All posts tagged safety

  • Good Weekend story: ‘Shock Tactics: Preventing trauma in Australian teenagers’, November 2016

    A feature story for Good Weekend, published in the November 19 issue. Excerpt below.

    Shock Tactics

    As Schoolies Week kicks off around the country, emergency specialists are using hard-core methods – graphic dashcam videos, horrific injury images, emergency-room simulations – to deter adolescents from risk-taking behaviour.

    Good Weekend story: 'Shock Tactics: Preventing trauma in Australian teenagers' by Brisbane freelance journalist Andrew McMillen, November 2016

    It looks like a classroom, but today there’ll be no maths, English or history. It is a Wednesday towards the end of 2016’s final term, and no ordinary school day. Today’s curriculum will be taken largely from life experience, and the lessons will revolve around confronting simulations of what these students’ lives might be like if they don’t think before they act.

    This group of about 30 year 10 students from St Peters Lutheran College, in the inner-west Brisbane suburb of Indooroopilly, has travelled across the city to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH), at Herston in the inner-north. All aged 15 or thereabouts, the boys wear short-sleeved white shirts with maroon ties, grey shorts and black shoes, while the girls wear long white dresses with vertical maroon stripes. Just like in any average high-school classroom, the front row of seats is empty – other than two teachers overseeing the group – and the back row is mostly occupied by boys, who provide a constant stream of whispered wisecracks to one another.

    Today, the hospital is hosting what’s known as the PARTY Program. The acronym stands for Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth. It’s a concept licensed from an initiative that began 30 years ago at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, Canada, and now operates out of 15 sites across Australia, including every state and territory besides the Northern Territory. PARTY began at the RBWH in 2010, and since then, 51 schools and more than 3000 students have participated in a day-long, intensive itinerary of hands-on activities and talks designed to open these bright young eyes to some of the difficult situations and decisions they’ll be exposed to as they edge from adolescence into young adulthood.

    “Some of the things that you see, hear, feel and smell today may give you some feelings you haven’t had before,” says statewide program coordinator Jodie Ross. “It’s quite normal that you might feel a bit off at points. If you feel a bit ill, or feel that you might faint, please let us know, and don’t run away to the toilet. We have had a young boy who fainted in there, and it was really hard to get him out.” At this, she is met with a few chuckles. “Today, we want you to learn from other peoples’ poor choices, because we want to see you come back here as doctors, nurses or allied health people – but definitely not as patients.”‘

    Ross has worked here as a nurse since 1996, and still puts in the occasional shift with the trauma team when needed, but coordinating this program at hospitals and schools across Queensland is her full-time job. Laidback in nature, the 41-year-old mother of two marries a warm presence with a wry sense of humour, yet some of what she has seen inside this building across two decades has informed her own parenting. “I have a 13-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl, and they already know they’re never allowed to ride a motorbike, or even think about getting on one,” she says with a laugh. “I think I’ve scared them off, which is great.”

    The morning’s first guest speaker is Danielle Brown, a paramedic who has been with the Queensland Ambulance Service for more than a decade. She wears dark green cover-alls, pink lipstick and bright red fingernails. “I’m here to tell you about consequences,” she says, as the screen behind her flicks onto an image of a car wrapped around a pole, surrounded by emergency services workers. “If you ever do find yourself in a situation with us, please just know that we’re not here to make things worse for you, or get you in trouble. We’re here to look after you.”

    When she asks whether any of the students have visited the emergency department, a few of the boys raise their hands; all sporting injuries, as it turns out. Brown talks about alcohol and drug use, and about assault injuries. “Aggression isn’t cool,” she tells the group before she leaves. “For those guys out there trying to impress girls, can I just tell you – we’re really after the gentlemen, the funny guys. There’s no point in trying to impress someone by being ‘tough’.”

    Ross moves onto discussing sexually transmitted infections, and the kids crack up at how she frames the lifelong consequences that can come from a few minutes of fun, such as having to tell every sexual partner from that point on, “I’ve got a bit of herpes – hope you don’t mind!”

