Australian PM responds to Insulation Royal Commission 4

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott provided his interim response to the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (HIP) in Parliament on 30 September, 2014.  One should not expect much sustainable or cultural change from an interim response but Abbott’s responses hold some promise.

The commitments include:

“…[asking] Minister Hunt [Environment] to assume responsibility to oversee the Commonwealth response and to coordinate actions across departments and ministers.”

“…[asking] the Minister for Employment to examine these [OHS] findings, particularly as they relate to the reliance of the Commonwealth on state and territory laws, and his work will inform the government’s final response.”

Minister Hunt and the Minister for Finance have been asked to recommend options to compensate their next of kin [of the deceased workers]“

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What is workplace “mental wellbeing”? 1

The 2014 Annual Report of the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) states a new initiative on workplace mental health:

“…a new direction for the VWA’s WorkHealth program has led to the Victorian Mental Wellbeing Collaboration. The VWA has invested in a tripartite collaboration with peak health promotion agencies VicHealth and SuperFriend to develop a range of evidence based tools and resources that will be tested and refined through industry leaders and made broadly available to Victorian workplaces.” (page 25, links added)

Two significant points in this statement are the development of a range of “evidence-based tools and resources” and the pledge to consult.  However what is meant by a tripartite consultation in this context is unclear as traditionally OHS consultation has included employer associations, trade unions and government regulators.  If health promotion agencies are included in this latest “tripartite collaboration”.  Will the employer groups or trade unions be dropped?  Consultation on any new OHS/wellbeing initiative should not be constrained in a tripartite combination.

One of the traps in this initiative is the potential confusion by terminologies.  “Mental health” is a well-understood term that is readily applied to the workplace by organisations such as the Western Australian Mental Health Commission who quotes the World Health Organisation

“…. good mental health is not simply the absence of a mental disorder. It is a state of wellbeing whereby an individual can realise their own potential, manage everyday stresses, work productively and contribute to their community.” (page 6)

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New workplace bullying evidence 1

There have been many claims of a workplace bullying epidemic in Australia but there has always been a lack of evidence. Research has been targeted into specific industry sectors or regions but broad ranging studies have been few. This lack of evidence was a major frustration for the Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying that concluded in late 2012. However useful evidence is beginning to appear.

A recent edition of the Journal of Health Safety and Environment included a report (subscribers only) entitled “The prevalence and nature of bullying: A national study of Australian workers”. The authors, Dr Sarven McLinton, Maureen Dollard, Michelle Tuckey and Tessa Bailey, wrote that the study

“… shows that nearly 7% of Australian workers reported bullying and harassment in the past six months.” (page 283)

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Technical and practical advice on applying the maturity matrix Reply

Pages from d001323Corporate maturity, especially in the area of workplace health and safety, is an increasingly important consideration in determining the preparedness of an organisation to change and embrace OHS as a crucial element of its business operations.  There are several advocates of determining corporate maturity usually based around Hudson’s five levels of maturity, the most recent seems to be the Australian Constructors’ Association (ACA) in conjunction with RMIT University (see parts 8-7 of the document pictured below), but these tools are often aimed at the upper levels of an organisation.

Recently the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) produced a series of handouts that apply a variation of the maturity matrix to separate components of safety culture.

These levels include:

  • Uninformed
  • Reactive
  • Compliant
  • Proactive
  • Exemplary.

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Dangerous personalities making work unsafe – really? 16

Pages from dangerous-personalities-making-work-unsafe-1Australian recruiting firm, Sacs Consulting, has released the findings of a survey entitled “Dangerous Personalities making work unsafe“.  Such surveys are predominantly marketing exercises and usually, as in this case, there is a limited amount of data available but the results are often broadly distributed and add to the discussion about workplace safety.

The headline itself is a red flag to occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals who are old enough to remember the debate about “blaming the worker” for OHS breaches, injuries and illnesses.  Most safety managers and corporate safety programs are applying a “no blame” philosophy to combat the worker focus but the reality is that workers are still being blamed and being dismissed for safety breaches.  The Sacs Consulting survey confirms the growing worker focus by looking at the personal rather than the organisational.

The Sacs study found:

“…that some people still ignore OHS rules and act unsafely in the workplace, whereas others value their own safety and that of their colleagues so actively that they try to improve the safety of their workplace. Using personality and values testing, the study was able to predict whether an individual is more or less
likely to be safe at work.” (page 1) More…

HIP Royal Commission – Gross Negligence and Accountability Reply

Little of the recent commentary on the findings of the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (HIP) have mentioned the opinion of the Royal Commissioner Ian Hanger that the Australian Government acted in a “grossly negligent” manner.  Such a comment deserves considerable analysis by a specialist lawyer but it remains a remarkable criticism in terms of obligations under OHS/WHS laws.

