7 tips for talking to your boss about safety

Raising a workplace safety concern with your boss can sometimes seem like a daunting prospect. Not doing so, however, can mean a dangerous incident goes unresolved, potentially injuring you or your workmates.

It could be something like a machine missing protective guards, dangerous movement of plant, poor housekeeping posing a trip hazard or speaking up if you see someone being bullied. Or perhaps you feel that your training for a particular task was inadequate or you need more help to do it safely.

Whatever the issue, it’s important to remember that every worker has a right to work in fair, just and safe workplaces. Your employer is obligated (as far as is reasonably practicable) to provide such an environment, but you still have to do your bit and speak up before it’s too late.

In most workplaces, your first port of call would be flagging a safety concern with a supervisor, health and safety or union representative. 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.

Here are a few tips for talking safety:

  • Before anything goes wrong, ask how a health and safety issue should be raised. Your boss may have a hazard reporting procedure in place.
  • Be positive and speak out of concern for you and your co-workers’ safety.
  • Be polite, respectful and avoid confrontational words.
  • Try not to put the boss on the spot.
  • Don’t blame your 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 it’s against the law to be fired for raising a work health and safety issue.

Your boss may end up thanking you, as a safer and healthier workplace is one that is more profitable through reduced absenteeism, productivity and compensation claims. 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 safework.nsw.gov.au or call us on 13 10 50.

Work near overhead power lines: the basics

Whether it’s a mobile crane unloading a truck, a tipper truck being raised, a ladder, scaffold tube or jet of water, the outcome of contact with an overhead power line can be serious; often fatal.

In fact, contact between mobile plant and equipment with live overhead power lines is one of the biggest workplace killers – but many of these incidents have the same underlying causes:

  • operators failing to see the power lines (or realising the danger)
  • not maintaining a safe approach distance.

What is the risk?

Any voltage that causes sufficient current to pass through the heart – such as that found in live overhead power lines – can cause serious injury or death.

The discharge of electrical energy from contact with power lines can also cause serious burns, fires and explosions that can immobilise the equipment involved.

You don’t even have to have direct contact with a high voltage line to receive a fatal electric shock. Electricity can arc or jump across gaps, meaning that simply being too close can kill.

Even if a worker survives a close encounter with high voltage, their injuries can require intensive medical care and may render them out of action indefinitely.

What is the impact on your business?

The effects on the injured worker and their family are obvious, but a simple lapse in concentration can also have a significant impact on your workplace. Lost time, a workers’ compensation claim, not to mention finding and retraining a replacement can all add extra burden to your business.

How can you avoid these incidents?

  • Your safest option is to relocate work away from overhead power lines wherever possible.
  • If it’s a short-term task, arrange with the electricity supply authority to have the power isolated.
  • For long term jobs, consult the electricity supply authority. They would assess the site and advise of appropriate controls that you should adhere to.

If you can’t avoid working near overhead power lines you need to properly assess and control the risks. This will at least give you peace of mind to be able to focus on running your business.

Attention to detail is critical – potentially a matter of life or death – so please refer to our Work near overhead power lines: Code of practice, or call 13 10 50.

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.

Driving the wellness message home

When it comes to making a dent in improving the health of Australian ‘truckies’, Di Carroll is something of a prime mover.

The determined crusader and her independent Tarcutta-based Trans-Help Foundation are making significant inroads into the road freight transport industry’s ‘wellness’ dilemma.
Operating a 24/7 national 1300 support line and four mobile preventative health check units, Di and her 40 volunteers have helped more than 10,000 transport families since 2005.

“My first husband Gary was killed in the industry, crushed by a falling load of logs, and my dad was a truck driver, as are my brother and nephews, so we’ve been around trucks all our lives,” said the mum of six and grandmother of four.

“The foundation brings a lot of personal experience and that’s what the guys relate to; we can go out there and talk the talk.”

Recognising workers’ reluctance to use company-run counselling services – due to a fear of being benched after flagging health or personal issues – the national charity rolled out its first Mobile Health and Support Units in 2008. The results were staggering; out of 200 participants, more than 75 per cent had medical issues.

“We found that drivers didn’t have access to doctors and if they were able to get a GP appointment, they were usually at the other end of the country,” she said.

“Furthermore, many drivers weren’t taking prescribed medication, either because they couldn’t get to a GP to get a new script or visit a pharmacy.”

A typical example was a 29-year-old driver and father of two who thought he was fine but was actually overweight with high blood pressure and cholesterol and sleep apnoea.

“After we put the wind up him with health check results, he took the next day off work and went to the doctor for a check-up,” she said.

“His doctor told him to thank us as we’d probably helped save his life.”

Equally concerning were the underlying health issues and other factors contributing to fatalities and incidents that Trans-Help volunteers discovered during counselling of widows or drivers.

“Fatigue is everywhere but it masks the underlying issues; for example, we are campaigning hard against energy drinks as we believe these are a major killer in the transport industry,” she said.

