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Published on: December 8, 2011

I’m a massive fan of 5AA’s Leon Byner so when I heard him intro a segment yesterday that involved Occupational Health and Safety, of course I’m all ears! His introduction blurb was superb as always. He spoke about the need for a rigorous random workplace inspection protocol followed by the enforcement of the legislation – exactly right … but then he introduced his guest and it all went South from there.

Enter Peter Hurley, the State President of the Australian Hotels Association into the conversation. The segment was to follow on from the article in yesterday’s Advertiser, Hotel chief attacks our nanny state | Adelaide Now and so it became clear the ideology was now more or less singing a song along the lines of, ‘OHS gone mad’.

I don’t know, maybe the way the SafeWork SA executes OHS regulations at the business level really is drowning everyone in a bureaucracy that does more damage than good to the cause. Lord knows, VOID and its families have experienced more than a little frustration (read brick wall pounding) in dealing with the department’s red tape and holier than thou attitude. There’s no doubt in my mind that SafeWork SA has missed its calling on the efficiencies of work practise but I don’t think that’s any excuse to ridicule safety that way this man has.

Let’s just brush aside the complicated OHS academic jargon for a moment because I think that’s half the problem. Based on the comments made on 5AA, the problem with attitudes just like that which Peter Hurley portrays, is really just a poor understanding of a very basic safety concept – that being a small thing called prevention. Yes indeed, there you have one of the chore principles – and then the point of it all – why we have it, what it all aims to achieve … is to spare people a long life of misery.

If there’s one thing a Government Department does well, it’s complicate the shit out of something that just need not be.

I get it; times are tough for business and spending money on anything that equals no financial return is not going to be met with the warm and fuzzies. It irks me to no end that neither major party in Parliament at either State or Federal level sees the problems that have been born of globalisation. It’s snowballing to business sectors outside of manufacturing now. We’re not competing on a level playing field and it worries me that as money gets tighter, the first thing that will disappear is a commitment to occupational health and safety.

When OHS means spending money on High-Viz stuff when there’s no blood on the drive-thru asphalt, one will be tempted to call it pointless bureaucratic rubbish. The fact that there’s been human blood shed hundreds of times as a result of employees not being visible enough when people and vehicles co-exist in work, will seem irrelevant. Besides, there’s that anti-Work Health Safety Bill bandwagon running around right now, why not jump on that, it’s taking new passengers all the time I hear!

I am convinced Peter Hurley echoes the thoughts of a large number of managers, contractors and employees – especially in smaller business. Sadly, the complex nature of OHS (and it need not be so complex) means that many business people just don’t quite get the point. They’re being told to do something that does not equate to actual experience (ie. an injury has not yet occurred so how are these poor buggers supposed to justify spending money on something that hasn’t posed a safety issue for them?

It’s times like these I would love to grab the Peter Hurley’s of this world by the nostrils and show them our line of reasoning. He’d know soon the point of it when it’s all coloured up real nice with lots of human blood, in the eyes of the fatherless children, in years and years of sadness and at the sheer waste of life!

Oh yeah – suddenly the cost of a high-viz vest might not be such a big deal huh? Maybe we should go visit one of the local law firms and get an idea what a breach of legislation is likely to cost to defend should the unthinkable happen? Sure it’s a long shot but how much did that high-viz vest cost again? Shame on you Peter Hurley.

To an employee working in a drive-thru, that high-viz vest might never make an iota of difference but to a colleague working at a drive-thru down the road, maybe it was the one thing the driver noticed as he pulled into the drive thru? A vest that helps people stand out like a neon sign – what a wonderful simple safety concept. What a bargain!

Just what the hell is the issue again?

The caller that bothered me most was the man that spoke about a woodworking machine that he at a previous management role. One of his employees had removed some fingers and he went on to credit that employee as being a ‘WorkCover Junkie’. He also mentioned the inspector (and that it was a female inspector for some reason that was important to mention)and then ridiculed her for what she was advising him that needed to be done to the machine. A lot of what he said did not make sense.

He did mention a lock and that was a clue for me. I’m guessing while he was showing her how the employee must have been standing in order to get himself in a position of being able to injure himself, the female inspector has made a suggestion that he saw as being ridiculous. That man whom ever he was (I have heard that attitude before many times) I would bet my left arm that woodworking machine older than this old hen and what she was trying to portray was a simple locking mechanism might have prevented the accident. He was too angry to hear it.

Would it surprise any of these people to know that almost every single workplace fatality is deemed to be to some degree, the fault of the employee by the employer? It took me 6 years to finally read the statements of Diemould’s management. Yes the consensus was that the machine was perfectly safe as long as it was used as intended. It took a Coronial Inquest to finally set that record straight.

Such simple safety measures, a vest or a lockout, a tripper bar, a light curtain – Occupational Health and Safety isn’t at all complicated when you’ve actually touched blood and tasted the tears.

Like I said, shame on you Peter Hurley.

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