    Although none of these students have their learners’ licences yet, she dwells on the topic of road safety for some time – which makes sense, since the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads is the program’s primary funding source: in August, it provided an additional $1.54 million to keep the statewide initiative topped up for another three years. During this part of the presentation, the screen shows dashcam footage from cars where teenage drivers were distracted by their phones. These videos are horrifying to watch: the drivers’ eyes remain in their laps, even as the car veers outside the painted lines and towards needless trauma.

    To read the full story, visit Good Weekend‘s website, where you can also see a short film by photographer Paul Harris that was recorded on the day we attended the P.A.R.T.Y. program. For more about the program, visit its website.

  • The Vine story: ‘The benign threat of using mobile phones on planes’, August 2013

    A story for The Vine. Excerpt below; click the image to read the full story.

    The benign threat of using mobile phones on planes

    The Vine story: 'The benign threat of using mobile phones on planes' by Andrew McMillen, August 2013One Tuesday afternoon in April, the Attorney-General of Australia, Mark Dreyfus, was sitting on a Qantas flight bound for Brisbane. While the aircraft taxiied to the runway, Dreyfus used his smartphone to check and reply to emails. His posture was a familiar sight of the modern era: head down, hands low, eyes trained on a rectangular cluster of LEDs, while fingers and thumbs silently fondled a touchscreen.

    A nearby passenger took issue with the Attorney-General ignoring the instructions broadcast throughout the cabin to switch off personal electronic devices prior to take-off. A flight attendant reminded him of this obligation. Dreyfus eventually complied, pocketing the device, but the flight attendant informed the captain of the incident and as a result, Dreyfus was met on arrival in Brisbane by an airport security manager who again reminded the Attorney-General of the rules. These events were reported nationally; some commentators wondered whether a non-politician would have received the same treatment.

    “I am a very, very frequent flyer,” Dreyfus tells me over the phone – maybe the offending smartphone in question – in early June. “I probably know by name half of the Qantas attendants; that’s how often I fly. It was a courteous, very quick reminder in accordance with the protocol that they have, of the rules – which I know.”

    Dreyfus says he’s now a changed man. “I regret the incident,” he says. “For the avoidance of error, I now switch off my phone before boarding. But I do switch it on when the plane has landed. I can recite to you all the flight attendants’ instructions, and this one is: ‘If your mobile device is within reach, you may now switch it on.’ And I do!”

    In this incident, Dreyfus acts as a stand-in for those always-on wage slaves who view air travel as an impediment to productivity, rather than a break from the demands of an era where the ability to communicate with anyone, anytime is no longer an aspiration but an expectation. RIM’s flagship smartphone has long been referred to as a CrackBerry, and there might be no greater symbol of modern technological addiction than witnessing the speed at which those tiny screens are illuminated once humans inside an aircraft return to terra firma.

    Our national airlines have relaxed their policy on mobile phone use in recent years to the point where the devices can be used until the cabin doors are closed, and switched back on shortly after the wheels hit the tarmac. Yet according to some surveys, up to 30 per cent of passengers simply ignore those incessant warnings that electronic devices may cause navigational interference, surmising that if smartphones, laptops, tablets, and e-book readers were a true menace to aircraft, there’s no way in hell that any airline would allow them in the cabin.

    A well-known Australian musician tells me that he never turns his phone off on planes. “I don’t really believe that my smartphone is going to interfere with navigation equipment,” he says. “I think it’s just a power trip from the airlines to make you stand in line.” This personal ethos has never caused any in-flight drama, though my source is always unimpressed when asked to turn off his Kindle e-book reader – a device which lacks any wi-fi or transmission capabilities. “So I have to read your shitty in-flight mag?” he sniffs. “Or I have to buy a physical book? Give me a break, fuck!”

    This particular musician – who wishes to remain anonymous, to avoid being hassled on future flights – is a self-described time management freak. “If I’m running late, I like to turn my phone on before I land to check who’s picking me up. When we’re in a holding pattern, I’ll try to get a signal to check emails and Twitter, to see what’s happened since I’ve been on the flight.” Not one of these planes has ever dropped out of the sky as a result of one phone seeking a connection to the nearest terrestrial tower; it’s unlikely that several hundred devices doing the same thing at the same time would make a difference, either.

    To read the full story, visit The Vine.