25 Years on: Remembering Piper Alpha

In the past few weeks I have been asked to do presentations and share my views about the legacy of Piper Alpha in this, the 25th anniversary year of the disaster.

For me, the positive legacy is the advancement in safety regulation, engineering and “safety in design” that has seen the improvement of the physical safety of high hazard workplaces. Safety in design has also improved the “survivability” of disasters so that when accidents to occur, their consequences are better mitigated.

The ongoing disappointment, however, is the persistent failure of management oversight and assurance to properly understand if health and safety risks are being managed. This is a failure that has played out in every major accident inquiry since Piper Alpha and continues to undermine effective safety management.

You can see a video presentation of these ideas and concepts here.

Fatalities, Insurance and failed paper systems: Hillman v Ferro Con (SA) [2013] SAIRC 22

On 16 July 2010 a fatality occurred during lifting operations at the Adelaide desalination water plant. A rigger employed by Ferro Con (SA) Pty Ltd was killed when he was struck on the head by a 1.8 tonne steel beam.

The Company, Ferro Con, and its Director, Paolo Maione were prosecuted under South Australian health and safety legislation, and in June 2013 were handed fines of over $200,000.

The case has attracted some attention because Mr Maione was able to call on an insurance policy to pay his penalty – effectively avoiding the punishment of the Court. It has long been thought, in my view correctly, that insurance to pay for effectively criminal penalties is counter to public policy and unlawful and it will be interesting to see if there is any “public policy” response to the decision.

Over and above the insurance aspects of the case, the judgement offers some good insights into the weaknesses of “paper based” safety management systems, a compliance mentality and lack of assurance. The judgement also explores some issues in the Principal/Contractor relationship.

You can see a video presentation about the case here.

Also, set out below are links to various references and materials referred to in the discussion if you would like to explore some of the concepts further.

Links to material referred to in the presentation.

Video presentation – case review: Capon v BHP Billiton Iron Ore Charge No. 1917/11

Video presentation – case review: Fry v Keating [2013] WASCA 109

Court judgement: Silent Vector v Shepherd & Anor [2003] WASCA 315

Court judgement: Hillman v Ferro Con (SA) Pty Ltd (in Liquidation) & Anor [2013] SAIRC 22

Article: Borys, D. (2009). Exploring risk-awareness as a cultural approach to safety: Exposing the gap between work as imagined and work as actually performed. Safety Science Monitor, 13(2), Article 3.

Transpacific Industries: Disciplinary action as a safety control

This is a case I have looked at before, and often use in management training to help explain the concept of reasonably practicable, and the relationship between reasonably practicable and the hierarchy of controls.

I was prompted to post it following the release of Safe Work Australia’s guidance material on reasonably practicable.

The case involved the prosecution of Transpacific Industries following a fatality in 2009. In an earlier, almost identical  incident, Transpacific had responded to a breach of its procedures with what the Court described as “robust disciplinary action“. When the repeat incident occurred in 2009 the question that was argued was whether the earlier disciplinary action was a “sufficient response“: Was it reasonably practicable? You can access the video discussion of the case here, and a copy of the case here.

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Regards.

Greg Smith

Directors conviction in relation to workplace fatality upheld

On 23 April 2013 , the Western Australian Supreme Court confirmed the conviction and increased the penalties of two Company directors charged in relation to a workplace fatality.  The charges against the Directors aleged “neglect” undr section 55(1) of the Occupational Safety & Health Act 1984 (WA).

You can access a copy of the case at the following link:

Fry v Keating [2013] WASCA 109

or see a short presentation about the case here.