Safe Work Method Statements – their role, their use and their curse 6

Paul Breslin caused a stir in Australia’s OHS sector in 2013 with his costing of one element of managing high risk workplaces, the Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS).  In 2014, an update of Breslin’s research was published in The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Health, Safety and Environment (only available through subscription), in which he states that

“Industry stakeholders claim that the SWMS Process is no longer manageable and that this document process has failed the industry and has basically outlived its usefulness” and

Recent “criticism has centred on the fact that SWMSs, which were intended to be easy to use documents, have often become so large and complex that they are impractical to use”.

(The latter statement was supported by speakers at a recent (poorly attended) Safety In Construction Conference in Melbourne, Australia.)

Some general industry criticism has been aimed at occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators such as the various WorkSafes and the Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner for accepting bloated and super-generic SWMSs but an equal amount of criticism could be laid at the feet of clients who often request a SWMS when, in fact they are seeking a construction or work methodology.  This is lazy management but also indicative of ignoring the need to have OHS professionals in the contract assessment process from the conceptual stage of a tender process. More…

The first Annual Statement on workplace bullying data gets a C+ Reply

Recently Safe Work Australia released  its first annual statement on “Psychosocial health and safety and bullying in Australian workplaces“.  This is a terrific initiative but it has a significant flaw – it combines statistical data for harassment and bullying even though they are different hazards, have different remedies, are usually handled by different professions in many organisations, and have different external appeal options.

The Annual Statement itself quotes its origin:

 “The Committee recommends that Safe Work Australia issues an annual national statement which updates any emerging trends of its collated data from each of the state and territory regulators, and the Commonwealth, with respect to psychosocial health and safety generally and workplace bullying specifically“. (emphasis added)

Nowhere in the Annual Statement is there any data specifically addressing workplace bullying.  Bullying is always linked with harassment, contrary to the brief from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment’s workplace bullying report, as I read it.

More…

Australian company dumps triple certification as unnecessary 8

At a recent seminar an HSE Manager of a large Australian company revealed that the company has dropped its support of “triple certification” – external certification to safety, quality and environmental standards. This caused a murmur in the audience as external certification has long been seen as an unavoidable element (and cost) of operating a large business. The HSE Manager explained that the company had assessed all of the resources it provides for certification in light of the benefits it receives and determined that the company could still do well without the external certification.

Certification has been considered as a public and commercial statement of good business management.  Certification is also required as a minimum requirement to qualify for tenders for government works. But certification has also been seen as a costly and disruptive burden.  This perception has strengthened as new regulators have imposed compliance requirements that are usually satisfied through external or third-party audits.  This auditing complexity has sometimes been mentioned in the context of the “red tape” debate. More…

The nonsense of Victoria’s non-harmonisation 3

[Guest post from Ross Macfarlane]

A rhetorical question: if you were an OHS advisor for, say, a Victorian construction company, would you prefer to rely on a regulatory guidance document issued in 2012, under legislation which is not in force in the State, or one which is well over 20 years old, and issued under another piece of legislation which is not in force in this State?

It is received wisdom in OHS professional circles that the continuing failure of Victoria and Western Australia to implement harmonised work health and safety laws is a triumph of politics over policy – a victim of lobbying by special interest groups, mostly of a conservative persuasion. It is a fact that the goal of nationally harmonised laws was established during John Howard’s Prime Ministership, but it is also a fact that the national model laws were adopted by the Council of Australian Government (COAG) in July 2008 (with a target date for adoption of 1 January 2012,) in a narrow window of time when Labor governments were in power in the Commonwealth and every Australian State and Territory.

I don’t wish in this article to dwell on the politics surrounding of the adoption, rejection or modification of the harmonised laws. Key ideological differences such as the magnitude of penalties and union right of entry are I believe of less consequence than the failure to adopt the common structure and common approach to regulation. Hence I want to focus on some of the anomalies and contradictions that have arisen in Victoria as a result of the laws not being adopted in this State. More…

Beyondblue’s latest research report is too narrow 4

Beyondblue has just released a report into the cost of mental health in the workplace prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and called “Creating a mentally healthy workplace – Return on investment analysis“. The report is interesting but of limited use for those looking for ways to make their own workplaces safer and healthier with minimal cost.  The Beyondblue  media release claims

“… that Australian businesses will receive an average return of $2.30 for every $1 they invest in effective workplace mental health strategies.

