Higher-order controls encouraged after campaigns reveal poor safety

The Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA) have from four comprehensive campaigns found that many employers are failing to ensure forklift and scaffolding work and manual tasks are performed safely, and are calling on businesses to promote higher-order controls.

HWSA initiated the national campaigns, which were conducted over the last few years, and recently endorsed the final reports.

"Delivering the goods safely" campaign
In this campaign, in which 274 road freight businesses were audited in the two years to 2010, HWSA found that while the majority of employers used appropriate manual-task control measures, owner-drivers of smaller trucks were exposed to higher numbers of hazardous manual tasks, and experienced more back, neck and arm pain and body tiredness.

HWSA found that "forceful bodily exertion" and awkward working postures were the most common risk factors, with bulky or awkward loads, poorly designed work areas (particularly at customer sites) and poorly maintained load-handling equipment being the most common sources of risk.

Time pressure, deadlines and fatigue were cited by drivers as the main barriers to undertaking manual tasks safely, and employers cited a lack of risk management skills as one of the most significant barriers to implementing controls.

The campaign report recommends that industry stakeholders:

  • place greater emphasis on using a risk management approach to managing manual tasks;
  • promote higher-order controls (such as elimination and redesign) instead of administrative control measures;
  • develop industry advisory initiatives that focus on manual tasks and draw on the knowledge of larger, experienced organisations; and
  • pressure upstream and downstream supply chain organisations to eliminate or reduce manual-task risks and improve the design of pick-up and delivery sites.

Forklift safety campaign
From 177 visits in seven jurisdictions, this campaign, which focused on the grocery and fruit and vegetable wholesale industries, found that while 89 per cent of work sites had implemented safe systems of work associated with forklift operations, the probability of unlicensed operators using forklifts was high.

Not one of the workplaces audited complied with all of the legislative requirements for the safe operation of forklifts.

More than one in 10 (11%) employers did not properly maintain or inspect the vehicles, and 13 per cent failed to provide adequate instruction and training. Some 14 per cent of worksites did not monitor or review the effectiveness of their implemented control measures.

Construction scaffolding campaign
This campaign, in which nearly 1300 sites were inspected over two phases in 2009 and 2010, found that 41 per cent of scaffolding did not comply with AS/NZS 1576 and/or jurisdictional regulations.

HWSA found that 30 per cent of scaffolding failed to comply with regulations relating to secondary rope systems, and that counter weights and the methods for securing them were inadequate at 33 per cent of sites.

"Although compliance was high in areas of written documentation, it was low for the more serious requirements for scaffolding to be erected and used in a safe and suitable manner," the campaign report says.

"Although a large amount of documentation already exists regarding scaffolding... industry is still failing to ensure that scaffolding provided is safe and suitable for use."

Surgical loan sets problem solving project
This campaign found that due to the poor design and large variety of cases and tubs used to transport surgical trays in the health sector, it was difficult to implement a safe system of work for the handling and transport of such equipment.

HWSA recommends the use of newly designed transport cases.

All four campaign reports are available from the HWSA website.