Ever since the UK Government reduced the occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations on small business, there have been concerns that a similar strategy could occur in Australia. Of all the States in Australia, Victoria is the most likely to mirror the UK actions, particularly as its WorkSafe organisation continues with its restructuring and (ridiculous) rebranding, and Victoria’s conservative government continues to see OHS as a red tape issue for small business. However a recent finding by the Queensland Coroner should be considered very seriously when thinking of OHS in small business.
In 2011 Adam Douglas Forster
” … came close to the rotating ball mill, then accidently (sic) became ensnared by the protruding bolts and was dragged underneath the ball mill which continued to rotate, thereby causing his fatal injuries.”
The inquest found
“There were no guards, barriers or other apparatus restricting access by any persons to the ball mill.” and
Forster “did not know how to turn the ball mill on or off”. More…
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…
Australia’s politicians, trade unionists, businesses and media are gearing up for a tumultuous year in industrial relations with the controversial establishment of a Royal Commission into trade union corruption. This royal commission is broad-ranging but targets the construction unions, particularly the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and thus the construction unions’ conduct with regard to allegedly using occupational health and safe as a cover or excuse for industrial action. This royal commission has a strong element of party politics and ideologies and has overshadowed other action in the Australian Parliament where OHS is being discussed.
On 6 February 2014 the Education and Employment References Committee of the Australian Senate continued its inquiry into the Government’s approach to re-establishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) through the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013. One of the terms of reference for this inquiry is
“whether the provisions of the bills relating to occupational health and safety in the building and construction industry are adequate to protect the health and safety of employees and contractors in the industry”.
On February 6 the inquiry had some heated discussion on OHS and the construction industry that deserves a closer look. More…
Further to yesterday’s article about the Model Health and Safety Management Plan (MHSMP) being required by the Construction Compliance Code Unit (CCCU) in the Victorian Government, SafetyAtWorkBlog was provided with a copy of the submission of the Victorian Construction Safety Alliance* (VCSA). Tony Marino, the Chair of the VCSA, has granted permission for the covering letter to be quoted.
The covering letter to the submission made four major points:
- “Overall the requirements of the Model Health and Safety Management Plan (MHSMP) and Implementation Guidelines are excessive and require significant amount of reporting duplication, i.e. red tape. VCSA was of the opinion government agencies wanted to reduce red-tape.
- VCSA Suggest the CCCU has a MOU with other relevant agencies to receive safety data produced and sought by the Implementation Guidelines. More…
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…
For a little while employers, government and trade unions in Australia were spreading their consultative pool on occupational health and safety (OHS) matters. Recently that triumvirate seems to have returned to a more exclusive structure. The reason is unclear but the situation is a backward step and one that fails to take advantage of the modern consultative technologies.
In some ways OHS in Australia seems to be moribund. Professional associations do not seem to be growing even in a time of regulatory change. Trade union membership numbers seem to have bottomed out without much diminution of their political influence. It may be time to look at a new consultative approach that builds ownership of workplace safety on the back of the awareness marketing by the OHS regulators. However to do so may mean that the tripartite structure be dissolved over time and that the policy development expectations of government on OHS matters be substantially revised. 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…
Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA),was in the pages of the Australian Financial Review in July 2013 over several issues –
- CEO Denise Cosgrove told staff of her wonderful holiday in Daylesford in the same email in which she advised of a review of operating budgets “including people costs” and of job losses,
- Former Minister for Workcover, Roger Hallam, has been appointed to undertake a review of the Victorian Workcover Authority ,
- Hallam is said to have been on the panel that appointed Cosgrove recently to the CEO post,
- Cosgrove has pushed for a change in common law (Common law was controversially dropped during Roger Hallam’s time as Minister).
There seems to be many issues bubbling away at VWA – common law, declining profitability, “dividends” and a secret review. More…
There has been little movement on the assessment and management of manual handling risks in Australia during the period of OHS/WHS harmonisation. Just an hour or so ago, Work Health and Safety Queensland released a video that outlines its manual handling assessment program PErforM – Participative Ergonomics for Manual Tasks.
A PErforM manual for trainers seems to have been around since February 2012 but the new video should create fresh interest in the program that is supported by a new handbook.
Manual handling risk assessments are one of the most difficult tasks for business and safety people but they can also be a safety task that offers the greatest financial and worker rewards. This initiative is a relatively new look at an old OHS problem.
It is common for regulators, major clients and accreditation bodies to require copies of a detailed health and safety management plan so that they can be assured the contractor is complying with OHS laws and contract safety obligations. Over the years, part of my job has been to assess these plans to determine their quality, validity and applicability. Some have accused me of nitpicking, others have appreciated the pedantry but my perspective is that such plans are a crucial method of establishing and communicating OHS practices and providing a base from which a positive safety culture can be constructed.
I would argue that any company that has a carelessly written OHS management plan is unlikely to fully understand its own OHS commitments. That company would also be providing conflicting and confusing safety information to its own workforce and its subcontractors.
Inaccuracies and inconsistencies
One example that comes to mind was a large company who submitted an OHS management plan which detailed many safety commitments, what I consider “promises”. However, there were inconsistencies such as the person who was responsible and accountable for safety at the start of the plan, let’s say a “safety manager”, and who was not mentioned any further. More…