Parliamentary inquiry discusses OHS but no one noticed 1

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…

Construction association sees red tape instead of safety 2

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…

Opaque response on construction industry safety code 1

Model-Health-and-Safety-Management-Plan (2)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…

OHS consultation through social media – the new (and better) way 5

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…

OHS as an industrial relations tool 3

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…

A busy week in Victoria – politics, reviews and common law 2

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…

Manual handling assessment process from Australia has merit 5

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.

Kevin Jones

Nitpicking or forensic analysis? 8

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…

Federal Safety Commissioner begins review of SWMS info 2

Recently, the issue of Safe Work Method Statements was discussed at a construction safety conference in Canberra.  SafetyAtWorkBlog reported that:

“Several delegates stated their belief that the Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner (OFSC) is largely to blame for the over-emphasis on SWMS in the construction sector and for the bloating of SWMS into a document that does little to improve safety and is more related to meeting the audit criteria of the OFSC”

Last week, the Office of the Federal Safety Commission (OFSC) removed the webpage that led to its Fact Sheet – Guidance for producing Safe Work Method Statements.  The webpage now says that

“The Guidance for producing Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) Fact Sheet is currently under review.”

What’s going on? More…

Draft bullying code and cultural measurement 1

cover of 2013 DRAFT-COP-Preventing-Responding-Workplace-BullyingSafe Work Australia has released its latest draft code of practice for preventing and responding to workplace bullying for public comment.  There are many useful and practical strategies in the draft code but workplace bullying is only a small element of the more sustainable strategy of developing a safe and respectful organisational culture.

The definition in the May 2013 draft code is a tidied up version of the September 2011 definition:

“…repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of  workers that creates a risk to health and safety.”

The lack of difference in these definitions is a real positive given the complaints, primarily, from the business community since 2011.  The significance in both definitions is that there must be a direct relationship between the behaviours and health and safety risks.  This could be substantially difficult to prove, particularly if , as in  most cases, it is the recipient of the bullying who needs to prove this.

Harm Prevention

Consider, for a moment, that this code of practice is used for establishing preventative measures and not just used for disproving a court case, these definitions can help establish a benchmark for creating a safe organisational culture. More…