Editor's Desk, OH&S Products, Safety

Why safety shouldn’t be a lofty Christmas ideal

Taking it to the end of 2019 and spending Christmas with our families and friends ought to be a relief and a joy for everyone. Sadly, at time of writing (in mid-November), Australia has again been beset by bushfires, and it seems likely they will be an ongoing feature of a long, dry summer ahead.

While quarries and mines in the fire-affected regions should remain intact, there are nevertheless dedicated men and women in the extractive industry who will volunteer their time – whether as back-ups to the emergency services, or assisting with their fire- stricken communities.

Some quarrying businesses will also contribute through donations or in-kind supply of water, plant, equipment and other materials. They should be acknowledged for their selflessness and generosity.

It’s unfortunate then that the unselfish qualities in our quarries and communities are rarely exhibited by our key decision-makers at state and federal levels.

Rather than working with each other and emergency services on ways to resolve the crisis, it hasn’t taken much for politicians of all stripes to descend into blaming each other. The decade-old incendiary debate about climate change particularly gets them going.

Ultimately, what fails to be considered in this “discourse” is that the fires aren’t necessarily about climate, they’re about safety. Did alleged underfunding or under-resourcing of emergency services, or the failure to have sufficient long-term strategies for tackling drought and declining infrastructure in Australia’s regional areas, contribute to the fires?

Did our decision makers break a cardinal expectation of the quarrying and extractive industries – that is, to have workable and iron-tight safety and risk management plans
for accidents and disasters? Effective environmental planning is a small part of such strategies.

When a quarry is found wanting on safety and environmental measures, it rightfully has the book thrown at it. There seems to be no such penalty for governments that overlook safety or long-term planning.

Safety is paramount in everything we do. As parents, we constantly teach our children about safety – for themselves and their peers. Whether you’re a quarry worker, a site manager or even
a journalist, you have an obligation to report things that could be hazardous in the workplace and you expect your advice to be taken seriously by your managers.

Why then do politicians fail to listen to the very authorities best equipped to handle disasters? Why don’t we see enough politicians meeting with our volunteers?

To have safe, thriving and reliable industries and services, then governments and regulators must show mature leadership.

Perhaps that’s my Christmas wish or New Year’s resolution – that all stakeholders don’t lose sight of the importance of safety amid asinine squabbles. Indeed, it shouldn’t even be a wish! To happen, though, it requires the unity and good will of governments, regulators and industries – now and long term. Failures and mistakes should be acknowledged but not as part of recriminations.

We can – and should – always strive to be better in everything we do, especially in the planning and practising of health and safety. Yes, it’s a lofty ideal but it’s one that never goes away – and should never be ignored.

Season’s greetings, everyone – and stay safe!

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