The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) commences its 2015 Congress this week. Each year around 800 trade union delegates meet to discuss changes to policies and to develop or refine strategies. This year the ACTU released its draft policies publicly prior to the Congress. These policies have a long and strong historical and industrial relations context. Occupational health and safety (OHS) is an important part of these policies and should spark discussions in the union movement and the OHS profession.
Early in the document, the ACTU states its “bargaining agenda” in which is included
“better work, life and family balance.” (page 7)
Curiously, the ACTU has chosen “better” rather than “safe”. Better is a more inclusive term but harder to define. Better for whom? Better could be better paid or more secure or safer.
Trade unionists often see OHS as being monitored and enforced through the mechanism of the Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) and would argue that OHS is throughout all the draft policies due to the HSR role but there are more workplaces in Australia without HSRs than with and it is worth considering the policies as independent from the HSR structure, if that is possible.. More…
A common theme throughout presentations at the Safety Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur was the need to communicate safety and health clearly and concisely to variety of nationalities with a variety of literacy levels. My presentation aimed at reminding the OHS professional delegates that they may already have skills that they could use in communicating safety issues to their audience or workers and contractors.
Every culture has stories. Stories have been the dominant way of teaching for centuries but we are gradually losing some of our innate storytelling skills or we do not see how they may be relevant to the workplace. OHS professionals could benefit from redeveloping those skills and also encouraging those skills in others. Stories can be a base for teaching,listening and, in OHS parlance, consultation.
Quite often people in business talk about “the story” without really appreciating the complexity of storytelling, or the power of storytelling. Here are two quotes about stories that I plucked from a marketing brochure:
“The story is what drives the bond between the company and the consumer.”
“Stories can be used to communicate visions and values, to strengthen company culture, to manage the company through change and to share knowledge across the organisation.”*
There is some truth in these quotes but the purpose of the quotes undermine their value. The book these are from discusses storytelling in terms of branding and advertising, in other words the purposeful manipulation of people’s desires. For marketing and advertising is the sector where storytelling has been most effective in supporting the selling of products and the selling of ideas.
The Safety Institute of Australia‘s (SIA) CEO David Clarke revealed his four big issues for the SIA at a recent breakfast function in Melbourne.
Clarke stated that he had instigated the creation of a National Policy Agenda for the SIA – a first for the over 60-year-old registered charity. Clarke emphasised that the SIA needed to understand the language of government, employers and unions as it relates to safety. The significance of the agenda was reinforced by Clarke who said that without such a strategy, the SIA would struggle for relevance.
Another priority was the certification of the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession in Australia. Clarke admitted that this was a controversial move but sees the establishment of a “licence to operate” as vital to increasing the status of the profession. More…
SafetyAtWorkBlog believes that the following research project may be of interest to readers.
A research team from the Faculty of Business & Law at Deakin University, led by Drs. Elsa Underhill & Melissa Parris, are conducting a research project to:
- Develop a better understanding of how health, safety and well-being outcomes differ between types of workers (ie. permanents, casuals & labour hire) within the same workplace; and
- Develop an understanding of how employment status impacts on work/life balance.
Their findings are intended to better inform HRM and WHS practitioners on the development of evidence based strategies and policies to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of all employees.
They are seeking organisations which will allow them to survey their employees including, where appropriate, labour hire workers placed with organisation. Responses will be anonymous and respondents will have the chance to win 1 of 10 mini Ipads. Participating organisations will receive a report specific to their organisation, as well as the full project report.
Is your organisation interested in participating? If so, please contact Elsa.Underhill@deakin.edu.au for further information.
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.”
On November 12 2014, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) conducted its first large seminar on the certification of occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals. The seminar had an odd mix of some audience members who were suspicious, others who were enthusiastic and presenters who were a little wary. There were few who seemed to object to certification but, as the SIA admitted, the process is a long way from complete.
Justification for Certification
Certification works when it is either mandated by government, usually through legislation, or in response to a community/business/market need. Australia does not seem to have either. The SIA explained that there is a “legal requirement” for OHS certification by placing it as part of the OHS due diligence obligations of Australian businesses, that Safe Work Australia (SWA) sort-of refers to it it in its National OHS Strategy and that the “Recommendation 161″ of an unspecified international law:
“….calls for organisations to have access to “sufficient and appropriate expertise” as a basic right of all workers.”
There is no such Recommendation but there is an Occupational Health Services Convention, 1985 (No. 161)
Convention concerning Occupational Health Services (Entry into force: 17 Feb 1988) – a International Labour Organisation Convention that Australia has not ratified.
