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.
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…
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…
In early September 2013 I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on the issue of working at heights. The “crisis summit” was reported on recently by Marian Macdonald. The videos of this panel are now available through the WAHA YouTube channel and all the separate videos are worth viewing. The video in which I first advocate for a focus on safety is embedded below.
The questions from the floor are included in the last video of the panel discussion. If the issue of working at heights seems dry it is worth looking at the video from the 4.30 minute mark. Several members of the audience take the Workcover NSW representative to task.
As the 1 January 2014 implementation date for new workplace bullying processes approaches there is an increasing amount of legal, HR, and safety seminars, and newsletters and alerts being produced. Most reiterate the amendments to Australia’s Fair Work Act but occasionally there is additional information.
In a recent seminar, it was suggested that the draft Code of Practice for the Prevention and Management of Workplace Bullying, developed by Safe Work Australia, is to be released as a guidance note rather than a Code of Practice (see below). More…
Recently Queensland’s Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has been asserting that a review of union right-of-entry provisions is needed because unions have been using occupational health and safety (OHS) issues as an excuse for industrial relations (IR) action. Such assertions have been made for decades in Australia to the extent they have become fact. Below is an article looking at one of the sources of the Attorney-General’s assertions.
In a media statement dated 5 October 2013, Bleijie stated:
“For too long, we have seen construction unions using safety as an industrial weapon in this State… Quite frankly, their abuses of the current right of entry provisions are designed to bully contractors until they get their way. Sites are being hijacked and workers held to ransom.
“I have personally heard of stories from hard working Queenslanders who have been locked out of their workplace because of militant union activity.
“Earlier this year, a major contractor lost 42 days of work due to illegal strike activity in the first year of their enterprise agreement. This practice will end.”
Some of this statement was quoted in a Sunday Mail article on 6 October 2013 following the minister’s speech at an awards ceremony with the Master Builders. Like most political media statements there is a large amount of hyperbole but this article’s focus will be on the OHS elements of the statement. More…
The article below has been written by Marian Macdonald and is about an event that I recently attended in Sydney about fall protection.
When a plumber perched on the rooftop of a skyscraper clips a safety harness onto the point that anchors him to the building, there’s a one-in-three chance the anchor itself is unsafe. Remarkably, the installers being held to blame are pleading for greater scrutiny of their work from the regulator.
The Working At Heights Association (WAHA), which represents fall prevention equipment installers, today sent a call to action submission (not available online) to the Heads Of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA). It follows an industry crisis summit held last month where, with a sea of upstretched hands, hundreds packed into a stifling conference room demanded urgent action from governments. More…
A most curious article about workplace bullying appeared in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on 11 September 2013. In discussing recent changes to Australia’s Fair Work Act Nick Ruskin of K&L Gates wrote about the broad definition of workplace bullying to be applied:
“…the intriguing thing is that worker is very broadly defined. Its definition, reliant on the Workplace Health & Safety Act 2011, is so wide it could even include the director of a corporation.
In other words, non-executive directors of corporations will have the same ability as a traditional worker to take a bullying grievance to the Fair Work Commission.
We could see a situation in which a company director alleges they have been bullied by another director and seeks early intervention from the Commission.” (emphasis added)
At the Safety Show this afternoon, prominent Australian labour lawyer, Michael Tooma, spoke bluntly and confrontingly about workplace bullying in front of several hundred trade show delegates. For those companies who value a safety culture or are trying to create one, Tooma stated that if work colleagues do not stand up to bullying or report bullying as the OHS issue it fundamentally is, they are condoning the bullying.
Tooma also applies the “duty of care” broadly and says that the application of the duty of care does not sit with one person or an organisation. More…
On September 3 2013 I will be on a panel in Sydney discussing issues associated with working at heights. Below is a media release (not yet available online) about the panel and some recent data on working at heights risks. The quotes are mine.
Inaction by policy makers is putting lives at risk and now, says a peak safety industry body, there are the numbers to prove it.
The Working At Heights Association (WAHA) will host a crisis summit on Tuesday at The Safety Show Sydney, where it will reveal that one in three roof anchors are unfit for use. Of the 3245 anchors audited by association members over the last three months, 2260 were deemed unusable.
Part of the problem, says WAHA secretary Gordon Cadzow, has been the lack of awareness of the number of inadequate safety systems on Australia’s rooftops.