The research, which looked at the impact of employees’ mental health conditions on productivity, participation and compensation claims, also found these conditions cost Australian employers at least $10.9 billion a year.”

The first claim looks attractive but achieving such a return is unlikely unless the company includes the following:

  • “commitment from organisational leaders,
  • employee participation,
  • development and implementation of policies,
  • provision of the necessary resources, and
  • a sustainable approach.” (page iv)

The best chance for the return on investment (ROI) will likely occur in a company that has an enlightened management, “necessary resources” and a leadership that is already likely to have mental health and a safe organisational culture on its agenda.  This is a rare combination which limits the application of the PwC report findings. More…

Can Broken Windows Theory help OHS? 11

There are very few innovations that originate from within the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession.  Most of the change seems to come from the application of external concepts to workplace activities and approaches.  Recently a colleague was discussing how some of the current OHS initiatives mirror the “broken windows” concept which originated in criminology in the United States.  In some ways Broken Windows Theory mirrors OHS positives but it may also reflect some of the negatives or OHS dead-ends.

Ostensibly Broken Windows Theory discusses how attention to small improvements may generate cultural change.  However the improvements introduced seem to have different levels of success depending on the context in which they are applied.  For instance in OHS, a construction site may mandate that protective gloves are worn for all manual activity but if there is a variable level of manual handling risk, the wearing of gloves will be an accepted practice in one area but haphazard in another.  The intention of a mandated safety requirement is to change the risk and safety culture of a workplace but the different levels of risk mean that the requirement can be seen as “common sense” in one area but unnecessary “red tape” in another.

The criminological application of the theory reached its peak in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s. More…

Red tape (again) and Obama’s support – Melbourne’s Workers’ Memorial Day 2014 1

IWMD 2014 01A short time ago the International Workers Memorial Day commemoration in Melbourne, Victoria, concluded. The ceremony was less sombre than in previous years with, it seemed, fewer families and relatives of deceased workers.  Certainly there was no speech from a family member, nothing from workplace safety advocates other than the three trade union speakers, Meredith Peace, Brian Boyd and Michael Borowick (all pictured right), however there were tears for some in the crowd and wreaths were laid prior to a minute silence.

The politics was reduced this year as there were no noisy protests from the back of a tray truck and no march on Parliament afterward, however politics is never far from the surface of this type of event. Michael Borowick, Assistant Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (pictured below right, with microphone), was the more effective of today’s three speakers.  (Audio of his presentation is available below)

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Self-employment should not be seen as a work/life solution Reply

Work/life balance is a close cousin to occupational health and safety (OHS), particularly health.  It is often the gateway people use to reduce occupational health risks such as stress and other psychosocial issues.  Moving to self-employment can be a successful strategy but it is not as easy as simply relocating one’s individual workplace or teleworking, the expected control on work hours may not eventuate and it may be very difficult to maintain a livable wage.  In The Saturday Age on April 26 2014 (not locatable on-line), Dr Natalie Skinner of the Australian Centre for Work + Life, provided a useful perspective.

Skinner writes that her annual surveys over the last six years have indicated that:

“self-employment is neither better nor worse for work-life conflict than being an employee.”

Skinner acknowledges that this seems odd because there has been so much debate about the win-win of workplace flexibility. More…

“Safety is paramount”, “safety is our number one priority” = bull**** cliches 4

After a major incident or at an Annual General Meeting, it will be common to hear a senior executive state something like “Safety is our number one priority”.  This is unrealistic and almost absurd because even in the most worker-friendly company, the continued existence of that organisation is the real and ultimate goal.  Most corporate leaders believe these safety clichés because they think they reflect their own values but the statements are misrepresenting occupational health and safety (OHS) and need to be questioned.

Corporate leaders who say such statements are not hypocrites.  They are more likely to not understand the consequences of their statements.  If safety really is the number one priority, an executive should be able or expected to close the company if its work cannot be conducted safely.  If a company’s people are paramount to the success of the company, how does it handle an accusation of bullying against a manager?  Which of the people does the Board or the company choose to keep and which to lose?  Should it keep the “evil” sales representative because the rep is its most effective salesperson or sack the rep because he or she is abusive?

These are executive decisions that need to be worked through if any company is to develop an effective operational culture that truly values the safety of its workers.  It is vital that the reality behind the statements is analysed and acted upon, or perhaps such statements should not be uttered in the first instance. More…

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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