Work is killing me

Going to work can be a chore, a bore or enriching and fulfilling. What it shouldn’t be is deadly. Yet thousands of people go to work each day and don’t get out alive. For some it’s because a terrorist flies a plane into a building, for others it’s a failure of safety procedures or because a disgruntled client plants a bomb. Industrial accidents kill 3000 people a yearin Australia and injure 80,000. What makes for a dangerous workplace? Does the culture of an organisation make some workplaces more deadly than others? Or is it, as Gary Bracks of the Employers Federation suggests, a matter of human frailty? Traditionally heavy industries like mining and engineering were considered more dangerous than white collar occupations. But terrorism is changing that. Even in Sydney workers have been killed as a result of terrorism. Malcolm Phillips was a skilled, experienced diver. He was killed at the BHP plant in Newcastle when he was inspecting a cooling-water pumphouse, which some one switched on. He was one of three qualified divers on the job. 3000 people are killed and 80,000 are injured in workplace accidents in Australia each year. The pumphouse extracted water for use in BHP’s steelmaking operations. It was drawn by electricallydriven high-speed pumps from concrete lined bays which were fed with tidal river water through a grille. The bays contained a rotating mechanically-operated screen designed to filter solids from the water supplied to the pump. Malcolm was under water inspecting the floor of the bay when the pump was switched on and he was drawn into the inlet pipe. The pump had a rated

capacity flow of 113,600 litres of water a minute. There was no grille over the mouth of the pipe. Justice Peterson of the Industrial Court said BHP “did have in place a serious and relatively complex system which was aimed at ensuring the safety of relevant persons.” He said if anyone had asked the obvious question of simultaneous operation of the pump with diving operations the fatality would have been avoided. He rejected the argument that Malcolm’s death was caused by human error and concluded it was because of a failure in the system. BHP was fined $80,000 in the Industrial Court and paid WorkCover a further $40,000. The judge took into account BHP’s 16 prior convictions when making the order. Malcolm should never have died and if some one, anyone at BHP had asked an obvious question he wouldn’t have. Fines remind employers to follow safety procedures but Malcom won’t come back to his family.
MAUREEN SHELLEY © 2008

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