Is safety leadership the panacea for unsafe workplaces? 6

National Safety Cover May 2013The May 2013 National Safety magazine has an article on safety leadership by Australia lawyer, Michael Tooma.  It is a terrific article but it also highlights the lack of case studies of the practical reality of safety leadership in Australia and the great distance still required to improve safety. Tooma starts the article with

“It is widely recognised that strong safety leadership is integral to work, health and safety performance in any organisation.” [emphasis added]

Later he writes

“There is little doubt that safety leadership is a prerequisite to a positive safety culture in any organisation.”

These equivocations may indicate authorial caution on the part of Michael Tooma but  they could illustrate that the role of safety leadership still remains open to question. More…

CSB pushes for a more effective discussion on fatigue management 7

Occupational health and safety has many examples of addressing small or short-term issues rather than  facing the difficult and hard, but more sustainable, control measures. I was reminded of this by a recent media statement from the United States Chemical Safety Board (CSB) in relation to fatigue management.

In 2007 the CSB recommended that, following the Texas City refinery fire,

“the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the United Steelworkers International Union (USW) jointly lead the development of an ANSI consensus standard with guidelines for fatigue prevention in the refinery and petrochemical industries.” [links added]

The progress of API and USW in developing the 2010 ANSI-approved Recommended Practice 755 (RP 755) has been reviewed by the CSB staff and they have found the following disturbing problems:

  • “The document was not the result of an effective consensus process, and therefore does not constitute a tool that multiple stakeholders in the industry can “own.” It was not balanced in terms of stakeholder interests and perspectives, and did not sufficiently incorporate or take into account the input of experts from other industry sectors that have addressed fatigue risks. More…

Stargazing on harmonisation from 2003 1

Writing recent articles on workplace bullying and harmonisation reminded me of an interview I conducted in 2003 with the then head of the National OHS Commission, Robin Stewart-Compton.  NOHSC was a predecessor to Safe Work Australia.

The extract below reminds us that National Uniformity, a cousin to harmonisation, started over twenty years ago.

cover of 4i6 SAW: In the early 1990s there was a strong push for National Uniformity of OHS laws and a recent conference of the Royal Commission into the Building and Construction industry discussed this issue at length. Will the National Strategy achieve the aims of National Uniformity over 10 years ago?

RSC: The language has changed and you are more likely to hear of National Consistency than Uniformity but although this change has occurred there exists a paradox. Ten years ago we spoke commonly of the objective of National Uniformity and made very little progress toward achieving it. More…

The smell of ‘corruption’ 17

Such are the warning signs

It stopped at 2.32 pm of an ordinary day.   One string of events ended abruptly at the pinch point of a groaning conveyor belt when his arm was ripped off.  Do you think of Swiss cheese models of risk alignment?  Of complexity or failure to learn?  Of the Moura coal mine disaster, the Longford oil and gas plant disaster, the Baker report and the BP Texas City refinery fatalities, of 29 miners killed in the desolate and terrorising Pike River coal mine, NZ, 2010?  Do you think of precariousness lurking at work, of leadership, of productivity?

For me this was the 5th arm I was personally aware of disappearing violently at work, generating years of withdrawal and solitude unrecorded in any OHS statistics.  In that time I had also observed hundreds of missing or useless machine guards.  Such a well known and easy hazard to fix.  What exactly is the problem, what does it indicate about OHS generally, and what may go some way towards practical improvements? More…

Shorten’s Centre for Workplace Leadership is likely to ignore OHS Reply

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…

Three competency elements of the safety professional 1

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…

NSW follows Victoria’s lead on construction industry safety code 1

Tower CraneIn 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…

Political ideologies on show over workplace bullying 5

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…

Australia’s workplace bullying report is a missed mental health opportunity 1

Cover of Workplace Bullying Final ReportThe 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 persists in confusing companies on safety 11

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:

  1. “It is untrue and neither workers or supervisors believe the concept is true. Therefore it is unsustainable.
  2. The structures mean you get a clean out of low risk, low hanging fruit but your high end risk is unaffected.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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…