Archive for the ‘Workplace Safety’ Category

Can You Hear The Fat Lady?

There is an old saying that is probably not PC enough for today but it runs along the lines that ‘the opera ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings’. The same is true for life and life threatening situations. It ‘ain’t over ’til it’s over’! A man drove himself to hospital the other night after receiving several stab wounds. No doubt he made the conscious decision he wasn’t going to die. He wasn’t giving in.

Very often that is all it takes, that conscious decision to fight, to survive. Not to just roll over and die. Sadly, in Afghanistan we lost our 17th Digger last night. Another IED (Improvised Explosive Device) or ‘roadside bomb’. As a former Engineer I was trained to find and neutralize IEDs and even in training the tension was considerable. One can only imagine what our young men and women face every day serving their country in that long running war. And they are young.

This last casualty was just 23. We often disparage the younger generation, it was ever so when I was his age and it has ever been so going back to the days of the Ancient Greeks. The reality though is that these are our best, the cream of their generation and they are always the ones to pay the price, as their great grandfathers did in World War 1, their grandfathers in World War 2 and Korea, Malaya and their fathers in Borneo, Vietnam and the Cold War. I include the Cold War because while casualties were mainly in training accidents, we did lose service members who will never be remembered by the issue of a medal, but they are with us all the same.

These soldiers are a different generation with their iPods and email and You Tube helmet cams but their mission is no less lethal, nor is their professionalism any the more wanting. Casualties are a fact of war. We should be grateful we have lost so few for the large amount of good they have done for the people of Afghanistan and not wring our hands when another falls, no matter how deeply we feel their loss.

You see the job’s not done and those soldiers would be the first to demand they be left to finish it. They are not losing. They are positive, upbeat and their morale is high. They are professional soldiers and they are aware of the risks, they accept the possible consequences, they only ask to be left to get on with the job and not be tried by media for every squeeze of the trigger.

They have esprit de corps, instilled during the training process as they are molded into a fighting force that looks after each other. They know the love of men at arms for one another, a bond that is hard to replicate outside the military and even harder for civilians to understand if they have never had the privilege of serving with such men. They aren’t afraid of the Taliban, they’ve got the means to hurt the enemy, they just need the political and public will to let them get on with the job. They’ll do the rest. They have the kit, the training and the will to win. And that is what it is all about, either in Afghanistan or Australia, the will to win. Never give up, never give in. Not until the fat lady sings and we pay the fat lady, not them.

Work Place Hazards Now Include Abortion

© Lars Christensen |

A Filipina in Western Australia is sueing her former employer for forcing her to have an abortion to keep her job. She was working for the McDonald’s franchisee under a 457 Visa, which is dependent on her employer’s sponsorship for her to enter, work and remain in Australia. In other words her employer has a lot of power over her. I wonder why he needed to have two 457 Visa holders working for him, perhaps they come cheap and do as they are told more than the average citizen?

In a nutshell she alleges her employer told her to abort a pregnancy or lose her job. One presumes the costs of maternity leave were prohibitive to him. She acquiesced and claims she had the abortion to hold her job. A few months later she became pregnant again only this time she refused to abort the pregnancy. She also claims she recorded the meeting where she was told to lose the baby or lose her job.

For some archaic reason the recording may be inadmissible as the employer was unaware he was being recorded. Well, gee, don’t the cops do that all the time? Oh yeah, they get a Warrant and that makes it all ok. Yet the truth is the truth. What was said doesn’t change just because the employer was unaware of the wire, but it would have if he had been aware of it. So what, you want to  argue the recording made him do it? Huh? The fact is he allegedly said what he said and regardless of his knowledge of any recording, he said what he said.

If he did say such a thing and if he did threaten the employee with the sack and loss of visa unless she aborted her pregnancy, then he is the scum of the earth. Think of the imbalance of power in place. He holds the power of residence and employment or deportation over her. Sent back to the Philippines with no job, no fiancee and soon a baby to care for. She has no say except to accept or suffer. You hear of OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) being abused and mistreated in Middle Eastern countries but you don’t expect such exploitation in Australia.

Let us pause and look at this from the other side for a moment. One might argue the 457 Visa holder is there to work for the employer that went to the trouble and expense to sponsor them, not to get pregnant or start a new life on the employer’s dime. Basically the visa conditions must be met or else the sponsor/employer gets in trouble as well as the employee getting possibly deported. Taking more than 30 days off is, I have been advised, against the conditions of the visa. That might be over the year or the life of the visa or in one hit but it would be easy to lost 30 days due to pregnancy. Time will tell so I hope we can keep tabs on this story and report the ending.

