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…
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…
Safe 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.
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…
The 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…
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…
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.
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…