There have been many calls in Australia for a national definition of workplace bullying. Apparently the definition below that has applied in OHS legislation for over ten years in Victoria is insufficient:
“Repeated unreasonable behaviour directed toward a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.”
The definition above was the one used in the first draft Code of Practice on Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying produced by Safe Work Australia in September 2011.
The definition was questioned by Moira Rayner, as a representative of the Law Institute of Victoria, at recent public hearings into workplace bullying. Researchers said that a lack of a national definition is a major reason that research in workplace bullying has been so thin.
A quick survey of workplace bullying definitions in Australia is listed below:
“Unreasonable and inappropriate workplace behaviour includes bullying, which comprises behaviour which More…
Just before Christmas in 2009, Dr Yossi Berger speculated for an information network about the safety of quad bikes. He called it QuadWatch. Over two years later, on 13 July 2012, Australia’s Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten announced his own QuadWatch.
In the 2009 Croaky Blog, Dr Berger suggested
“a network could be called QuadWatch and it would become a clearing house for all needs related to quad bikes, particularly in relation to safety standards. All training needs, advice about accessories, advice about the correct machine for a certain job or terrain could be handled by such regional cells.”
Shorten described the new QuadWatch as
“… a community based network bringing together farmers, community groups, emergency services and local government.
Shorten’s QuadWatch is broadly consultative but is a little different in its communication strategy. Establishing websites in support of a political strategy have not had the greatest success in the last few years under the Federal Labor Government and QuadWatch is not the end point in the safety debate.
It is worth deconstructing the Minister’s media release a little.
The Melbourne public hearing in support of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying has concluded after over an hour of personal impact statements that were confronting, saddening but, overall, defiant.
The hearing began more sedately and predictable. The employers’ association, ACCI, says that workplace bullying is a broad social issue that needs broad social control measure. In rough translation, “it’s not our problem”. The employers also see everything in terms of industrial relations so prevention of harm rarely features in recommendations.
The ACTU stressed that workplace bullying IS a workplace issue and therefore should be principally “managed” under occupational health and safety laws. More…
Next week Australia holds public hearings into the issue of workplace bullying. Currently the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment has not yet made any submissions publicly available which handicaps the value of the public hearings for observers but the Trade Unions have released their submissions. Generally, the suggestions for control measures are progressive but the submissions also indicate the extent of the challenge in “controlling” workplace bullying and some of the challenges facing this inquiry.
The ACTU claims that workplace bullying was given national prominence following a survey of union members in 2000 but that survey is not representative of the broader Australian community and should be treated with caution. The ACTU submission seeks support for its survey results from more authoritative sources such as Safe Work Australia and the Productivity Commission. But neither of these sources indicates workplace bullying to be as big an issue as the ACTU claims.
Safe Work Australia’s figures, quoted by the ACTU , say that in
“In 2007/08, 26% of accepted workers compensation claims for mental stress in Australia resulted in 26 or more weeks off work.”
The significance in this quote is that bullying is not mentioned and if one accepts that bullying is a subset of mental stress and psychosocial hazards, bullying should be only a fraction of the 26% figure. It is also the case that it is common for victims of bullying to eliminate the hazard through resignation rather than lodge workers’ compensation claims. So one metric may indicate a low bullying rate but another indicates a “hidden” rate. Accurate measurement, the accumulation of evidence, is a major problem in any study of workplace bullying and is a major challenge for this Parliamentary Inquiry. More…
A recent article in Science about OHS inspections has gained considerable attention after Michael Blanding wrote about the findings in a Harvard Business School blog. According to the executive summary:
“In a natural field experiment, researchers [ Associate Professor Michael W. Toffel and colleague David I. Levine] found that companies subject to random OSHA inspections showed a 9.4 percent decrease in injury rates compared with uninspected firms.
The researchers found no evidence of any cost to inspected companies complying with regulations. Rather, the decrease in injuries led to a 26 percent reduction in costs from medical expenses and lost wages translating to an average of $350,000 per company.
The findings strongly indicate that OSHA regulations actually save businesses money.”
