CONFINED SPACE WORK a personal experience

What has become clear over the last few years of spitting out these blog posts is that real life personal experience stories are are a shit load more interesting and popular than boring old intellectual white papers, holier than thou opinions and theoretical drivel. George from www.ohschange.com.au  recounts a recent experience with a serious confined space issue. Your really should read the rest of his stuff HERE

Confined space work – Company X.Y.Z.

Started with this company with the remit to review the Safety Management System.

Was there a week and they came to me and said, by the way, we have these and presented me with 32 Improvement Notices and 5 Prohibition Notices. Has to be a record for one visit from a safety inspector. These were overdue for a response to Workplace Health & Safety Qld.

A number of the Prohibition notices were about confined space work. The company made water tank bodies for mining haul trucks, large mixing bowls for concrete mixers and some other confined space work.

Got on talking to the workers and got a few war stories about people being partially overcome by welding fume in the confined spaces and having had to be assisted out. The workers said they had been trying to get management to improve confined space work procedures in the workshop but the management ignored them.

The interesting thing was some of the workers did confined space work with the company product at the mines and were aware of and used the mines strict confined space working procedures when on the mine-sites.

Some of the problems I discovered were no confined space risk assessments, no confined space entry permit, the fume extraction was not effective particularly in the large water tanks with many baffles, there was no pre-entry test of the atmosphere, there was no continuous monitoring of the atmosphere, there was no off-sider to ensure the worker inside the confined space was safe, there were no emergency procedures, the respiratory protective equipment being worn was inappropriate, there had been no training in confined space work and what procedures that existed were not being followed.

All in all the biggest stuff-up in safety I have ever seen, particularly when you consider we are talking about something that can make a real difference to the workers lives.

Rapidly became obvious management was not interested in my findings or making changes so I got an outside organisation to audit the organisations confined space work. The auditor’s report was very damning as I knew it would be.

George goes about implementing the auditor’s recommendations and eventually the General Manager becomes aware of what is going on and tries to intervene. He & I had what could be described as a forthright expression of views at a safety committee meeting where he tried to browbeat me into submission. He was not impressed I stuck to my guns and he was used to people folding under his pressure. I told him he should get advice from his solicitors on the matter and reminded him this came about because of an Improvement Notice from the government safety inspectorate.

A couple of days later major transformation from the General Manager, I am guessing he saw the solicitors, very keen to see the changes completed.

New gear was bought and other changes made but bloody hell it was hard work all the way. It was not made easy by a junior safety person sucking up to his boss and not embracing the required changes The union rep. came up to me & said he had been trying for 2 years to get the confined space work changed and I was a bit of a hero to a number of the workers.

As a safety person I was treated like crap by the management team, the same as the way they treated the workers.

While I was with this employer I attended a review by the company solicitor of the circumstances behind a life-altering personal damage occurrence that had occurred previously. It was quite obvious the company managed the issue poorly.

Since then I have noted the company has been the subject of 2 Enforceable Undertakings with the Qld Government. Not a surprise to me, slackest outfit on safety I have ever come across.

George Robotham

George Robotham

George was a Legend in the Safety World who passed away in Sept 2013 but left us with a great legacy
George Robotham
I have worked in OHS for most of my working life, many years in the mining industry including over 10 years in a corporate OHS role with BHP. Since leaving the mining industry I have worked in a variety of safety roles with a variety of employers, large & small, in a variety of industries. I was associated with my first workplace fatality at age 21, the girl involved was young, intelligent, vivacious and friendly. Such a waste! I was the first on the scene and tried to comfort her and tend to her injuries. She said to me “George, please do not let me die” We put her on the aerial ambulance to Rockhampton base hospital where she died the next day. I do not mind telling you that knocked me around for awhile. Since then I have helped my employers cope with the aftermath of 12 fatalities and 2 other life-altering events. The section "Why do Occupational Health & Safety" provides further detail but in summary, poor safety is simply very expensive and also has a massive humanitarian cost. My qualifications include a certificate I.V. in Workplace Training and Assessment, a Diploma in Frontline Management, a Diploma in Training & Assessment Systems, a Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) , a Grad. Cert. in Management of Organisational Change and a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Hazard Management. I am currently studying towards a Masters in Business Leadership. Up until recently I had been a Chartered Fellow of the Safety Institute of Australia for 10 years and a member for about 30 years. My interest is in non-traditional methods of driving organisational change in OHS and I have what I believe is a healthy dis-respect for many common approaches to OHS Management and OHS Training. I hold what I believe is a well-founded perception that many of the things safety people and management do in safety are “displacement activities” (Displacement activities are things we do, things we put a lot of energy into, but which when we examine them closely there is no valid reason for doing them). My managerial and leadership roles in OHS have exposed me to a range of management techniques that are relevant to Business Improvement. In particular I am a strong supporter of continuous improvement and quality management approaches to business. I believe leadership is the often forgotten key to excellence in most aspects of life. I hold the Australian Defence Medal and am a J.P.(Qualified). I have many fond memories of my time playing Rugby Union when I was a young bloke.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below