Australia’s Construction Code and the Home Insulation Royal Commission Reply

On 17 April 2014, Senator Eric Abetz, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, released the Building and Construction Industry (Fair and Lawful Building Sites) Code 2014 and supporting guidelines.  This Code is, fundamentally, an industrial relations Code however there is an occupational health and safety (OHS) element that needs to be noted, particularly when considered against the background of the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program.

Section 6.2.1 of the Code’s Guidelines says:

“Improving the industry’s WHS&R [Work Health Safety and Rehabilitation] performance requires positive measures that aim for prevention rather than correcting things when they go wrong. This initiative is directed at making WHS&R management an integral part of the organisational culture of companies and enterprises.”

The aims of this section are laudable – “positive” actions, “integrated, pre-emptive instead of reactive – but there are also hints that role of safety in this Code has not been fully thought out.

Things

The use of the term “things” is of concern.  This term is vague and should never be used when a more accurate word is available, particularly in a government-issued guidance document. The use of “things” could be a mistake  but the drafting of this Construction Code, and the political prominence of the Code, should not allow such mistakes.  If it is not a mistake the lack of clarity is a worry, especially when a Royal Commission is being held (Home Insulation Program – HIP) that indicates a lack of understanding and attention to OHS in the planning phase of a building-related program.

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OHS can be a force for social change, if anyone could be bothered 3

HesaMag should be obligatory reading for all OHS professionals, not just those in Europe. The editorial in the most recent edition (9 and not yet on line) is a great example of the value of this free magazine. It critically discusses the upcoming International Workers’ Memorial Day and its significance.

It asks for everyone to enact the commitment shown on each April 28 to every other day of the year. It says:

“Let’s not be taken in by the false sentiment on 28 April, but demand a clear and detailed accounting”

It asks why EU OHS legislation has been so slow to appear or be revised but equally, in Australia, questions should be asked about the status (failure in my opinion) of WHS harmonisaton, the lack of attention to the causes of workplace mental illness, the status of workplace bullying claims in the Fair Work Commission, the lack of attention to heavy vehicle OHS matters by the safety profession and the insidious encroachment of the perception of OHS as a failure of the individual rather than a failure in the system of work. More…

Anchor points could meet the Australian Standard but still be unsafe 5

Twice in early April 2014, 7.30, a current affairs program of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ran two lead stories about occupational health and safety – home insulation-related fatalities and the risks of working at heights.  The latter of these provided only a glimpse of a complex OHS issue and only touched on the matter of the self-certification of anchor points where compliance does not necessarily equate to safety. This issue has been taken up by the Working at Heights Association (WAHA) on 11 April 2014. In a media release WAHA stated:

“In the wake of last night’s ABC 7.30 Report on falls from height, the Working At Heights Association has a warning: “If you’re counting on a harness attached to an anchor system to save your life when you fall from a roof, you need to know that many roof anchors don’t meet the most basic safety standards.”

WAHA has conducted some “drop tests” of common anchor points that are currently in use in Australia and that meet the relevant Australian Standard AS/NZS5532 - Manufacturing requirements for single-point anchor device used for harness-based work at height. They found that

“In the tests, 100kg loads dropped through 2 metres tear single-person anchors away from their mounts, while 150kg loads for two-person-use hit the ground, smashing the weights. Only one out of the five anchors tested pass.”

This is a matter of enormous concern as anchor points are an essential element of fall protection.  A lot of attention has been given to fall protection harnesses over the years with some new product types but all of these rely on the integrity of a firmly secured anchor point that can withstand the high forces involved in stopping someone falling to their deaths. More…

Disseminating OHS information should not be optional 4

Cover of VWA publishing_prosecution_outcomes 2005WorkSafe Victoria has been reviewing a series of enforcement and prosecution policies for some time.  One of these policies set for re-issue relates specifically to the publication of prosecutorial information through its website and media releases and, although the “new” policy is not yet available, it may be worth remembering the previous policy, last revised in 2005.

Media Releases

WorkSafe Victoria’s “Supplementary Enforcement and Prosecution Policy on Publishing Prosecution Outcomes and Other Enforcement Information and Data” (no longer available on-line) says  that

“WorkSafe will release media statements and authorised representatives will grant media interviews, as appropriate, to the print, electronic, and/or broadcast media.” (original emphasis)

The reason behind this mode of dissemination, and others, is outlined elsewhere in the policy: More…

The CFMEU should make a case for union OHS representatives 2

In late March 2014, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) was fined $A1.25 million over a violent dispute at the Emporium construction site that occurred in 2012.  In its media release about the fine, the CFMEU’s state secretary, John Setka, says:

“The protest at the Myer site in 2012 was about safety.”

Yes and no.  The dispute was about the representation of workers on safety matters, which is a different thing.  Setka goes on:

“Building workers need someone on site who genuinely represents their interests, and that doesn’t happen when that person is hand-picked by the boss.”

