The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) commences its 2015 Congress this week. Each year around 800 trade union delegates meet to discuss changes to policies and to develop or refine strategies. This year the ACTU released its draft policies publicly prior to the Congress. These policies have a long and strong historical and industrial relations context. Occupational health and safety (OHS) is an important part of these policies and should spark discussions in the union movement and the OHS profession.
Early in the document, the ACTU states its “bargaining agenda” in which is included
“better work, life and family balance.” (page 7)
Curiously, the ACTU has chosen “better” rather than “safe”. Better is a more inclusive term but harder to define. Better for whom? Better could be better paid or more secure or safer.
Trade unionists often see OHS as being monitored and enforced through the mechanism of the Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) and would argue that OHS is throughout all the draft policies due to the HSR role but there are more workplaces in Australia without HSRs than with and it is worth considering the policies as independent from the HSR structure, if that is possible.. More…
Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews is involved in a, currently minor, political drama after he decided to stand down his Small Business Minister, Adem Somyurek, after allegations of workplace bullying. The drama is in its early days but some of the decisions and media comments are worthy of analysis, particularly as Premier Andrews seems to be avoiding using the term, workplace bullying.
The facts seem to be that the Minister’s Chief of Staff, Dimity Paul, complained to the Premier about Somyurek’s “intimidating, aggressive and threatening” behaviour. The Premier stood the Minister down after a formal complaint was made to the Department of Premier and Cabinet which has generated an investigation.
This allegation has a lot of political connections as described in an article in The Age newspaper written by Farrah Tomazin, but there is little doubt that the allegation comes under the definition of workplace bullying as there have been mentions of a “pattern of behaviour” by the Minister. Tomazin wrote
“The alleged misconduct …. is said to have taken place over the past few months, and relates to a number of employees in his ministerial office…”
One of the professional disciplines that has had the biggest impact on occupational health and safety (OHS) management in Australia has been sociology but that influence seems to be waning as it fails to compete with the managerial imperative of short-termism and the quick fix.
This demand for a quick fix is partly a result of the increased sensitivity to reputational damage of both the organisation and the executive. This can be seen by the increasing attention to apparent solutions to safety problems of the individual worker, for instance, resilience training which is primarily about the individual toughening up. Neuroplasticity has entered OHS by saying that the individual can reconfigure their brain to, somehow, work more safely. Of course, the ultimate short-term solution to most workplace problems has existed for years – sack the worker.
All of this denies the organisational influence on workers, managers and executives because organisational change is hard and it takes time, both are challenges that do not fit with modern expectations of business.
One of the clearest examples of the inability or unwillingness of executives to improve OHS through organisational change is the management of workplace bullying. More…
Several years ago, WorkSafe Victoria published “Dairy Safety: A Practical Guide“* A decade on Dairy Australia has published its career guidance “Stepping Stones” which seems to imply that not all employers and workers have a legislative responsibility to work safely and without harming others.
It is a legislative truism that “safety is everyone’s responsibility” and Dairy Australia advises that
“All farm businesses have an obligation under law to provide a safe and healthy workplace for their employees, contractors, family, visitors and members of the public. Farm businesses who don’t act to fulfil health and safety responsibilities face significant fines and penalties.”
However according to Stepping Stones only some dairy roles have an overt occupational health and safety obligation. More…
Each Australian State conducts its own occupational health and safety (OHS) awards. It has been a long-held tradition that the winners of these awards are entered into the national OHS awards conducted by Safe Work Australia. No more. The national awards have been quietly dropped.
Safe Work Australia has decided to end the national awards just over a year since the Minister for Employment, Senator Eric Abetz, stated:
“I am delighted to see individuals, small businesses and large organisations finding solutions to make their workplaces safer….
“Their commitment and passion has made a difference in the community and ensured safer workplaces leading to more people getting home safely to their families.
“The leadership and innovation of people and organisations like those celebrated at the Awards that not only helps to reduce the number of workplace deaths and injuries but also helps to create a positive workplace culture.”
The 2014 media release went on to state:
“The Safe Work Australia Awards showcase the best workplace safety solutions, innovations and systems across our nation and are a celebration of what can be achieved to reduce workplace incidents and deaths.”
The Cancer Council of Western Australia has released a report (not yet available online)that states:
“The number of occupationally caused cancers compensated each year equates to less than eight per cent of the expected number.” (Executive Summary)
This is an extraordinary statistic but consistent with the history of occupational health and safety (OHS) statistics where the core data originates from compensation figures rather than incident figures. Cancer has always been a challenge in this area as it can manifest years after exposure or not at all. But this report also provides important data, and a challenge, for OHS professionals and business owners as
“Occupational exposures to carcinogens are estimated to cause over 5,000 new cases of cancer in Australia each year.” (Executive Summary)
The report has an excellent discussion on why such statistics are estimates and the unreliability of previous data in Australia and overseas but there is only a short, but important, discussion about risk and hazard controls – the principle focus for OHS professionals. More…
One of the most significant motivators for changes in safety leadership in the executive circles in Australia has been the obligation to apply due diligence to occupational health and safety (OHS) matters. The obligation has existed for several years now but is still dominated by legal interpretations rather than managerial ones. To support the legal obligations, OHS professionals should look at how they can add value to due diligence. One way of achieving, and exceeding, compliance of due diligence would be to subject OHS systems and strategies to a peer-review rather than a narrow audit process. More…
On the eve of its 2015 Budget, the Australian Parliament was debating an increase in enforcement powers of the Fair Work Building and Construction inspectorate and the resurrection of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Occupational health and safety (OHS) is rarely mentioned in these debates but not so on 11 May 2015. Excerpts from yesterday’s safety-related comments are worth noting, particularly as no mainstream media has done so or is likely to..
Senator Cory Bernardi (Liberal Party) attacked a recent video from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) saying that
“For too long the unions have falsely cried safety as a lazy defence for their unlawful and unethical industrial conduct. They have cried wolf so often that they can no longer be believed.”
Over the last few months some in Australia’s trade union movement have renewed calls for the introduction of industrial manslaughter laws in various jurisdictions. The issue has appeared both on television and online.
Curiously the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) seems to have dropped the “industrial manslaughter” terminology it has used in the past. In a 28 April 2015 media release, the ACTU stated:
““Strengthening OHS laws to make negligent companies and individual directors liable sends a clear message to employers that they must ensure people are safe at work.”
“Current laws need to be strengthened so that companies and company directors are liable for our safety at work.”
It seems that the charge has been left to the South Australian Greens Parliamentarian, Tammy Franks, who has proposed amendments to the SA Work Health and Safety laws in Parliament on 6 May. But what does Franks expect to achieve with this Bill? Will it reduce harm or is it a heartfelt cry of frustration? More…
The media’s focus on standing desks continues in Australia with the PM radio program on 7 May 15 stating:
“If you thought those standing desks, and even the newer treadmill desks, were a fad, think again.”
This compounds the continuing distraction from organisational causes to individual adaptability and encourages short-term thinking on occupational health and safety (OHS) issues.
The radio program built a report around some very useful research data released by the Heart Foundation which, amongst other findings, stated:
“More than one in two Australian workers reported that they do not do enough physical activity to be healthy. In fact, one in four Australian workers does very little or no physical activity at all. The most common reasons Australian workers are not physical active is due to lack of time, a lack of enjoyment when doing physical activity or simply would prefer to do other things than undertaking physical activity.”
Sedentary behaviour is an acknowledged risk factor in various chronic diseases and the Heart Foundation should be commended for providing further evidence. But there is no mention of standing desks in the Foundation’s media release or supplementary information. More…