The SWA strategy repeatedly mentions the important of “health and safety capabilities” as a “national Action Area”. It specifies this action area as:
- “Everyone in a workplace has the work health and safety capabilities they require.
- Those providing work health and safety education, training and advice have the appropriate capabilities.
- Inspectors and other staff of work health and safety regulators have the work health and safety capabilities to effectively perform their role.
- Work health and safety skills development is integrated effectively into relevant education and training programs.” (page 9)
In the strategy’s chapter on Health and Safety Capabilities, SWA says:
“In a decade many existing workplace hazards will still be present and new ones will have appeared. It is particularly important that education and training enable those who provide professional or practical advice to competently deal with old and new hazards. Those who provide advice need to know when to refer the matter to others with appropriate expertise.” (page 12)
There is no mention of certification in the SWA strategy but the SWA is sympathetic to certification. More…
One of the most ignored, but important, elements of occupational health and safety (OHS) management is the business case. Work on this issue is being completed in Australia by Safe Work Australia but the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has beaten it to the punch by releasing “The business case for safety and health at work: Cost-benefit analyses of interventions in small and medium-sized enterprises“. This document includes new case studies that provide detailed analysis of cost and return on investment from interventions as varied as a vacuum lifter for pavers to warm-up exercises and task assessments of domestic builders by qualified physiotherapists.
The report found that:
- “Wide-ranging interventions appear to be more profitable than interventions targeting a particular
issue related to the sector of the enterprise.
- Interventions that mainly concern training and organisational change appear to be more profitable than interventions based on technical changes (such as introducing new equipment).
- Interventions that include direct worker (participatory) involvement appear to be more profitable, regardless of whether or not increased productivity benefits are taken into account in the
- In most cases, the enterprises managed to estimate benefits related to increased productivity. It
should be emphasised that increased productivity does not always come as a result of improved
safety and health, but it is taken into account in the context of a business case.” (page 10)
Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott provided his interim response to the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (HIP) in Parliament on 30 September, 2014. One should not expect much sustainable or cultural change from an interim response but Abbott’s responses hold some promise.
The commitments include:
“…[asking] Minister Hunt [Environment] to assume responsibility to oversee the Commonwealth response and to coordinate actions across departments and ministers.”
“…[asking] the Minister for Employment to examine these [OHS] findings, particularly as they relate to the reliance of the Commonwealth on state and territory laws, and his work will inform the government’s final response.”
“Minister Hunt and the Minister for Finance have been asked to recommend options to compensate their next of kin [of the deceased workers]”
The annual Safe Work Australia month starts today. The promotion of this month has fluctuated wildly over the last decade. Sometimes there are physical launches with interesting speakers, sometimes balloons and merchandise, other times the national OHS authority has left most of the activity to the States. In 2014, Safe Work Australia has jumped into internet videos, online presentations and webinars each day of the month of October (the full schedule is available HERE). This initiative is to be supported but it has not been tried before in Australia and its success is not guaranteed.
As expected the first couple of videos are polite launches of the strategy with statements from Ministers and CEOs. The potential for valuable content is after the initial launch but this value is debatable. It is unclear who the target audience is. If the seminar series is for OHS newbies, a restatement of legislative OHS obligations is of little interest to experienced safety managers and professionals. More…
Next month Australia hosts the G20 but there is always a lot of activity leading to this meeting and labour relations is part of that preparation. In September 2014 the G20 conducted its Labour and Employment Ministerial meeting at which a Declaration was released that includes some occupational health and safety (OHS) information. The Declaration is full of “weasel words” and “soft verbs” but it is worth noting so that the actions of governments on OHS in the future can be referenced, even though tangible results will be few.
On promoting safer workplaces, the Declaration states:
“Improving workplace safety and health is an urgent priority that protects workers and contributes to increased productivity and growth. We agree to take further steps to reduce the substantial human and economic costs associated with unsafe workplaces and work-related illnesses. We endorse the attached G20 Statement on Safer and Healthier Workplaces (Annex C), and we commit, as appropriate, to implement its recommendations in collaboration with governments, international organisations and social partners.”
If we were to deconstruct this statement, accepting that the paragraph is extracted from the labour relations context, the Australian Government, and other parties, does not accept that OHS is an “urgent priority”, only that improving it is. Any government can prove that it is “improving” OHS even when controls are removed due to red tape reduction or by the ideological strategy of increasing employer control through increased flexibility. More…