Your safety: it starts with you

Last month, we launched the second year of our ‘Safety starts with you’ campaign, which aims to ensure workers and employers stay safe on the job.

Coming home safely to loved ones is generally everyone’s number one motivator to keep safe at work.

But it is all too easy to become blasé about workplace safety, believing the chances of being hurt are very slim.

Aside from the implications for employers – down time, low morale, and hiring and retraining a replacement – the consequences for the worker reach far beyond the workplace.

If lucky, an injured worker will be back at work within days, but if not, and recovery drags on – in some cases, indefinitely – the emotional and financial impact on their family can be devastating.

Life as they know it is never the same again and things normally taken for granted, such as walking the dog, driving a car, socialising or playing sport, may no longer be possible. Even what initially appears to be a minor injury sustained via a common workplace incident, a slip or trip, can have a major impact.

An arborist, for example, suffered a permanent and serious brain injury when he fell 11 meters to the ground while cutting a tree with a chainsaw.

A 49-year-old man suffered head, spinal and chest injuries when he fell three metres down a set of stairs on a Sydney construction site.

Another worker whose life will never be the same again, an 18-year-old labourer, sustained horrific injuries when a steel bar pierced his skull while he was operating an excavator on a Sydney demolition site.

All these incidents, like most workplace injuries, could have been prevented if the employers and workers had not let their guard down on work health and safety priorities.

No matter what you do, safety starts with you.

Watch this video.

Use power tools safely

Early this year, SafeWork inspectors attended an incident in southwest Sydney after a 15-year-old construction worker got severe lacerations to his thigh, down to the bone, while using a circular saw to cut lengths of timber. It was his first day on the job.

Power tools come in various shapes, sizes, voltages and varieties. Yet, irrespective of the size of the tool or how it’s powered, the principles of safe use apply equally to all.

First, remember that a power tool’s effectiveness is proportional to your level of training in using the tool, as well as your diligence in following safety guidelines.

Before starting any job, go through a pre-start process and ensure everyone who is using power tools is trained and competent. And always check to make sure tools are in good working order.

Keep your hands and feet away from moving parts, keep others a safe distance away, and wear the correct personal protective equipment for the job.

Finally, employers and experienced workers need to ensure new and young workers receive the correct training and supervision.

Watch this short video by the Roofing Tile Association of Australia.

Changing age-old traditions for a safer workplace

For many businesses, manual tasks are an important part of getting the job done.

Not surprisingly, those who work at cemeteries do numerous hazardous manual tasks and are often prone to serious injuries.John Pearce is one of those people. As an employee of Coffs Harbour City Council, John worked at the local cemetery and was concerned about the damage he and others were doing to their backs when lowering coffins into graves.

Despite the generations-old method of lowering coffins, John was determined to find a safer alternative. After extensive consultation with council colleagues and funeral parlours, he designed and built a trolley on an A-frame to transport a coffin-lowering device behind a ride-on mower or small tractor.

John’s invention reduces manual handling activities by about 90 per cent and minimises trip hazards around the grave. It eliminates the need to lift the 52-kg coffin-lowering device on and off the frame and eliminates the need to push the 300-kg trailer.

Following John’s innovative creation, the council now actively encourages all staff to be proactive and provide suggestions on improving health and safety outcomes.

Fittingly, John was a stand-out winner at the 2017 SafeWork Awards for best individual contribution to workplace health and safety.

Register now for the 2018 awards.

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Managing hazardous chemicals

Exposure to chemicals is 100 per cent preventable. Without the proper controls, they can cause cancer, respiratory illnesses, skin and eye irritations, and fire and explosion-related injuries.

There are literally thousands of hazardous chemicals used in the workplace – paints, pesticides, cleaners and fuels, to name a few. They come in various forms – powders, solids, liquids and gases.

You must manage health and safety risks when storing, handling or using hazardous chemicals at a workplace by using the hierarchy of controls.

This video demonstrates what to consider when applying the hierarchy and how to go about choosing the appropriate controls.

You should review your chemical management strategies and use controls higher in the hierarchy in combination with lower level controls for the greatest effect.

You should also ensure that your workers receive training and supervision and consider the risks associated with storage, handling and disposal.

