How to turn a near miss into a positive

A near miss can come completely out of left field despite your best efforts and even if workers are being as careful as they can.

It could be someone slipping in the loading area or a workmate being hit by a chain while securing a load. Or it might be potentially more catastrophic, say an out-of-control forklift – but thankfully with no-one injured.

While serious ‘notifiable incidents’ must be reported to WorkCover immediately, it is equally critical that you and your workers don’t turn a blind eye to smaller scale non-reportable incidents.

A seemingly insignificant near miss could be a wake-up call indicating safety precautions are not up to scratch and if swept under the carpet, your business could suffer. If another similar incident occurs, this time it might result in injury, lost time, the need to hire a replacement or pay overtime and a raft of other headaches.

But by learning from near misses and making changes – even if it’s something as basic as tidying up potential trip clutter in the loading area – you can help avoid downtime and ensure workers return home safe each day.

Some research suggests that for every incident where someone is injured, there are as many as 90 prior near misses. And just because a worker has got accustomed to using faulty equipment on a daily basis without incident, say a forklift with worn tyres, it does not mean that the forklift is safe to use or the worker is safe using it.

Although it might seem like a hassle, logging details of every near miss – no matter how minor – is a very smart business investment. Basic details you need to record are who was involved, when and where it took place, what happened and how.

Hopefully your workplace will be incident free, but if not, and the incidents are minor and you log them all – and schedule a regular review of the log – then over time you may be able to identify patterns and then do something about it before someone gets seriously hurt.

One problem you could face is getting workers to report every near miss or minor slip incident, as these are often laughed off or the worker might be too embarrassed to put their hand up. Another stumbling block is that a worker who accidentally drops a pallet and almost hits a workmate might not report the near miss for fear of getting in trouble.

So it is vital that you encourage workers to always report near misses. Assure them they will not face any retribution and might actually help to prevent a repeat incident involving a direct hit and tragedy. Reinforce this by establishing a work health and safety segment at meetings or toolbox talks, where workers can raise an issue or log a near miss.

Find out more about near misses and get some more handy safety tips at the WorkCover website or give us a call on 13 10 50.

Case study: people and forklifts

AAA Trading & Transport employs eight drivers and delivers many types of freight in a range of vehicles, from one-tonne to 20-tonne trucks, from taut liners to rigid-side vehicles.

In this case, the truck driver was collecting a load at Global Freight, a depot used by numerous freight companies. The freight was loaded onto the truck with a forklift, driven by a worker who was employed by a third company, DC Australia Pty Ltd.

What is the problem?

When the forklift driver finished loading pallets of freight onto the truck he asked the truck driver to sign for the load. The forklift driver did not follow standard procedures and drove away without realising the truck driver had his foot under the back wheel of the forklift. The forklift rolled over the truck driver’s foot causing a crush injury.

The following factors contributed to the incident:

• Policies and procedures concerning traffic management in the warehouse and pedestrian safety in a loading/unloading zone were not strictly followed
• the forklift driver and truck driver did not have systems in place to separate pedestrians and forklifts.

What was done to solve the problem?

Global Freight was proactive in redesigning work systems and introduced some low cost measures to improve safety, notably:

• Truck drivers were allocated an office away from the warehouse traffic zones, where they could complete their paperwork once the job was done
• pedestrian walkways were clearly marked with yellow lines and signs were erected to guide drivers and pedestrians safely through the workplace
• a three-metre distance rule was implemented to separate pedestrians from moving plant
• ‘Toolbox talks’ were given to all warehouse workers, highlighting the need for safety in the loading area
• visiting drivers were instructed on new traffic management and loading/unloading procedures.

Business benefits
Safe work practices, such as line marking in traffic areas and separating pedestrians, drivers and moving plant, mean fewer accidents where forklifts and pedestrians are in the same area.

The median cost of a workers compensation claim in this industry is $3500. When an accident happens, it costs a business at least 10 times the cost of the claim in lost productivity, property damage, replacement costs and working days lost.
For a business involved in this incident, the cost of the injury may have been in the order of $35,000.

