For some months Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, has been talking about establishing a Centre for Workplace Leadership. This presents an opportunity for practical progress on OHS but it relies on someone joining the dots of occupational safety, workplace health and productivity – a highly unlikely occurrence.
In December 2012, Shorten started looking for a provider of the Centre, a facility that he described as
“…a flagship initiative of the Gillard Government and will play an important role in supporting our aim to increase workplace level productivity and the quality of jobs by improving leadership capability in Australian workplaces…
He also said that
“This will not be another training company. The Centre will drive a broader More…
The October 2012 edition of The Synergist, the magazine of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, included a frank interview with Niru Davé of Avon. Dave says that many safety and health professionals have a low level of competence.
He explains his statement through his belief that there are three competency elements in a safety professional:
- Knowledge – staying up-to-date with the information in your field
- People Skills – respect and approachability, and
- Contribution – communication and involvement, participating in and generating a strategic approach.
These elements could apply to any profession and to any professional association, or industry group. Indeed these elements can be both personal and organisational. More…
In 2012, the Victorian Government introduced a construction industry compliance code intended to control industrial relations in that industry sector. Significantly, this Code included specific work health and safety (WHS) obligations. On 6 December 2012. the New South Wales Government, led by the Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell proposed a similar code with exactly the same WHS obligations.
In Premier O’Farrell’s media release, the Minister for Industrial Relations Mike Baird made no mention of the WHS obligations. The statement focuses on containing wages, controlling potential cost blowouts on infrastructure projects and, without mention it by name, productivity. Minister Baird missed a golden opportunity to argue both the economic and moral positions; an opportunity that was not missed by the Victorian Minister for Finance Robert Clark when he announced his State’s construction compliance code in July 2012. More…
In Australia, Parliamentary inquiries are usually required to provide the Parliament with a copy of their findings. In the last week of November 2012, the Chair of the Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying, Amanda Rishworth, presented its report which included a dissenting report from the Conservative (Liberal Party) committee members. On 28 November both Alan Tudge MP, one of the dissenting committee members, and Deborah O’Neill (Labor Party), spoke to the House of Representatives about the report. Their speeches say much on the issue of workplace bullying and the politics of workplace health and safety (WHS) in Australia.
Statistics and Costs
Tudge acknowledges the importance of preventing workplace bullying but provides an important fact to remember when reading the full report. According to Hansard, Tudge says
“The prevalence of workplace bullying is not known – there is no statistical data to assess exactly how prevalent it is. Regardless of the precise number, we know that it is too prevalent.” (emphasis added)
This may sound a little contradictory but it summarises a problem when investigating workplace bullying, there are no useful statistics on it. More…
The report, issued last week, from Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying, is a terrific discussion on workplace bullying but is a major missed opportunity to achieve necessary change, and change in this area equates to the reduction of, principally, psychological harm to workers and their families.
The report starts off shakily by giving prominence to a statement that is clearly wrong. Page 1 of the report quotes Carlo Caponecchia and Anne Wyatt, saying:
“Bullying is the key workplace health and safety issue of our time.”
Caponecchia and Wyatt may believe that, but to open a Parliamentary report with this quote shows poor judgement from the Committee by giving workplace bullying prominence over other workplace health and safety (WHS) hazards and issues. Workplace bullying may indeed be the most difficult workplace health and safety challenge but that is very different from what the quote says. More…
Zero Harm = Zero Credibility
Australian lawyer, Andrew Douglas is one of the most passionate safety advocates I have met and he is a dogged critic of the Zero Harm branding present in occupational health and safety thinking. In his latest article at Leading Thought, he discusses Zero Harm and states that:
- “It is untrue and neither workers or supervisors believe the concept is true. Therefore it is unsustainable.
- The structures mean you get a clean out of low risk, low hanging fruit but your high end risk is unaffected.
- The safety knowledge of those most at risk, the workers, is not improved nor is their decision making capacity. Without changing mindsets people will continue to make deadly decisions.
- The positive studies do not measure Zero Harm against another process – I don’t doubt that any money and focus on safety will impact safety performance. The issue is it the best, does it reduce the risk of serious injury or death?
- The language, metrics and rhetoric of Zero Harm is utterly inaccessible to workers. They need a language in safety they own and understand.”