That research should give enormous heart to OHS regulators around the world and reduce criticism from business groups. The findings have been defined as “definitive” but this is like saying that research into Scandinavian workplaces and society can be relevant to other countries. Research in OHS and workers compensation in the United States is relevant to the United States with mostly curiosity value to other nations. More…
The most successful safety management improvements come from a multi-disciplinary approach. The biggest leaps in safety management have come not from the established safety academic profession of engineering but from those outside that discipline – sociologists (Andrew Hopkins) , psychologists (James Reason) and, increasingly, philosophers.
Recently philosopher Alain de Botton was interviewed in the Australian magazine, Dumbo Feather (issue 30, 2012). When asked whether the discussion of philosophical ideas exists in popular space, he said:
“I care about a mass audience because I somehow believe that the mass is right. I believe in a democratic sense that if you’re not reaching a broad number of people with your ideas, that there’s probably something wrong with your ideas. It might not be everything that’ wrong with them, but something presentational or structural. We live in very open societies, where if your message is a good one it should be able to get out there.
So when the typical academic says, ‘Well, you know, I don’t want to be open to popular scrutiny’ or, ‘I’m not interested in discussing my material with just anyone’, my response is ‘Well, why?’ What is it about your field of study that makes it inevitably beyond a broader public acceptance or recognition or discussion?”
de Botton is not talking about safety, per se, but he is talking about the communication of ideas and communication, or consultation, is a crucial element of successful safety management.
Why is it that the most useful and interesting perspectives on workplace safety are coming from non-traditional safety disciplines?
Last week at the Safety In Action Trade Show I participated in a live web interview on safety. The video of my interview is available below. Many thanks to Digicast for making this and other OHS videos available.
Other video interviews are available with:
- Dr Angelica Vecchio-Sadus- HSE Leader at CSIRO Process Science and Engineering.
- Marilyn Hubner – Workplace Learning and Development Specialist at the National Safety Council of Australia
- John Lacey, Video President IOSH & CEO Lincsafe
Yossi Berger writes:
We’re all familiar with the notions of focus and attention, and selective attention. We’ve all experienced how difficult it can be to attend to target information when background noise is distracting. The issue can be referred to as the signal-to-noise ratio.
I often find its effects in discussions with managers and workers during workplace inspections. That is, I hear animated discussions of hazards, of risks, of risk assessments and risk management and various systems and theories. The conversations over flow with these concepts whilst most of workers’ daily problems aren’t even raised, they don’t reach the level of a signal.
Thankfully in most workplaces, most managers and most workers have not experienced any fatalities. By far most of them will not have experienced or witnessed a serious injury or serious disease. Nor have most experienced their local hazards actually seriously hurting anyone.
But most workers will have experienced some dangerous working conditions, mostly not mortally dangerous, but dangerous. More…
Overall the Safety In Action Conference, currently occurring in Melbourne, has been consistent but without any standout moments. However there have been nuggets of interest from the speakers and insight from some of the participants.
Andrew Douglas of M+K Lawyers was blunt in describing some of the actions between State Governments and the Federal Government over the harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws as “extortion” that is impeding much-needed growth. Also, he was clear that the most effective people to undertake investigations of workplace incidents were OHS professionals as safety is their expertise. He was adamant that lawyers are experts in law and safety professionals in safety but that they must work cooperatively.
Gerard Forlin was an enormously entertaining presenter who should have been a keynote speaker as, he himself said, he was only warming up after his half hour. His comparisons between Australian and UK OHS law were insightful. Industrial manslaughter laws are out of vogue in Australia but Forlin stated that corporate manslaughter laws have contributed to an increased focus on safety by senior executives, even though prosecutions under those laws have been curiously targeted. More…
In relation to the new harmonised laws in Australia Amy Towers recently stated in a media release that
“Many employers still haven’t got it quite right. While most have an understanding of their new health and safety responsibilities, we’re finding the practices they do have in place don’t sufficiently meet the new compliance requirements – particularly for managing temporary or contracting staff…”
This is no great surprise. While reviewing the compliance with incoming legislation, many law firms have similarly found that clients were not compliant with existing OHS laws.
Towers goes on to say that “businesses are most at risk of non-compliance in these areas:
- Lack of evidence regarding plans to consult, coordinate and communicate with multiple parties
- Failing to meet new due diligence requirements as an ‘Officer’
- Flawed inductions” More…