Terry Reis has written a terrific article about how occupational health and safety (OHS) requirements can impede his work as a fauna ecologist. Instead of whingeing about green or red tape, Terry has provided examples of the annoyance which allows me to build an article in response. This article is in no way a rebuttal as I agree with most of Terry’s grievances, but there can be reasons behind some of the grievances that are likely to be unrelated to OHS or illustrate poor OHS decisions.
Some of the issues Terry raises include:
- Working Alone
- OHS arguments
- Drug and Alcohol Testing
Terry mentions the irrelevance of many OHS inductions and his article seems to indicate a dysfunctional induction program. The intention of inductions is to outline the safety rules of a workplace or task but most are boring, condescending or include information that is unrelated to the task. The reality of many inductions is that they are a mechanism to have workers sign up and indicate they have understood all of their safety obligations on a site so that there is a clearer line of responsibility in the event of an incident. More…
Mental health needs in the workplace has been an evolving area of study and application and has been followed by the SafetyAtWorkBlog since its inception. Several recent statements and reports in Australia have shown that the subject continues to be discussed but not by those who can make the substantial social change, the Government, partly due to a lack of the type of evidence needed by Government to justify the change.
Mental Health is the core element of almost all the contemporary workplace hazards that are categorised as psychosocial. This includes stress, bullying, fatigue, suicide, work/life balance, and many more. Each of these categories are important but most reporting and a lot of the health promotion initiatives in the workplace focus on the manifestation of mental health instead of the source.
On February 21 2014 the chair of the Mental Health Council of Australia (MHCA), Jennifer Westacott, spoke about mental health and the workplace. Westacott is authoritative in her presentation but approaches workplace mental health from the same perspective as many others in this sector – the integration of mental health into the workplace rather than looking at the mental ill-health that workplaces can create. More…
Recently the UK’s Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) released its second white paper on safety culture. This paper is called “Making the Case for Culture” and outlines the three arguments for a workplace safety culture – legal, moral and financial – from which a safety business case can be built. Financial seems to get the most attention but this is perhaps because it is the element that is argued the least and the one that can get the greatest attention from company executives.
The document seems a little thin but it could be put that the simplicity of the presentation in a booklet designed to provide safety culture guidance is an advantage. It could also be argued that it is primarily a promotional pamphlet for the HSL’s very useful safety climate tool .
A guest post by Carl Sachs
The revised Australian Standard AS1657 for fixed ladders, platforms and walkways released in October 2013 plugs some serious holes. Guard rails made of rubber, for example, are now explicitly unacceptable.
While absurd, rubber guard rails technically complied with the 21-year-old AS1657 and the example shows just how sorely an update was needed.
Four big changes to AS1657
The biggest changes to AS1657 concern selection, labelling, guardrail testing and the design of fixed ladders. More…
For many years the brothel industry in Victoria has struggled with its occupational health and safety obligations, not because it does not understand them but that it denies OHS laws are relevant as many in the industry continue to believe that sex workers are not employees. Some use a Tax Office ruling on employee status to support their argument against OHS.
A recent investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) seems to further illustrate the industry’s misunderstanding of employees. According to an FWO media release nineteen brothels, over 70% of brothels investigated, underpaid clerical staff around $A65,000 but of more relevance to OHS is that
“Some businesses were found to have misclassified employees as independent contractors.”
This was a position put by many brothel owners and industry lobbyists when I was consulting and writing about the industry almost a decade ago. For a long time OHS laws have extended beyond the employee/employer relationship to include those affected by the work being undertaken on the premises. The more modern Work Health and Safety laws go further by focussing on the work activity rather than the place of work.
As the OHS/WHS focus increases on psychosocial hazards – impairment, fatigue, stress etc – the adult entertainment industry has particular challenges; challenges that could be seen as threats or opportunities but certainly challenges that will not go away. It is very positive that the industry groups have agreed to support a specific website for the sex industry but now they need to start working seriously on complying with their OHS/WHS obligations through collaboration, consultation and innovation, instead of denial.
More on this industry and this topic can be found in an earlier SafetyAtWorkBlog article.
Victoria’s Construction Compliance Code Unit in the Department of Treasury and Finance has just completed its public comments stage for its model Health and Safety Management Plan (HSMP). The comments period was extended by a month after initially ending after only one month‘s public consultation on 6 January 2014. New South Wales and Queensland have mirrored the Victorian construction compliance code so the significance of this OHS submission stage should not be underestimated however the submission process and unusual secrecy is not building the faith and trust in the HSMP that the process needs for it to succeed.
