of weeks, eating, drinking and finding time to be very merry, it is probably the best topic we could choose however.

In this issue we will look at:

• Costly mistakes
• What is a hazard
• Working on Contract – What is the Host Employers Duty of Care?
• Other things to consider
• Job opportunities
• Forthcoming events
• A Thought to ponder

Costly Mistakes
It’s a sad fact of life that we make mistakes, sometimes-costly ones. You may have heard about the young man who tried to unblock a machine by climbing inside it. The result was not pretty. The quick thinking paramedics picked him and his legs up, raced up to the hospital where surgeons managed to re-attach one of them. Unfortunately the other one was so badly crushed they couldn’t do anything with it.

Whilst most of us will never build limestone block walls for a living, or come into contact with cutting machinery on our day-to-day jobs, we do face other kinds of hazards every single day of our lives. As you go about your day-to-day lives I would ask that you see your workplace through the eyes of a new starter, or a child. You will be surprised at what you will see if you do.

What is a Hazard?
“A hazard is anything that may cause injury or harm to a person.” And includes:

Falls – Including falling objects, people falling from height and slips and trips. In WA, 2 people die each year after falling from height. 1300 people suffer serious injuries, and a further 3000 people suffer broken bones, cuts, bruises and sprains after being exposed to slippery or uneven floors. Around 30% of injuries are serious enough to keep workers away from their jobs for more than 30 days. The cost to an employer is approximately $9,000 rising to $19,000 if the worker is off for 60 days. (please note: All figures are taken from Worksafe, which is a division of the Department of Consumer and Employment Protection.

Electricity – This can include anything with an electrical current or can also be lightning induced.  Add water to the mix and you can have a few serious problems. By the way, electrocution is the most common cause of work place deaths in WA workplaces (Worksafe).

Manual Handling – Through over-exertion or repetitive movement. Over seven million work days were lost in WA over the last five years as a result of workplace injury amounting to 133,000 compensation claims at an average cost of $18,000 each. The usual figure touted as acceptable is 16kilograms, however it is important to remember that you should only life to your own capacity. What one person may find easy to pick up and carry, another person may struggle with.

Extremes of Temperature. Significant drops in temperature can increase the severity of OH&S issues as cold temperatures tightens muscles and stiffens joints. (CCH headlines 7 March 2003 – Heat on the other hand can cause dehydration and sleepiness, both of which can cause problems.

Machinery or Equipment – Including, being hit, hitting objects and being caught in or between machinery or equipment (eg., compactus). Please bear in mind that you are not covered for Workers Compensation and Public Liabilities insurance during travelling time to and from work.

Hazardous substances – Including, Acids, Hydrocarbons, Asbestos, Toner, Glue, Photocopying Fumes. Did you know that there were over 280 deaths or injuries over the last five years as a result of exposure to chemicals and hazardous substances? If in doubt – find someone who can tell you where the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are before handling the substance. If you have to stand for long periods of time in front of a photocopier – try to ensure there is adequate ventilation. If there isn’t anything, then walk away from the machine for a break and to get some fresh air.

Radiation – From microwaves (don’t stand in front of the microwave when you are waiting for your dinner to cook. If the seal on the microwave is wearing out – you may end up exposing yourself to more radiation than your dinner!!) Other types of radiation we may come into contact with – although less likely given our industry includes Lasers, UV (Ultra Violet) or welding arc flashes. However, as an employment agency we have had requirements for contractors to go onto mine sites and refinery plants. In which case, you should abide by the Host employers OH&S code of practice and attend any/all safety inductions and meetings as required as well as wear all Personal Protective Equipment (masks, ear plugs, safety glasses, steel-toe cap boots etc).

Biological Agents – The wide spread use of terrorism as an intimidator and the use of agents such as Anthrax has become an interesting issue since September 11. Whilst actual use of these kinds of agents is rare, we have heard of instances of “powder” substances being received in mailrooms. So be on the look out and report anything that you think is strange.

Psychological Stress – This includes intimidation, racial and sexual harassment, bullying, violence, conflict and time pressure are all classed as hazards in a work place situation.  Whilst telling Blonde jokes may seem like a bit of harmless fun, it may not be to the many blondes that you happen to work with. Christmas is perhaps one of the worst times for extremes of psychological stress to occur, for example sitting on “Santa’s lap” to receive gifts, unwarranted attention and kisses – from co-workers, too much alcohol can lead to all sorts of problems not least of which – pranks that can and do go wrong.

Please note – there is a booklet available from on how to “manage common workplace hazards” to download you need to go to the Think Safe Campaign Section.

Working on Contract – What is the Host Employers Duty of Care?

As a host employer, the OH&S responsibilities to contractors is exactly the same as the OH&S responsibilities they have to their own employees.  They have a Duty of Care to those people who are working on their premises to:
• Provide a safe workplace and safe systems of work;
• Identify potential hazards in the workplace;
• Provide mechanisms to address safety & health hazards;
• Provide ongoing safety & health training, information, instruction and supervision;
• Provide personal protective clothing & equipment (where necessary);
• Consult & cooperate with safety & health representatives & other employees regarding OH&S.

You should receive a site-specific induction, which includes being shown things such as the muster points as well as the loos and kitchen. Please be aware that the day you start a new position is the day you are most likely to have an accident. Why? Well everyone else knows about the dodgy step or the broken door, except you. So it is easily overlooked when they are showing you around the building for the first time. So try and keep your eyes open for anything that doesn’t look right and report it to the person who is supervising you (nicely of course). And if they aren’t interested, then telephone and let us know so that we can advise them – nicely of course.

Other issues to consider:

Safe Lifting Practices: Working on contract to a host employer, you may be tempted to rush a job, especially if the timeframe is a little tight. If this involves lifting and carrying, you may forget all about the safe lifting practices you were taught and end up hurting your back or other body parts.

Presenteeism: Or going in to work when you don’t feel up to the mark. As a contractor – as you know, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. If money is a little tight (and who isn’t feeling the pinch at the moment?!) you may be tempted to go to work regardless. A couple of points about this – if you are genuinely sick – then stay at home, and do not inflict your colleagues with whatever is ailing you. Depending on the duration of the illness of course you may need to supply a Doctor’s Certificate, and another one that clears you to return to work.

Don’t take on work without the contract first: Make sure you have a contract before you start work otherwise you may find yourself without workers compensation and public liabilities insurance if you’re not careful.

And talking of insurance: If you are not on the clients premises during lunch or other breaks – you may not be eligible for workers compensation or public liabilities coverage should anything happen to you. Worthwhile considering before agreeing to join your host employers annual abseiling xmas function.

Forthcoming Events

IEA’s in-house training opportunities for 2006 has now officially ended. It has been a very busy year with 29 training courses run, plus 2 special events. IEA’s first ever attempt at a conference – the EDRMS: Local People, Local Knowledge back in June of this year which attracted over a hundred delegates over the three days, and the Breakfast seminar we held in October on Implementing EDRMS Training.

2007 looks like it is going to be full of new and exciting opportunities, we will however, be running our core training sessions throughout the year. So if you missed out for whatever reason – we will be looking to start the next round of training in February.

A Thought to Ponder
“The only way to be safe is never to try anything for the first time”
Magnus Pike (1908-)
English Scientist