The core issue in this dispute seems to be that the CFMEU will not accept the Health and Safety Representatives (HSR) chosen by the workforce at the Emporium site, which is being built by Grocon P/L.  The CFMEU has its own HSRs that it believes will better represent the workforce on OHS matters.

The dispute represents an ideological dispute that seems more about unionism and industrial relations than about safety, but worker safety may still be the lose.

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Curious decisions on WorkSafe Victoria may have long-term consequences 3

Several weeks ago there was a stir in the OHS sector in Victoria, Australia.  WorkSafe was to disappear.  Quickly the WorkSafe executives clarified that the organisation would continue to exist but that the trading name of “WorkSafe” would go.  Unions and others were suspicious as such a decision was unexpected, even by WorkSafe it appears, and it occurred at a time of organisational restructuring.  Dropping the WorkSafe “brand” is a mistake but it will still disappear from Victoria.

WorkSafe became a trading name of the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA) several decades ago.  There were two parts to the VWA – workers compensation, WorkCare and workplace safety, WorkSafe.  The simplicity of the branding is obvious and cleverly differentiated the two arms of VWA and the two very different philosophies and ideologies.  Victoria had been given a political hammering over the operation of its workers compensation scheme but WorkSafe became one of the strongest brands in the State.  Recognition was extremely high, so high that Tasmania changed the name of its Workplace Standards to WorkSafe, Northern Territory has WorkSafeNT,  and the new approach to OHS in New Zealand has created a regulator called WorkSafe NZ.  So why change?

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CEO survey shows odd attitude to OHS Reply

Cover of AiGroup CEO Survey 2014One has to be very careful with surveys, particularly those involving business confidence or surveys of an organisation’s membership base.  These are surveys of perceptions which may not correlate with reality and may be an excuse to lobby government or set an agenda rather than determining a societal truth.  A recent example of this type of survey was produced by the Australian Industry Group entitled “Burden of Government Regulation“.  The AiGroup’s media release accompanying the report states that

“Over 83% of employers surveyed listed regulation related to industrial relations and occupational health and safety as a significant regulatory burden in 2014.”

One of the major problems with this statement and similar ones throughout the report is the lumping together of industrial relations (IR) and occupational health and safety (OHS). CEOs may perceive these issues as sufficiently compatible to be inseparable but OHS and IR issues are managed in different ways, are regulated by different government agencies and operate from different moral bases. The problem is exacerbated when reading the report itself because the 83% figure also includes workers compensation and employment costs (page 6), elements not mentioned in the media release. The problem is exacerbated when reading the report itself because the 83% figure also includes workers compensation and employment costs (page 6).

The report also seems to describe OHS consultation as consuming

“non-productive time with little practical value”!!

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Lessons from Royal Commission into Home Insulation Program – Part 1 Reply

Australia’s Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (HIP) demands the attention of all occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals, primarily, because a job creation and economic stimulus program was so poorly planned at the highest level of government, that it seems to have established a culture that led to workplace deaths.  However the Royal Commission is already revealing information that shows how OHS is misunderstood by decision-makers, a situation that still persists in many jurisdictions and will only change by watching the Royal Commission carefully and analysing this information through the perspective of workplace safety.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has been following the OHS issues of the HIP since the program commenced and will be providing a series of articles over coming months based on information coming from the Royal Commission.  This is the first of them and provides background to how the Royal Commission came to be and the major OHS issues being addressed.

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OHS needs more comedies like Safety First 3

a54c5e_887371bdbda842de8bfb875829197d4f‘s latest comedy show, Safety First, is a dig at the absurdity of some of the training and concepts behind occupational health and safety.  Safety First, showing as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, does not ridicule OHS as a concept but focuses on the idiotic, semi-informed trainers who talk about safety whilst also, often, talking shit.  The humour is effective and occasionally generates discomfort for its proximity to reality. More…

GlencoreXstrata’s annual report shows more than 26 deaths 4

Last week the Australian Financial Review (AFR) brought some focus on occupational health and safety (OHS) by reporting on the most recent annual report from GlencoreXstrata in its article “Mining’s not war, why 26 deaths?” (subscription required). The article is enlightening but as important is that a business newspaper has analysed an annual report in a workplace safety context.  Curiously, although OHS is often mentioned as part of its sustainability and risk management program, safety is not seen as a financial key performance indicator, and it should be.

AFR’s Matthew Stevens wrote:

“Everybody in mining talks about ‘zero harm’ being the ultimate ambition of their health and safety programs. But talking safe and living safe are two very different things.”

GlencoreXstrata’s 2013 annual report is worth a look to both verify the AFR’s quotes but also to see the corporate context in which fatality statements are stated.  The crux of the AFR article is this statement from the Chairman’s introduction:

“It is with deep sadness that I must report the loss of 26 lives at our combined operations during 2013. Any fatality is totally unacceptable and one of the Board’s main objectives is to bring about lasting improvements to our safety culture.” (page 76)

(A curious sidenote is that the interim Chairman is Dr Anthony Howard, formally of BP and brought to prominence by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.) More…