The regular process for submissions to government inquires is for those submissions to be made publicly available, with the permission of the writer. The CCCU seems to have no plans to follow this protocol which is an enormous shame as the submissions would have provided a window into both the understanding of OHS in the Victorian construction sector, an understanding of the OHS role of the CCCU and an insight into how the CCCU is generally perceived by the Victorian community.
SafetyAtWorkBlog put the following (we think reasonable) questions to the CCCU last week in preparation for the end of the commentary phase:
- Could you please estimate the number of submissions the CCU has received on the model Health and Safety Management Plan (HSMP) to date? More…
On 6 February 2014 the Victorian Premier. Denis Napthine, announced the intention to
“…require construction companies to implement comprehensive drug and alcohol screening measures to ensure the safety of workers to be eligible to tender for Victorian Government construction contracts.”
This is to be part of the occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations of companies under the Implementation Guidelines to the Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry. Understandably the construction union, particularly, is angry and feels as if it is being singled out. Both organisations have chosen their words very carefully. Premier Napthine is quoted as saying:
“Reports of illicit drug use and distribution on Victorian construction sites are widespread.”
The CFMEU‘s Victorian Secretary John Setka has stated that
“There is no epidemic of drug taking on construction sites…. Our Health and Safety representatives who look out for workers’ health and safety are not reporting a problem.”
It is unlikely there is an epidemic of drug use but the Premier is talking of drugs AND alcohol. More…
On 29 January 2014 Australia’s Fairfax newspapers published an article called “Safety performances at Australia’s top companies is serious business” written by Adele Ferguson. The article is based on an analysis by Citi Research of the safety performance of companies listed in Australia’s ASX100 share index. Citi Research (Citi) has kindly provided SafetyAtWorkBlog with a copy of this report developed for its fund manager and superfund clients. It is a terrific reference document providing a useful insight to the OHS performance of prominent Australian corporations. It cannot be definitive but we know of nothing else like it in Australia.
In the Fairfax article Ferguson wrote:
“While safety is a complex issue largely due to the fact that safety records are difficult to measure and difficult to compare across companies and industries, it is an important area to explore. For starters, it is a good proxy for the way a company deals with staff and manages risk more generally.”
Safety does not have to be complex but the measurement of safety performance can be as, even though there is a (dreadfully outdated) Australian Standard for measuring OHS performance, companies tweak the existing measures and the principal measurement, the Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR), has been found to be a flawed indicator. LTIFR is tolerated as a measurement simply because a better alternative has not been developed or widely accepted.
The Citi Research report lists LTIFRs for most of the 117 companies but it balances this with almost as many Total Recordable Injury Frequency Rates (TRIFR). More…
Modern workers rarely stay in jobs longer than six or seven years because they choose to move on or are working on projects that have a short lifespan. Sometimes opportunities arise that can steer people in unpredictable directions, sometimes to positions of influence. One example of this type of journey could be Ian Markos.
One newspaper recently wrote:
“The recently appointed director of policy for the SA branch of the MBA, Ian Markos, said a “nanny state” approach was stifling job creation. “There’s a raft of laws and regulations. You’ve got employment laws, you’ve got taxation laws, you’ve got environmental laws, you’ve got work health and safety laws, local council regulations. We’re saying enough is enough,” he said.”
Criticism of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws is not surprising from the Master Builders Association but Ian Markos was with South Australia’s OHS regulator, SafeWorkSA, for many years (with a once-only appearance on Gardening Australia) as the Chief Officer, Compliance, Advisory, Legal and Investigations. More…
Australian marketer and communicator, Marie-Claire Ross, has moved from video to print with a new book called “Transform Your Safety Communication“. The book approaches safety communications from the marketing perspective and provides a terrific primer in how to write about workplace safety effectively.
Marie-Claire Ross writes that
“Too often, safety professionals are taught about compliance, but not the right skills to influence and engage others.” (page 12)
This is not a deficiency of just the OHS academia. Such a statement would equally apply to most professions. Commercial communication skills, those required other than for essays, assignments and theses, are rarely included in any curriculum other than journalism and marketing. As such, this book is likely to have benefits way beyond the safety profession. More…