– By Caroline Falls –
Gold Coast City fleet management heard the wake up call to improve its workplace safety protocols when a nearby council was issued with an enforceable undertaking by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland following a serious accident on a 4WD training program.
In 2011, a Toowoomba Regional Council employee was struck in the head and made unconscious during a vehicle recovery exercise. A shackle and snatch strap recoiled through the back window and hit the worker when the connection point to the vehicle being recovered failed. As a result, in 2014, WHSQ ordered the council to introduce a competency based assessment system for employees required to operate plant as part of their duties.
“That was the game changer,” said Dean Gutteridge, manager of fleet services at Gold Coast City, Australia’s second biggest council. Using documentation from the Toowoomba WHSQ saga, Gutteridge and his team set about establishing their own “Verification of Current Competency” program.
Today the council has a program to cover operators of high-risk equipment, such as heavy vehicles, tip trucks, graders, forklifts and water carts. It is planning to extend it to drivers of light vehicles, starting with those who drive most.
“I have to say I don’t think I’ve seen any program in the safety space that’s had an impact like this one,” said Gutteridge, adding, “And, I’ve been doing this quite a while. This one hits at the core in terms of attitude and behaviour. We’re actually seeing guys now with their workmates asking to see their log books, their pre-start checks.”
Gutteridge detailed the development of the program to the IPWEA fleet management conference in Brisbane in March. The so-called verification of current competency involves a medical, proof of operator licence, and written and practical tests to verify knowledge, skill and attitude.
Delegates were curious afterwards, asking Gutteridge many questions, including how unions had been engaged in the process and if the benefits of the program justified the cost of deploying it.
Gutteridge said unions had been concerned about confidentiality related to medical records of workers as the program involves checks by an occupational physician. Gutteridge said that to protect privacy, all the council receives is a “fit slip” with one of three grades: “fit” meaning move to the next stage of the program; “conditionally fit” meaning move to next stage after certain conditions have been met; or, “not fit”.
Medical assessments had saved the lives of some Gold Coast Council workers, as they were diagnosed with disorders they hadn’t known about. “We believe we’ve saved at least five people,” said Gutteridge, adding, “One guy was rushed straight to hospital and had four stents put in.” Sounds like the costs of the program paid off.