Key outcomes
This incident occurred as Global Freight was in the process of putting in place safer work practices. If a business recognises the need to improve safety, they should take action immediately. Even temporary measures can help, until final solutions are put in place.

Further information
For more information about work health and safety in the road freight transport industry, call 13 10 50 or visit the road freight transport section of our website.

Nine tips when securing your load

Around 40 per cent of injuries in the NSW road freight transport industry are caused by unsafe manual handling or being hit by falling objects. Continually securing loads carries risks for manual handling injuries. Each load is different and by sticking with some simple steps, you may save yourself or someone else from being injured.

These tips will help you avoid injuries when securing your load:

• Use load rated curtains where possible – position your load where the curtain maker recommends for safest deliveries
• before unloading, check loads haven’t shifted in transit
• use gates that swing, hang or slide rather than those that need to be removed manually
• don’t throw heavy lashings over your load – use a light rope attached and use this to position the webbing or chains
• work from the ground when adding your corner protection – lightweight extension poles will help
• tension your bindings with a pull down ratchet, a winch with a fixed handle or a non-rebound tensioner
• position your tensioner below your shoulder or use a stable standing aid to work when releasing the tension
• use mobile or fixed platforms to access the load when adjusting or securing lashings – don’t climb on the load
• maintain your load securing aids – roller tracks for curtains, webbing and chains. Sudden gear failures can cause injuries.

For more information about work health and safety in the road freight transport industry, call 13 10 50 or visit the road freight transport section of our website.

Four steps for manual handling training

Lifting your game on reducing the risk of manual handling injuries can seem like a heavy burden.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be.

Injuries stemming from incorrect manual handling can be an albatross around your neck. An injured worker not only places more pressure on workmates and can lower morale, but may also mean paying overtime or hiring a temp to avoid downtime.

Well-meaning employers can often get side-tracked with day to day responsibilities of running a competitive business, leaving little time to tackle work health and safety issues. Another stumbling block is a belief that effective manual handling training costs an arm and a leg.

But an industry trendsetter, Sean Redmond of Sydney-based TOT Transport, has demonstrated successful training is possible for very little cost. Despite having 130 contractors engaged in high-risk manual handling activity, TOT has a lost-time injury record that competitors envy.

So what is the TOT National Business Improvement and Safety Manager’s secret? Not a magic wand but commitment combined with decent equipment and a camera phone.

The first step, he explained, is to avoid manual handling by using suitable equipment.

The second step is to encourage workers to be healthy and fit.

“A guy who’s healthy and trained and in the field every day is less likely to have an injury,” said Mr Redmond.

The third stage is educating workers about being prepared for manual tasks – the same way an athlete would limber up for a big race.

“You’re going to use every part of your body, you’re going to stretch; make sure your diet is right, hydration is right, and every little aspect of what you’re about to do is right before you do it,” he said.

The fourth step – and this is where you need a camera – is putting workers through their paces in a simulated manual lifting scenario and photographing their movements.

“So, say they have a trolley and are about to lift a fridge; we watch them lift that fridge in practice and take a photograph of every single step, and look for any risk associated with it. Then you look for things they can do differently, or beforehand, to reduce the risk of harm. Sometimes the guys will have to move something heavy into a small area and have to compromise themselves physically, so we will try to help them reduce that compromise,” he said.

“We’ll go, ‘so is that the best way of doing that?’, which no-one has ever asked them before, they’re usually just told, pick up that fridge, take it to this address, smile at the customer and don’t be late. No-one’s said before, ‘now, the way you hold that trolley, is that the right way, and when you lift back, are you jerking or slowly bending knees and moving back?’ – all these little things, that’s how you prevent the injuries.

“Plus you start developing a risk assessment and begin to understand what the main risks actually are, and then put that into practice.”

Get some more helpful tips and advice at workcover.nsw.gov.au or call us on 13 10 50.

Eight ways to tell your boss where to go

Your boss might well thank you if you tell them where to go to find safety problems in the workplace. While raising safety concerns can be a daunting prospect, not doing so might mean a potentially dangerous issue remains unresolved.

