Post-incident WHS strategies revealed

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An employer responded to a serious incident by introducing a "personal awareness tool" and other practical measures to prevent forklifts entering pedestrian areas, it has revealed in an article produced under the terms of a WHS undertaking.

In May 2016, Atlas Steels Pty Ltd warehouse operations clerk Mark Ellis suffered serious right leg injuries when he stepped backwards and was struck by a multi-directional sideloader forklift, at the company's Ingleburn service centre in NSW.

As reported by OHS Alert last year, Ellis's leg was subsequently amputated above the knee, and Atlas entered an enforceable undertaking (EU) with SafeWork NSW, in lieu of a WHS prosecution, with a total estimated spend of about $394,000 (see related article).

As part of the EU, Atlas committed more than $160,000 to a site traffic safety program, and nearly $40,000 to creating and publishing media articles in a number of publications to "increase community safety awareness". (But note, OHS Alert received no payment for publishing the excerpts below.)

One article produced under these terms states that Ellis's injuries "shook the business", and Atlas responded by introducing "a raft of measures across its operations" to prevent this type of incident from reoccurring.

"Its experience contains significant lessons for other companies seeking to prevent serious incidents, particularly the vital role of employees themselves as sources of safety-enhancing ideas," the article says.

"Atlas introduced an improved traffic management plan and controls in consultation with its employees and one of the most important changes has been the introduction of a personal awareness tool (PAT), a base plate that has a pole with a strobe light on top," it says.

"If a pedestrian stops to work in an aisle, they must place a PAT in front of the aisle, or at a safe distance from them, and turn the light on. The light is at eye level with the sideloader forklift operator and provides additional visual awareness to the operator who must not enter beyond the point of PAT placement. As PAT is portable it can be used in a variety of locations.

"The business has also ramped up training, particularly around traffic management and sideloader forklift operation, with an online interactive training system being built from the ground up and employees being put through refresher courses."

Speaking more broadly, the article says that "leading from the top, consultation was conducted across the country resulting in the development of a safety charter that depicts a 'safety first' approach, and the agreed minimum safety expectations for all employees, supervisors and managers with signed ownership is prominently displayed at each site".

"Ellis has conducted a series of presentations to his workmates and to the wider steel distribution industry, that national SEQ manager Maree Mihaljevic says 'demonstrated that this was real, not just an anonymous report or statistic but a worker who has a name and family. It highlighted his journey, the injury's impact on others and the importance of working together in implementing and maintaining safety systems and processes with the presentation correlating with Mark's passion for golf.'

"After the incident, Ingleburn service centre manager Marc McAlister gained a forklift licence himself so he would have experience first-hand. 'I try and regularly get out there and work with them,' he says. 'I get to see the challenges they face, and we work through [them] to improve. It also helps in strengthening our team.'"

The article adds that Ellis made a successful return to work "but the effects of his incident at Atlas Steels are long lasting. It has driven a quest to elevate safety so that no one suffers a similar incident.

"Mihaljevic says Atlas's efforts to improve safety are ongoing. 'The importance of having well risk assessed safety systems and processes in place especially where mobile plant is in use is evident.'

"There are learnings for us all, even the wider community where mobile plant is in use. Regional director John Pearson says, 'If you walk or drive into any workplace, follow the signs and directions of the employees and maintain situational awareness to ensure your own safety and the safety of others.'

"Pearson adds other businesses can provide ideas that can be trialled and possibly implemented. He says it's a never-ending search for improved risk management across the board to reduce the potential for injury.

"But Mihaljevic says don't disregard incidents that occur in other businesses. 'If you read something that happened in another company, don't just think "that's horrible", act on it. Ask yourself if that incident or similar could happen in your business and what do you have to do to control that risk.'

"The importance of good safety leadership is paramount so lead by example, McAlister says. 'Continue to engage and encourage open conversations regarding safety. Some of the best ideas will come from the warehouse floor.'

"Atlas Steels acknowledges that this article was produced as a result of a SafeWork NSW enforceable undertaking."

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