Why you should change now

Imagine how it would affect you to see a workmate’s leg being torn to shreds.

Think about it.

After someone gets seriously injured at work, everything changes.

You churn over the what-ifs, the bad decisions, the oversights and the poor systems, and you start a journey to make sure it never happens again.

That’s what happened after Nigel Smith got caught in the conveyor at a steel tube mill, 22 years ago.

That day the conveyor had a jam-up.

Nigel turned the machine off and went to fix the problem; he was more worried it would cause stoppages down the line than anything else.

But when he removed the jam the machine restarted automatically.

Kevin Baker was one of the first guys on the scene.

‘Another three feet and Nigel would have been cut in half. It was horrific,’ Kevin said.

He said he can still hear Nigel’s screams.

Two decades on Nigel – now a workplace safety ambassador for WorkCover and the Australian Paralympic Committee – was invited back and returned to his old workplace to see what had changed.

Nigel spoke to old colleagues, friends, and a new generation of steel workers at Austube Mills, about the experience that affected both the business and its people.

Kevin hasn’t forgotten that day; it informed a deeply personal philosophy.

‘Look after each other. That’s what we’re here for. If you don’t look after each other it’s a waste of time being here.’

Nigel’s incident was another turning point for Austube Mills around isolation; it also sparked a dedicated safety journey around behavioural safety and influenced a new kind of worker.

These workers don’t commonly experience workplace injuries first-hand anymore; they became the beneficiaries of a safety culture that was forged in the aftermath of Nigel’s accident.

Garry Meagher, Manager of Safety Quality, Environment and Training, said everyone at Austube Mills is now part of the safety culture.

‘We’ve attempted to build and improve our capability so that we move from just being compliant, to being fully committed,’ Garry said.

‘Our leaders promote safety culture and focus on this with our workers because keeping people safe is what matters. We move people across to that way of thinking.

‘We’re doing it because we want to, not because we have to. Because it’s the right thing to do.

‘If we had the right training and infrastructure back then around Nigel’s incident, we might have prevented it.’

As Austube Mills story shows, the tragedy of an incident can be the trigger for something special.

Incidents like Nigel’s are a constant spur for people there to strive to improve every day, to value safety above all else – as Kevin says, to ‘look out for each other.’

But nothing can replace the leg that was lost or the lives that were damaged.

I hope you never have to go through something like this. But I hope you are already asking, ‘What if?’

What if you started your own journey now?

Watch the emotional story in Full Circle and make a decision: not to wait for your Nigel Smith.

Chemicals and the GHS – don’t be left behind

A new international system of chemical classification and labelling is on the way and it will affect anyone in Australia who manufactures, buys, sells or uses hazardous chemicals – is this you?

If you work with hazardous chemicals you need to get on board now with changes that will be in force by December 31 2016.

The GHS stands for the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. It replaces the current Approved Criteria for Classifying Hazardous Substances and the Australian code for their labelling.

The changes affect the way information on chemicals is communicated.

Craig Day, a farmer, contract sprayer, and trainer for chemical accreditation, believes better information will help him avoid exposure to the chemicals he works with.

Craig says he is ready for the transition and in fact has already devised a strategy to both educate his students and to help steer his business through the transition period.

‘I knew it was coming and I hope it will tighten up the rules and close the gaps in the current labelling system,’ said Craig.

‘I’m hoping that there’s a clearer link between what’s on the label and the safety data sheet (SDS); that the info on the new labels picks up some of the hazards that are buried in the SDS.’

Both labels and the SDS will look different and are expected to communicate hazard information better, to a broader audience.

Agriculture and veterinary chemicals will still need approval by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).

However, the addition of GHS Hazard Statements to these labels will complement the APVMA risk assessment process and improve hazard communication for all users.

The United Nations initiated the GHS for this reason, as a way to standardise hazard communication across countries.

Did you know?
Over 65 countries have adopted or are in the process of adopting the GHS.

You will not only see changes to classifications of the chemicals themselves, but to the language and organisation of labels and the SDS with new signal words, hazard statements and precautionary statements.