It could be something like worn steps on your cabin, dangerous movement of forklifts or poor housekeeping posing slip, trip and fall hazards. Or perhaps you feel that your training for a particular task was inadequate or you need more help to do it safely.

But whatever the issue, it is important to remember that every worker has a right to work in safe places and, while it is an employer’s duty to keep you safe, you are also required to do your bit. So if you think there is a health and safety problem in your workplace, it is critical that you do something about it before it is too late and an incident that could have been prevented takes place.

In most workplaces, your first port of call would be flagging a safety concern with a supervisor, health and safety or union representative, rather than the actual employer. You might feel intimidated or awkward, but the few minutes it takes to talk and hopefully find a solution is nothing compared to the impact of an injury.

When talking to a boss about safety:

  • Ask how a health and safety issue should be raised as the boss may have a hazard reporting procedure in place
  • try to sound positive and speak out of concern for you and your co-workers’ safety
  • be polite and respectful
  • avoid confrontational words
  • try not to put the boss on the spot
  • don’t blame co-workers
  • keep your body language in check – for example, don’t cross your arms or point your finger
  • if possible, suggest a potential solution for the problem you have raised.

Remember, employers need to know about workplace hazards or unsafe activity and have a duty to address these, even if a solution means a fix in terms of equipment, extra staff or training.

Your boss may end up thanking you as a safer workplace generally means one with higher worker morale and productivity, plus workers will be happier knowing the boss is watching their backs so they can go home safe to loved ones every day.

Get some more tips and advice at workcover.nsw.gov.au or call us on 13 10 50.

Depression rampant in truck industry

Depression has existed in the road freight transport industry for decades, according to University of Technology Sydney (UTS) PhD student Taryn Chalmers.

Taryn’s large scale study of truck drivers’ mood disorders suggests that not only is depression a major issue but mental health issues in the industry are being neglected.

Her original honours research forms the basis for the PhD, from which she hopes tools can be developed to manage acute psychological conditions before they become chronic.

Associate Professor Sara Lal of the UTS Neuroscience Research Unit, School of Medical and Molecular Biosciences, is supervising the 25-year-old’s unique research project.

Only one previous study has ever been conducted into the prevalence of depression in the transport industry, but it did not assess depression effects on the driver’s physiological health.

“Depression has been proven to significantly reduce driving performance, factors such as reaction time, and steering ability,” Taryn said.

“And when you have an entire industry based on someone’s ability to operate a large vehicle, it’s worrying that we haven’t found ways to rectify or at least manage depression within this industry.”

Now digging deeper into the impact of depression on cardiovascular health in truck drivers, Taryn said truck drivers faced unique working conditions.

“Monotonous driving, intermittent work and rest cycles, as well as unhealthy food options and workplace isolation,” she said.

“It’s also a male-dominated industry, around 97.4 per cent, who find themselves in this depression-vulnerable workforce.”

Due to a multitude of reasons, including the social stigma of mood disorders, it was possible the average truck driver could suffer from depression for 30 years without being diagnosed, a condition that could eventually contribute to the development of heart-related disease.

“Recent statistics show that younger males are actually more susceptible to mood disorders than older males. Now that’s extremely concerning when you have a workforce that’s being flooded with new employees,” she said.

“So you’ve not only got depression potentially reducing their driving ability, but older individuals at risk of suffering heart attacks at the wheel. And it’s not just the drivers who are at danger; it’s also people in cars and pedestrians.

“I honestly think that it’s a really significant community safety problem, right across Australia.

“Depression appears to be an inherent part of this male-dominated industry and there’s really nothing much you can do about that.

“But if we can find a way to manage these conditions, it will mean not only helping them short term so they’re not experiencing the symptoms of depression, but that their cardiovascular health later down the line will be significantly improved.”

A key strategy would be to increase awareness among workers about the problems of depression and anxiousness in their industry and to encourage dialogue among peers and supervisors.

“Awareness is so important for the drivers,” she said.

“But I’m afraid that at the moment, ignorance appears to be the truck industry’s own worst enemy.”

For more information about improving the health of Australia’s truck drivers, see Heads up.