This level of criticism would do for many corporate safety programs as Zero Harm runs counter to the consultative and collaborative safety management process. Curiously one Australia’s OHS regulators, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ), has bought into the Zero Harm concept applying it to leadership. More…
Over the last few weeks the Australian print media has published several articles based on the expressions of concern by some business and employer associations about Safe Work Australia’s code of practice on workplace bullying. The latest article was in the Sunday Herald-Sun on 28 October 2012, “Bullying blueprint attacked” (not available in its original form online), which opens with the inflammatory paragraph:
“Workers in cushy jobs will be able to claim compo for being left idle, under national laws drawn up to combat bullying.”
The later online version of the article, by the same writer, Natasha Bita, has a much less aggressive title, “Plan to ban work pranks”, and a revised text. The “new” opening paragraph says:
“Workers will be able to claim compensation if their boss does not provide them with enough work and office pranks would be banned under national laws to combat bullying.”
This has not stopped Senator Eric Abetz releasing a media statement which states that the workplace bullying code reads
“like something out of the socialist playbook whereby personal responsibility is thrown out the window and everyone is bound in bubble wrap.”
Senator Abetz is known for these types of colourful statements but the question that should be asked is, why raise these concerns now? More…
On 19 October 2012 in a video address to an Australian forum on quad bike safety, the US Consumer Product Safety Commissioner Robert Adler stated
“We at the US CPSC are monitoring your activities closely with the hope that what you learn can help us back here in the United States.”
That places considerable attention on the safety initiatives and negotiations in Australia but also may indicate that the United States is struggling to achieve change in this area.
On October 17 2012, the Weekly Times devoted its front page, a double page spread and its editorial to the safety of quad bikes, or All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs). The editorial called on the Government to
“…mandate all ATVs are fitted with roll-over protection ..[and to] provide a rebate to allow retro-fitting of roll-over protection to existing ATVs.”
ABC News provided an excellent summary of the issues associated with quad bike safety in its news report on 17 October 2011 and showed some scary images of young children riding quad bikes.
Following the forum, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten issued a media statement outlining to the outcomes. It stated:
“The Minister said he has asked Safe Work Australia to report on the key findings of the quad bike issues paper and today’s forum, and that he would direct Comcare*, the Commonwealth workplace safety regulator, to immediately implement the following:
- Comcare will work with scheme employers to review their use of quad bikes and consider possible substitution with less hazardous equipment. More…
Australian business associations have different perspectives on the need to harmonise occupational health and safety laws across Australia but BusinessSA has performed an enormous backflip in only a month on new Work Health and Safety Laws. In a letter (now a media release) to the industry association’s members, BusinessSA has called on the South Australian Government to defer the laws until a scheduled national review in 2014. The major points of the letter are discussed below.
Objections to the letter on some of the LinkedIn discussion forums have been voiced by some safety and legal professionals, the principle concern being that all state governments agreed to the initiative of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2008 to harmonise the OHS laws. Employer groups, unions and OHS regulators have been closely involved in the harmonisation process. Other parties, including BusinessSA made submissions. According to the 2008 submission, these were the six key issues:
- “Self-regulation: The appropriateness of the duty of care, consultative mechanisms, performance-based (as opposed to prescriptive) regulation, and education/training in facilitating an effective (self-regulating) OHS system.
- Causality and uncertainty: Can, and should, governments attempt to regulate with respect to potential future hazards, given the enormous pace of technological change and uncertainty relating to that change and where causes of More…
Any professional sees elements of their profession in other walks of life. Police notice infringements when they are off duty. Teachers often continue to instruct or educate when outside of school. Journalist’s conversations with friends often contain pointed questions.
Safety professionals, commonly, extend safety principles to their own behaviours and lives. This can sometimes lead to a heightened intolerance of unsafe behaviour in others but also desires that life operated on safety principles. Today I wondered about the application of the concept of “Reasonably Practicable” in prioritising corporate and personal safety objectives.
I simplified (bastardised, some may say) the Safe Work Australia guideline on reasonably practicable into questions that we should ask in our non-OHS lives but, most importantly, the priority of the reasonable practicable process is retained. The questions, in order of priority are:
- How important is it?
- How harmful could it be?
- What do we know about it?
- How can we control it?
- How much will it cost?
Self-help aficionados may see these as life lessons or criteria that can be applied to many decisions. I agree to some extent but the priority of the questions is of most importance in the decision-making process because it places the issue of cost last. More…