Perhaps the most noticeable change will be the pictograms.

There are now nine diamonds surrounded by a red border, with two new symbols for those that affect human health and one for environmental hazards.

The GHS labels will advise you on how to safely handle, dispose of and store these products.

‘It’s sobering to get someone to sit down and read the SDS on these chemicals. They have to know a range of different information in case of a spill and most of my student’s reactions are, ‘I didn’t know it was really that toxic’,’ said Craig.

Craig worries about chronic health issues and believes better information can help raise awareness about handling.

‘There are plenty of people in the rural environment who suffer from long latency illnesses.

‘We hear about bladder cancer and clusters and I know plenty of people who have had eye injuries from not wearing the right protection.

‘I do wonder why so many in the rural environment suffer Parkinson’s disease and of course the organophosphates story is one that worries me. Not many people get the annual health checks done. People’s awareness is quite low.’

The new language used is simpler and more direct, and provides information that will protect chemical users and their environment.

Did you know?
The GHS was developed over ten years by a number of international experts in areas ranging from toxicology to fire protection.

The GHS is hazard based rather than risk based and aims to regulate hazardous chemicals throughout their whole life cycle.

That is, from the point of manufacture through to safe use and environmentally acceptable disposal.

Craig said his plan of action involves taking an inventory of his stock and said he if he can purchase GHS compliant goods now it will help him to avoid re-labelling later.

‘We will run down our supply in the interim, finish what we can, and then we will look at our register and re-print our SDS and labels.

‘That way when we receive new supplies we’ve changed over and have the right SDS and register to go with it.

‘I anticipate that companies preparing next years’ cropping chemical now are also implementing the new labelling system – at least they should be at this stage.’

If you are a chemical manufacturer or supplier, or you work with hazardous chemicals, you should:

  • identify deadlines
  • conduct an inventory
  • assess your readiness
  • implement your transition plan.

Remember, any new stock you buy from 1 January 2017 must be GHS compliant (both labels and SDS). Check with your manufacturer or supplier if they are carrying GHS compliant stock before you place an order, especially for larger purchases you order now.

For more information on the GHS visit safework.nsw.gov.au

You’ll be shocked by current stats

When it comes to electricity, it’s not only sparkies who get injured by electricity in the workplace.

Electricians, while more likely to sustain electrical injuries, are actually outnumbered by those from other trades who are injured by electricity at work.

Labourers, sales assistants, cleaners and even teachers report electricity-related injuries.

Port Hunter Conveyors (PHC), who won a Safe Work Award in 2013, and was a finalist in 2014, works in the mining industry around conveyor systems.

They identified electricity as the third most dangerous hazard in their workplace.

PHC workers use portable electrical equipment and extension leads in coal preparation plants and also underground.

HSEQ Coordinator, Jared Dwyer, said at PHC their main electrical concern is welding around water.

If someone has wet gloves, they can receive a shock.

‘In 2011, for example, we had an incident where the person assisting was wearing wet gloves and received a shock. We generally work in wet conditions so you need equipment to mitigate this, such as wooden pallets and dry, waterproof gloves,’ said Jared.

Jared said PHC also aims for water-tight risk assessments.

‘We have everything tagged and tested on a regular basis. We do an inspection at the start of the month and daily visual inspections to make sure anything damaged in transit or during work is identified.’

‘Even so, we had a near miss where something inspected at the start of the month was found with exposed wires a week later after being damaged in transit. Luckily this was picked up during the daily visual inspection.

‘We haven’t had an incident for the last three years though and we think this is because we keep communicating safety; we regularly update our safe work method statements (SWMS) and carry out toolbox talks and risk assessments.’

Mr Ron Keelty, Director of WorkCover’s Specialist Services Group, said if you work with electricity you should be appropriately qualified and experienced.

‘Seven out of eight people who report electrical injuries aren’t electricians,’ Mr Keelty said.

‘The vast majority of injuries are electric shocks sustained from wiring and lighting, sound systems, and from other electrical objects like computers or cooking equipment,’ said Mr Keelty.

