Media coverage on workplace bullying needs more depth and analysis 1

The Australian media has given workplace bullying the front page, probably because it is a slow news period and there have been no major disasters this Christmas period. However the coverage is of the new rules and opportunities for assistance offered by changes to the Fair Work Act that commence on 1 January 2014, rather than about prevention.

Most of the comments from the business groups in the article by The Age newspaper will be familiar from the last few months. Generally they object to what they see as red tape and increased regulation. Some also believe that workplace bullying should be handled through human resources rather than as an occupational health and safety (OHS) matter.

Red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy is a legitimate concern but one that, in large part, the business sector has allowed to happen. As discussed previously, much of the red tape originates from the risk management strategy of business where, when an issue or hazard cannot be eliminated or it is too difficult to try, insurance or liability protection is obtained. As others have said, too often the risk management of safety is corrupted to become risk management of legal issues. More…

Moral conflicts in store for Australian politicians and bureaucrats 1

iStock_000016528694XSmall2014 is going to present tough challenges to Australia’s politicians and corporate leaders.  The Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program, in particular, is going to illustrate and perhaps generate ideological conflict.

The Home Insulation Program (HIP) was established quickly to address a looming economic crisis.  Politicians and business leaders wanted Australia to avoid the global recession and they needed creative solutions.  Various importance governance and safety elements appear to have been sacrificed to achieve the economic ends.  In 2014, the politicians of the time and bureaucrats will be grilled over why they made these decisions.  Various inquiries have already identified that these decisions contributed to the deaths of four young workers.  In 2014, these decision- and policy-makers will be held to account for the fatal consequences of their economic decisions.

There has long been a conflict between the pursuit of profit and the pursuit of safe working conditions.  The Royal Commission, and the surrounding debate, is likely to place this conflict squarely in the highest levels of Australia’s government and public service.  Below are some of the issues that the Australian government and business sector are likely to face in 2014. More…

OHS solutions promoted but not necessarily delivered 3

All professions need spokespeople or champions who can provide informative and, hopefully, authoritative commentary on topical matters within and beyond the profession.  Australia’s safety profession has never had such a spokesperson but recently the speakers’ bureau ICMI has packaged a selection of speakers who it thinks could be appropriate. The brief for Work Health Solutions focuses almost entirely on the issues of absenteeism, lost productivity, presenteeism and creating “a more enjoyable, friendly and less threatening environment” but will these speakers provide solutions to illnesses, injuries, amputations and diseases? Can these speakers provide the solutions implied in the program?

From the information on the program’s flyer, several of the speakers seem to be able to present stories about safety-gone-wrong. Theo Venter survived electrocution. Ian Johnson was seriously burned and speaks about the risks of confined spaces. Philip Smallman was a tree surgeon who became a paraplegic after a fall. Helen Fitzroy speaks of the impact of her husband’s workplace fatality.  John Tickell has spoken at several OHS conferences and has at least contributed to a book about OHS but others are tenuous. But ICMI is also promoting speakers who are primarily event hosts or Masters of Ceremonies and at least one of them generated complaints during a WorkSafe Victoria event several years ago for inappropriate comments about women. More…

Safety leadership and the red tape drag 3

Red Tape scribbleDuring a recent seminar I produced the doodle on the right, which depicts what I think the speaker was talking about.  Safety is a goal that can be best achieved through improving a company’s leadership qualities.  However all companies seem to be restricted by red tape, however one defines that. Can this journey be improved?

Decrease the baggage

It may be possible to reduce or minimise the red tape baggage.  Most Western governments are attempting this through inquiries and reviews but this is assuming that it is government bureaucracy that has created this baggage.  In Australia over the last fifty years Governments have allowed business great flexibility in how it achieves OHS compliance and safe workplaces (definitely not the same thing) by reducing the prescriptive basis of OHS laws.  It may have been reasonable to expect that the loss of prescriptive safety would decrease paperwork but over the same time there has been increasing calls for less red tape from government.   More…

Safety in the C Suite doesn’t always run smoothly Reply

It is rare for workplace safety to gain a half-page in the daily press in Australia but this occurred recently in The Australian.  The newspaper’s industrial editor, Ewin Hannan, built an article, “Tunnel Vision on Safety“, around the following quote from a leaked memo from 2010 then head of human resources, industrial relations and safety for John Holland, Stephen Sasse, in relation to the management of the Airport Link project:

“‘‘In my seven years with John Holland, I have never seen any project or management team that was so cavalier about the company’s OHS (occupational health and safety) system, principles and values and I have grave doubts about the management’s team’s capability in safety.’”

