Just over six months ago the (conservative) Victorian Government announced that it was dropping the WorkSafe brand (pictured right). This made little sense at the time as the WorkSafe brand was so established that it became accepted shorthand for the OHS inspectorate. On 23 January 2015, less than two months after the election of a new (Labor) Victorian Government, the brand has been resurrected. It seems that this indicates an ideological change.
The benefits of dropping the brand were stated on the Victorian Workcover Authority’s (VWA) website (pictured above) as better reflecting all areas of the VWA’s business but the decision was widely interpreted as a diminution of attention to harm and injury prevention. Such a strategic shift echoed the increased perception of organisational heartlessness by some community sectors. More…
On 16 January 2015 the Australian newspaper (paywall) reported on a Fair Work Commission (FWC) decision involving an unfair dismissal claim by a worker who, as a result of a random drug test, was found to have methylamphetamine in her system “at levels four times above the minimum detection level”. The company, Downer EDI Mining, sacked the worker, Leah Cunningham, as she presented a hazard to her work colleagues. The newspaper article was called “CFMEU slammed for drugs defence” and the FWC decision is Tara Leah Cunningham v Downer EDI Mining Pty Limited (U2014/1457) (14 January 2015).
The Australian, a newspaper with no love for the trade union movement and the CFMEU in particular, focussed on the apparent absurdity of a trade union, that places such a high priority on workplace safety, contesting the dismissal of a worker who presented a hazard to herself and others at work. The newspaper quotes Commissioner Ian Cambridge:
““It was highly regrettable to observe during the hearing that an organisation, which apparently conducts campaigns which strongly advocate safety in the workplace, could contemplate a proposition which, in effect, would countenance a person driving a 580-tonne truck whilst having methylamphetamine in their body at a level four times the reportable cut-off figure,” he said in his decision this week.
“Any realistic and responsible pursuit of the case on behalf of the applicant should have been confined to the development of evidentiary support for the applicant’s explanation for the presence of the methylamphetamine. Indeed, much greater energy and focus should have been devoted to such an evidentiary position rather than any attempt to defend the indefensible.”
Whether one believes that the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption is a political witch-hunt or a genuine attempt to clean up a corrupt industry sector, the Royal Commission seems to have revealed an abuse and exploitation of occupational health and safety (OHS) – an exploitation that has received next to no attention. The release of the Commission’s interim report allows for a quick analysis of this situation.
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was a particular target of the Commission in relation to a “slush fund” established by her then-boyfriend, Bruce Wilson, commonly referred to as the “AWU affair“. The “slush fund”, known as the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association, was developed, according to Gillard
“… to support the re-election of union officials who would campaign for workplace reforms including better occupational health and safety.” (Interim Report, Vol 1, page 99)
Any new book by Andrew Hopkins is a cause for excitement. The latest book co-written with Associate Professor Jan Hayes* focusses, primarily, on two pipeline disasters in the United States but has sufficient information and thoughts for those OHS professionals outside this sector and jurisdiction.
“Nightmare Pipeline Failures: Fantasy planning, black swans and integrity management” is a typically slim volume written in Plain English that benefits from the broad knowledge of its authors. Readers of Hopkins’ early books will get all of the cross-references. In some ways, this book can be seen as almost a case-study of Hopkins’ work on mindfulness and high-reliability organisation, as the themes of management perspectives, activity and decision-making occur repeatedly in this book. More…
The Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, called a “snap” election for the end of January 2015. On 11 January 2015, Newman tweeted:
“Queenslanders injured at work are covered by Australia’s strongest workers’ compensation scheme.”
This is a further example of political newspeak as what does a “strong” workers’ compensation scheme look like? Newman’s tweet included an image that provides some clarity to his claim.
Last year SafetyAtWorkBlog reported its failure at gaining the release of the Victorian Government’s full cost analysis of the introduction of the national Work Health and Safety laws. In November 2014 the Victorian Government changed from conservative Liberal to traditionally more worker-friendly Labor Party. So I submitted another request, with the same result, the report was
“…prepared for the purpose of submission for consideration by Cabinet in 2012…”
It seems we will have to wait another 28 years, apparently, to see the full estimated costs of Victoria introducing occupational health and safety laws that most other States have already introduced. It is worth remembering that one State, South Australia, provided dramatically different cost estimates and the Productivity Commission estimated cost savings for some companies:
“…multi-state businesses are likely to see compliance costs fall and safety outcomes improve, generating total possible net cost savings of $480 million per year [under the new Work Health and Safety laws]” (Chapter 8, page 153)
The previous Liberal Government pledged never to introduce the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. The new Labor Government failed to mention these laws in its 2014 election/policy platform so their intentions on WHS laws are unclear. However, it is widely believed that Victoria has lost its claim to be at the leading edge of OHS/WHS legislation in this country. If such status is important to the Labour Government, as it has been to the Australian Labor Party in the past, it is hard not to see it harmonising its OHS laws to those of the other States even if through quiet diplomacy rather than a noisy legislative change.
Today Australia’s Employment Minister, Senator Eric Abetz, released a statement concerning a change to the renewal of Comcare licences in the spirit of reducing business red tape but there are two mentions of workplace safety that are curious.
In the statement entitled “Comcare self-insurance licence change“, Senator Abetz has welcomed:
“…a reform that will see businesses save more than $1 million a year which can be reinvested in Work Health and Safety and jobs.”
“This reform will reduce the regulatory burden, remove the cost of licence extensions in years two and four, and push back the costs of audit until year eight as well as ensure safer workplaces.”
The argument on reducing OHS red tape is that the cost savings can be reinvested into occupational health and safety measures but there seems to be no independent evidence to support this belief. More…
The occupational health and safety (OHS) profession in Australia has suffered from the lack of a public voice. This is partly due to ineffective and disorganised professional associations but more it is due to fear – fear of embarrassment, fear of ridicule, fear of failure…. This is peculiar because a fundamental element of OHS is communication. Below is some information from an Australian journalism textbook that may help reduce some of that fear.
Code of Ethics
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (ie. the journalists’ “union” in Australia) publishes a Code of Ethics. (Similar organisations round the world have equivalent documents and obligations) This is vital information for any journalist but also important for those who want to engage with the media, perhaps through interviews. For instance, on the use of sources, the Code says
“Aim to attribute information to its source. Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source’s motives and any alternative attributable source. Where confidences are accepted, respect them in all circumstances.”
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 110,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 5 days for that many people to see it.
Click here to see the complete report.
At a remembrance service in December 2014, the founder and outgoing deputy director of the Creative Ministries Network (CMN), John Bottomley, explained his refusal of funding from the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) for CMN’s work-related grief support services (now called GriefWork). VWA has a different take on his comments.
In discussing the relevance of the Book of Isaiah to the motivations of the CMN to help people, Bottomley said that
“… it is God’s response to injustice and suffering that has planted this same spirit at the heart of our endeavours to transform work-related harm.
So CMN rejected VWA’s contract in April this year, after WorkSafe had funded our agency for over ten years to provide grief support services. My reason for rejecting the new contract was that VWA wanted to hide bereaved families grief from the public domain of injustice at work. The contract brief treated grief as an individual psychological problem to be addressed behind the closed doors of a clinic shut off from the rest of society. The contract wanted to treat work-related grief like an illness, and treat grieving families as sick and lacking the ability to ‘cope’. This heaps injustice upon injustice.”