‘Anyone is fair game when it comes to electrical injuries, so it pays to know the golden rules.’

When working with electricity:

  • never work live
  • identify all electrical sources before you start
  • assess the risks
  • isolate the supply
  • lock the switch
  • test before you touch
  • reassess if anything changes.

To see these tips in action, watch Electrical safety, or visit the WorkCover website for more information.

Five simple stretches, 10 minutes a day

The busier you are at work, the more likely it is you’ll neglect your health and well-being. Whether you work indoors or outdoors, remaining stationary for too long can lead to discomfort and injury.

Stretching is a good way to improve your flexibility and muscle soreness. Concentrate on slow, sustained stretches and hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds.

If you’re receiving treatment, have an injury or have any questions, you should check with your doctor or health professional before starting these exercises.

Here are five simple stretches that can be done in just 10 minutes a day.

Stretch 1
  1. Interlace fingers and turn palms upward above head.
  2. Straighten arms then slowly and gently lean from side to side.
Stretch 2
  1. Stand up.
  2. Place both hands on lower back.
  3. Gently arch back and hold for 15 seconds (don’t throw your head back).
  4. Repeat three times.
Stretch 3
  1. Stand upright, back straight.
  2. Interlace your hands behind your back.
  3. Gently raise your hands (palms in) towards the ceiling until you feel a gentle stretch.
  4. Hold for 15 seconds then release.
  5. Repeat three times.
Stretch 4
  1. Raise the head to straighten the neck.
  2. Gently tuck the chin in creating a double chin and hold for 5 seconds (do not look up or down).
  3. Release to the starting position and don’t poke chin forward.
  4. Place your hand over your chin for guidance if required.
  5. Repeat three times.
Stretch 5
  1. Straighten your arm.
  2. Holding your fingers, gently bend wrist up until you feel a stretch in the forearm.
  3. Hold for 15 seconds then release.
  4. Holding your fingers, gently bend wrist down until you feel a stretch in the forearm.
  5. Hold for 15 seconds then release.
  6. Repeat with other arm.

The Better Health Channel providers 10 tips for stretching safely and suggests you stretch for 10 minutes every day.

Sitting too much at work can be deadly

We all know that regular exercise is an important part of staying healthy, but studies show that it might not be enough to stave off many health issues if you spend most of your day sitting.

Research findings published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine reveal that spending too much time sitting down means a greater risk of premature death. While the results echo previous study findings, this new probe focused on women aged 50-79 years.

Harvard Women’s Health Watch executive editor, Stephanie Watson, observed that the more hours women spent sitting at work, driving or on the sofa watching TV, the greater their odds of dying early from all causes, including heart disease and cancer.

“And here’s the kicker; even women who exercised regularly risked shortening their lifespan if most of their daily hours were sedentary ones,” she wrote in the Harvard Health Blog.

Study co-author, Dr JoAnn Manson, explained that older women spending too much time sitting, but also doing moderate to vigorous exercise, still faced a higher risk of an earlier death.

Closer to home, a study conducted by Medibank Private demonstrates that prolonged sitting is just as much an issue in Australia as in the United States. Conducted on 131 members of Medibank’s staff, they found that a startling 77 per cent of time spent at work is sedentary.

Work isn’t the only factor at play, either, with the majority (62 per cent) of a non-work day also spent sedentary.

Clearly the study results sound warning bells, not just for mature women, but for people with deskbound jobs who spend too much leisure time in couch potato mode.

Here are some simple steps you can take to avoid sedentary behaviour at work:

  • Walk to colleagues to talk instead of phoning or emailing.
  • Take a short walk around the office every hour.
  • Walk around the neighbourhood at lunch instead of eating at your desk.
  • Use a bathroom/printer/kitchen/bin that is further away, forcing you to walk more.
  • Use the stairs instead of a lift.
  • Walk or ride to work if possible, or stand up on public transport.
  • Park further away from work than necessary.

For other tips on staying healthy at work visit the NSW Government’s Get Healthy at Work website.