Through the implementation of the Hazardous chemicals and materials exposures baseline reduction strategy, the level and impact of workplace exposures to hazardous chemicals will be identified and reduced.

A priority list of 100 chemicals, based on national and international research has been developed, in which formaldehyde and crystalline silica rank first and second.

Read the codes of practice for more information on how to manage work health and safety risks and managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace.

The best way to improve employee’s mental health

In Australia, more than six million employees take sick leave every year due to mental illness. Moreover, untreated mental health conditions are resulting in $10.9 billion being lost every year due to absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims.

A world-first study published in Lancet Psychiatry, led by researchers at the Black Dog Institute and University of NSW, suggests that basic mental health training for managers can result in significant benefits for employees.

The research looked at the effects of a four-hour mental health training program delivered to Fire & Rescue NSW managers.

It found that the training was associated with a return on investment of $9.98 for each dollar spent on training and major reductions in work-related sickness absence. It is also the first study to show that training managers about mental health can have a direct impact in improving occupational outcomes for workers.

‘Having a supportive manager can make a huge difference to a person’s mental wellbeing, and as this study shows, giving basic mental health training to managers can bring significant changes to both confidence and behaviour among staff,’ says Samuel Harvey, who leads the Workplace Mental Health Research Program at the Black Dog Institute.

Get it right: ask an inspector

Based in St. Mary’s, Enviro Pallets manufactures timber pallets. It’s a small business, with just six full time workers – plus a handful of labour hire workers from Ability Options, an agency that supports people with disabilities.

Manufacturing pallets is a high risk industry and, following a request for service, a SafeWork inspector visited the premises and met with Mark Duffin, the factory manager, to offer some health and safety advice.

‘The workplace had a number of safety hazards,’ said Cris Jelley, Assistant State Inspector.

‘These included issues relating to poor housekeeping, machine guarding, traffic management, forklift safety, and handling and storage of hazardous chemicals.’

‘I issued numerous improvement notices,’ said Mr Jelley.

Regardless the severity of the notices, Mr Duffin saw it as a wake-up call and, over the next three months, he encouraged and welcomed further interactions with Mr Jelley.

Mr Duffin organised a massive clean-up of the workplace, fixed his chemical issues, fitted and improved guarding on machinery, improved traffic management, made walkways for pedestrians, issued personal protective equipment to everyone and, most importantly, sought his workers’ input on safety improvements.

‘The improvements have made my business safer and more productive,’ said Mr Duffin.

‘I have realised through your help, Cris, that it is more beneficial to be proactive than reactive, and I thank you for that – never too old to learn.’

An inspiration to us all

David Nugent owns a cattle farm near Wagga Wagga and does some contract work supplying hay and operating heavy machinery to supplement his income when times are tough.

Twenty years ago, David was seriously injured when his arms became caught in a hay baler as he was trying to fix a fault. As the baler pulled his arms in with such force, he suffered chest and head injuries along with extensive injuries to both arms. He was trapped for more than an hour before being rescued by a passing motorist and rushed to hospital.

David spent five months in hospital, had his right arm amputated above the elbow and numerous surgeries to save the left arm, including orthopaedic reconstruction, skin grafting, vascular grafting and infection control.

David knew nothing other than farming and was widely known in his community for solving problems and finding solutions. And this horrific tragedy did not deter him. His motto: the farm will not beat me.

With the help of a rehabilitation provider, prosthetic technician, case manager, family and friends, he developed a comprehensive return to work program and purchased modified equipment through SIRA’s vocational rehabilitation program. He made changes to the farm set-up, re-designed his work practices, and researched widely to find equipment that would satisfy his needs.

David credits a determined, problem-solving attitude and a great team as the principal reasons for his remarkable achievements.

Although the incident happened 20 years ago, David continues to receive medical treatment for his injuries but has returned to his pre-injury duties as a self-employed cattle farmer, hay contractor, bob-cat operator and earth mover.

David’s achievements were recognised last year when he won the 2017 SafeWork NSW Award for Recovery at Work Achievement Award for Injured Workers.

Register today for the 2018 SafeWork NSW Awards.