The Filipina had her baby last year and is hoping for her day in court this September. If her story is true then I hope they throw the book at her employer. I would like to see him charged criminally for inciting to commit manslaughter or at least some version of wrongful death. While I am not a ‘Pro-Life terrorist’, shooting abortion doctors down in the street while claiming to be against killing human life, I am a realist and I do believe that women should have a choice. Not be given an ultimatum, but that they have the right to make their own choices about these things, hopefully supported unreservedly by the other 50% of the equation, the father of the child. (Keep in mind I have five daughters) An employer and their preferences simply never enter into this. If you are legally obliged to provide maternity benefits then either fulfill your obligation or select post menopausal women when recruiting.

Which is another thing. Only the most naive among us would think that there is no discrimination in job recruitment today. Just because the job ads no longer state sex, age or whatever, rest assured the HR decision maker has to base their decision on something. That means they discriminate between one candidate over another. If one is really against paying maternity benefits then hire accordingly, just don’t tell anyone how you choose who you choose. It happens all the time, everyday and everywhere and, like young women becoming pregnant, it is a fact of life.

We all have a duty of care to those in our employment. We also have a duty of care to our fellow citizens, I believe. While that doesn’t mean living their lives for them, it definitely does not include forcing them to make such monumental decisions, literally life or death choices, just to keep a job and a visa.

UPDATE: 8 July 2008. McDonalds have settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

There Are Reasons Why We Have Rules

The recent tragic loss of 10 Australians in a plane crash in west Africa underlines the old rule about not putting all your eggs in the one basket. In this case the ‘eggs’ were the entire board of Sundance Mining. This company is now effectively leaderless for however long and that will affect all the employees, their families and the towns that rely on the mining operations of Sundance. Store owners, teachers, medical providers, bus drivers and council workers servicing mining communities in various ways will all feel the repercussions of this tragedy.

Why did they all fly in the one plane? This is a ‘rule’ that all major and most minor corporations as well as governments and the military adhere to. You spread the risk. In this case the corporate jet used by the big boss was incapable of landing at the airstrip of the mining project in the Congo they were going to see. Apparently the only suitable aircraft available in the Cameroons from where they departed was the CASA 212 that crashed, killing all on board as far as we know at this time. So everybody got on the one plane and the end result is a leaderless corporation and a dozen grief stricken families.

There is also an insurance company or two somewhere that is girding its loins for the massive payouts. No doubt these executives and the plane itself were heavily insured and already some loss adjuster is scrabbling for reasons to deny as many claims as they can. That is afterall what insurance companies really do, take your money and hope they can wriggle away if you ever make a claim.

So once again we have a situation where a decision that might have seemed like a good idea at the time has turned sour. The thing is, despite the fact nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition, it happened. Nobody on that plane expected to end up dead before arriving at their destination either but  sadly that happened. There are reasons why we have rules such as not letting the entire board of a corporation fly in the same aircraft. There are reasons why we impose restrictions and limits on people and they are usually because somewhere in history tragedy has occurred when these limits and restraints are ignored. Not every time, but often enough.

Thin Or Thick Sausages, Senhor?

An American worker at a sausage factory was sucked into a sausage machine while he was cleaning it. Somehow the machine switched on and sucked him in headfirst as far as his shoulders. He was released and taken to hospital as a precaution but claimed he was fine. All jokes aside, it goes to show how accidents in the workplace can happen, very quickly and all too often, fatally.

In Spain a matador was gored by a bull the other weekend, an occupational hazard when taking part in the first part of the sausage making process, no doubt. While the bull might end up in a Spanish sausage factory, the difference between the two incidents (apart from being on different continents and a whole host of other dissimilarities) is the acceptance of risk at play with each occupation.

The matador and his crew (he is but one of several ‘dors out there at the bullfight) are aware that what they do has inherent risks. They and the crowd paying to watch are all too well aware of the reality that someone might get hurt, even killed… other than the bull. Not so the sausage maker. He arrives for work knowing all the cows and bulls he will come in contact with are dead, well and truly. Mind you, the machinery used to make sausages on an industrial scale is as potentially lethal as any enraged bull.

Some jobs have obvious hazards and inherent risks, some jobs are not so apparently dangerous. The trick to staying safe is to be able to know which is which and to remain alert to the potential for harm even when the sausage machine is switched off or the bull is not in the ring yet.

Workplace Deaths – Killer Whales And Tigers

In February a trainer at Florida’s Sea World was killed by a Killer Whale (Orca) after her show. Apparently she lay down too close to the whale and her pony tail fell into the water. Curious, the whale grabbed the ponytail in its teeth and started to play with it. She was dragged around by the whale and died before other trainers could rescue her. A simple mistake she paid for with her life. The Avenue of Harm? Nature. Yet it is also a case of workplace ‘violence’ and safety.

Not something we usually think of when it comes to workplace safety however the trainer was at work and she did lose her life. Just today there is a report of a zoo keeper in Shanghai killed by a tiger. Apparently he forgot to lock the cage. Simple mistakes like that do get you killed. Again, it happened in his place of work and it was via the Nature Avenue of Harm.

Where do you work? What do you do? How could you die at work today?

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