Di said Trans-Help was concerned about the promotion of energy drinks as a solution for fatigue, particularly as some drivers consumed too many – often along with No-Doz and Berocca – a potential recipe for disaster.

Equally concerning were the results of transport company visits where volunteers conducted overall health assessments of staff. One had found three out of five mechanics were on anti-depressants to help them cope with work-related stress.

“And these are the guys who repair and maintain the trucks that go out on the roads,” she said.

“I honestly think the biggest problem in the industry is a lack of education, so the more drivers and companies we can reach out to, the better.

“Everyone needs to understand that people’s lives and health are much more important than time slots, allocations and deadlines.”

Find out more at transhelpfoundation.com.au including the charity’s partnership with GP2U, providing truckies with instant access to doctors via video conference using computer, tablet or mobile phone.

The Get Healthy at Work initiative also provides free tools, templates and resources – and online health checks – to address workplace health issues.

To contact WorkCover NSW, call 13 10 50 or visit our website.

Image of slippery floor caution sign

Ten tips to cut slips and trips

A slip or trip in a hazardous workplace doesn’t bear thinking about.

Poor housekeeping is a major cause of incidents in all types of workplaces and if a worker is lucky, they might escape unscathed with nothing more than injured pride.

But as can often be the case, a worker can sustain serious or even horrific injuries.

In, for example, a hospitality environment such as a busy kitchen prone to splashes and spills, the typical injuries are cuts or burns and head injuries.

One particularly nasty incident involved a chef slipping on a pool of water and in an attempt to prevent his fall, he plunged one arm into a pan of boiling oil. He suffered extreme burns requiring surgery and was off work for almost six months.

The implications were not only plummeting productivity and morale but finding a similarly qualified and skilled stand-in chef to keep trading and prevent a slide of the restaurant’s reputation.

So clearly it is in your best interests to do everything you can to reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls – but where do you start?

  1. A good kick-off point is to seek input from your workers about potential hazards as they are often more aware of issues due to the nature of their work.
  2. Spend a day walking around your workplace with your health and safety representative monitoring worker activity and tasks, identifying potential slip and trip hazards, and making a checklist.
  3. Recognise housekeeping issues, such as stacked boxes or supplies, cables, general mess or fluid spills or leaks, take appropriate action then monitor areas to avoid any repeat activity.
  4. Provide bins for workers or customers to dispose of rubbish, ensure containers have secure lids, and install drip trays beneath machines or water coolers.
  5. If your workplace is prone to spills, splashes, leaks or moisture build-up, consider installing slip-resistant flooring designed to function even when coming into contact with liquids.
  6. Acid-etching of hard surface floors, including tiles, may help improve slip-resistance properties in wet conditions but can wear off quickly depending on foot traffic volume.
  7. Profiled metal floor surfaces can be effective depending on what type of footwear your workers wear but can be more slippery than expected – mild steel is better as it gets more abrasive and slip resistant with age.
  8. If a path, walkway or stairway has uneven sections or holes, possible fixes include relaying the surface, filling in holes or installing handrails – but if these are impractical, then highlight hazards with eye-catching colours, erect warning signs or improve lighting to make the risk more obvious.
  9. Workers or customers entering your business might carry water or mud inside on their footwear, making the surface slippery – a possible solution is laying slip-resistant rubber or absorbent matting.
  10. Introduce an effective hazard monitoring and cleaning system to react quickly and efficiently to any spills, leaks, splashes or accumulation of material that might pose a risk.

Visit workcover.nsw.gov.au for more advice or call us on 13 10 50.

Image of tape to cordon off asbestos site

Assistance for loose-fill asbestos houses

In December 2014 the NSW Government announced its response to the discovery of loose-fill asbestos in NSW homes. To demonstrate government’s commitment to helping affected NSW residents, an assistance package was announced that includes free property testing for owners residing in 26 identified local government areas.

Free ceiling insulation tests are being provided for homeowners in the identified local government areas (LGA) to identify all loose-fill asbestos in residential premises. These areas have been identified through the analysis of archival government records.

Owners of homes built before 1980 in these local government areas can contact Service NSW where you can register online to have your property tested and assessed for the material. Free testing is available until August 2015.

For homes tested positive, free independent technical assessments advising on and confirm risk controls are being offered, as is a make safe assistance package.

Concerned residential property owners are encouraged to call 13 77 88 or visit nsw.gov.au/loosefillasbestos to register for the free testing program and to find out more about the assistance available.

In addition to the assistance package, government also announced the formation of a dedicated loose-fill asbestos taskforce. The taskforce is led by former Deputy Commissioner of the NSW Police Force, Dave Owens, and includes representatives from a number of NSW Government agencies including NSW Ministry of Health, Office of Local Government, Environmental Protection Authority and WorkCover NSW.

The taskforce will be responsible for developing a comprehensive action plan for a government purchase/demolition scheme for homes with loose-fill asbestos insulation, including identifying risk mitigation strategies, costings and implementation and operational aspects, in consultation with affected residents.

To find out more, call Service NSW on 13 77 88 or visit nsw.gov.au/loosefillasbestos