This is a remarkable statement but Sasse has been outspoken on safety issues in the general construction sector before. In 2011 a change in the senior management of Leighton Holdings, the parent company of John Holland, created doubt about Sasse’s future and Sasse left the organisation in October 2011.  The latter articles also indicate Sasse’s relationship with the union movement which may be part of the reason the unions are repeating their calls for an inquiry into John Holland and its licence with Comcare.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has several articles about these industrial relations tensions from 2009. More…

Politics before safety in South Australia 8

Occupational health and safety (OHS) eyebrows were raised in Australia recently as a State Government suspended the application of three construction-related codes of practice, principally, on the basis that compliance will cost too much.  The decision by South Australia’s Minister for Industrial Relations, John Rau, following a report by the Small Business Commissioner, Mike Sinkunas, illustrates several issues:

  • the SA government is overly influenced by the Housing Industry Association (HIA),
  • small business is being misinformed on how workplace safety works,
  • the application of “reasonably practicable” has been ignored, and
  • the unions and safety profession do not know how to respond.

More…

Fair Work Commission girds its loins for workplace bullying complaints Reply

Official statistics on workplace bullying in Australia are notoriously unreliable.  The Productivity Commission estimated the cost of workplace bullying with a huge margin of variation, between A$6 billion and A$36 billion annually.  WorkSafe Victoria has indicated in the past that the number of interventions on workplace bullying is way below the number of workplace bullying complaints.  On 29 October 2103, in a long discussion on workplace bullying the Australian Capital Territory’s Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher stated:

“According to reports from the Commissioner for Public Administration, reports of bullying and harassment have totalled 68 cases in 2010-11, 71 in 2011-12, and 118 cases in the financial year that has just passed, 2012-13. Proven cases of bullying have numbered four, eight 11 and 19 respectively. This amounts to complaints being made by 0.5 per cent of staff, and substantiated in relation to 0.08 per cent of staff.” (Hansard, page P3930, emphasis added)

These latest statistics, in conjunction with those previously reported, indicate that the perception of workplace bullying is much higher than the reality in Australia.   More…

The Australian Government targets former PM, Kevin Rudd, over insulation deaths 2

The investigation into workplace deaths associated with Australia’s Home Insulation Program (HIP) was refreshed yesterday with the publication of some of the terms of reference for a new Government inquiry into the program.  The HIP deaths is an enormously politically charged issue in Australia and the politics, and associated media attention, could derail an inquiry that has the potential to provide important occupational health and safety, risk management and governance issues.

Greg Hunt, Environment Minister is quoted as saying that

“The Government is committed to a full inquiry into Kevin Rudd’s home insulation scheme that was linked to the tragic loss of four young lives,….”

According to the Courier-Mail newspaper on 27 October 2013 there will be ten elements in the terms of reference but only four are mentioned:

  • The process and basis of government decisions while establishing the program, including risk assessment and risk management;
  • Whether the death of the four men could have been avoided;
  • What if any advice or undertakings given by the government to the industry were inaccurate or deficient, and;
  • What steps the government should have taken to avoid the tragedies.

These four seem reasonable aims but this information has been leaked, the full terms of reference have not been released and a person to head the inquiry is yet to be announced.

iStock_000010997810 safety tape Medium crop More…

Safety Culture remains an alchemy Reply

Safety Culture is an issue that has turned up in disaster investigations, training programs intended to change attitudes, benchmarking exercises and reviews into workplace fatalities, overpriced and evangelical corporate products and as pitiful excuses for mistakes.  Yet it still remains poorly understood and poorly defined as shown by a recent article in ISHN magazine.

The magazine asked “safety and health exerts” on their opinions about Safety Culture.  Below is a sample of the comments:

Safety culture has turned into a marketing ploy.

Safety culture is part of common language and pops up all over the place – and as in beauty it’s in the eye of the beholder. More…

Measuring a safety culture 4

Defining safety culture is still a tricky proposition.  Definitions can vary from what Global Safety Index quotes:

‘the product of individual and group values, attitudes and beliefs, competencies and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organisation’s health and safety management’.

to the, arguably more functional, definition of

‘the way you work when nobody’s looking”.

Safety culture comprises a mix of personal values, corporate values, laws, norms, expectations, hopes, respect, dignity, care, amongst others. By assessing and linking these elements it should be possible to map or pictorialise a company’s safety culture.

Several years ago at a Comcare conference in Canberra, one speaker outlined leadership and safety culture of some sections of the public service in web, spider or radar graphs (example above).  The image stuck with me, particularly after additional sets of data allowed for animation to show the evolution of culture and leadership in relation to specific interventions.  The importance of being able to provide a visual image of safety culture should not be understated. More…