Commissioner Hanger wrote:

“To encourage inexperienced young people to work in an environment where there was a risk of defective electrical wiring, and allow them to install conductive material was, in my opinion, grossly negligent. It is no answer for the Australian Government to say that it was the responsibility of those young people’s employers to protect them.” (para 5.2.20, emphasis added)

Gross negligence has been equated to the term “reckless endangerment” included in Australia’s Work Health and Safety laws.  One legal website site says that:

“Reckless endangerment is the offense of engaging in activity that has a disregard for risks with foreseeably dangerous consequences.”

Commissioner Hanger’s comments certainly seem to fit reckless endangerment as the risks, not only of electrocution but simply from working in domestic roof spaces, were well known.

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HIP Royal Commission – Leadership and Culture 1

The findings of the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (HIP) deserve a great deal of analysis by the safety profession. Amongst the lessons are important ones concerning leadership, culture and consultation.

The final report identifies major deficiencies in the design and administration of a major project regardless of the politics and jurisdictional argy-bargy.  Although many are disappointed the report did not identify any big name politicians as the major evildoer, Commissioner Ian Hanger is brutally forthright when necessary.

In the introduction of the report, there are several references to what a “competent administration” would have done, clearly implying that the government of then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was incompetent in the management of HIP. In fact Hanger writes:

“It ought also to have been obvious to any competent administration that the injection of a large amount of money into an industry that was largely ‘unregulated’ would carry with it the risk of rorting and other unscrupulous behaviour.” (para 1.1.19)

“It ought to have been obvious, to any competent administration, that such an exponential increase in work to be undertaken would require a similarly huge increase in the workforce to do it.” (1.1.9)

“The reality is that the Australian Government conceived of, devised, designed and implemented a program that enabled very large numbers of inexperienced workers—often engaged by unscrupulous and avaricious employers or head contractors, who were themselves inexperienced in insulation installation—to undertake potentially dangerous work. It should have done more to protect them.” (1.11.18)

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HIP Royal Commission – Risk Registers Reply

Cover of ReportoftheRoyalCommissionintotheHomeInsulationProgramSafetyAtWorkBlog has written previously about the evidence of Margaret Coaldrake to the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (HIP) given at the public hearings and also the occupational health and safety role of risk management and risk registers. The release of the Royal Commission’s final report on 1 September 2014 provides further details on a risk management process that is common to all large projects.

Commissioner Ian Hanger spent considerable time on the issue of the risk register as this was one of the crucial elements in the project’s whole decision-making process up to Ministerial level.

Risk Register

Commissioner Hanger was scathing of the risk management process that not only ignored the risk of worker fatalities but purposely dropped this risk from the register. He was unforgiving in his criticism of Margaret Coaldrake. He criticised her judgement. In working with her Minter Ellison colleague Eric Chalmers:

“it was up to [Coaldrake] to make sure that she and the people working with her were qualified to provide the service that Minter Ellison consultants had been retained to do.” (para 7.11.15)

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Have Moot Courts had their day for OHS purposes? 4

Ha01-035The purpose of OHS Moot Courts is to provide a taste of the Court experience in the context of a prosecution for occupational health and safety (OHS). Moot Courts and Mock Trials [for the purposes of this article the concepts are interchangeable] have specific meanings in law schools and overseas but in Australia there is an increasing trend to tweak the moot/mock format to motivate OHS change by showing the consequences of an OHS breach and resultant prosecution. This application of the concept still needs refining both in structure and purpose but may have had its time.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has attended around half a dozen such events since a cold rainy night at Monash University law faculty over 30 years ago.  That Moot Court, conducted by the Australian Human Resources Institute, had a genuine sense of occasion and fear. Prosecutors went in hard as is the potential for any court case.  A more recent OHS Moot Court was almost jovial and failed to communicate the import of the court process and, therefore, the significance of the potential consequences of the court’s decision. More…

“Put the human being first” 13

One of the most contentious issues in safety management is the treatment of workers compensation claimants.  On 18 August 2014, a small qualitative research report into this area was launched in Melbourne.  The report, “Filling the Dark Spot: fifteen injured workers shine a light on the workers compensation system to improve it for others”* identified four themes in the workers’ stories:

  • a sense of injustice
  • a lack of control and agency
  • loss of trust, and
  • loss of identity.

These themes, or at least some of them, are increasingly appearing on the occupational health and safety (OHS) literature.  To establish a successful sustainable workplace culture, one needs to establish and maintain trust.  Workers also seem to need some degree of control, or at least influence, over their working conditions and environment.  Also workers, and managers, need to receive a fair hearing, what most would describe as “natural justice”. More…