New political challenges for OHS in Australia 4

This weekend the Australian people voted for the conservative Liberal Party to be the next Federal government.   Workplace safety has been largely absent from the pre-election campaign but when it has been mentioned it has almost always been couched in terms of productivity.  In the next few years, workplace safety issues must be couched in terms of productivity to have any hope of gaining the ear of the new government and, particularly, the ear of Senator Eric Abetz, the most likely candidate for the ministry of workplace relations.

Workplace Bullying

Recent changes to workplace bullying laws which provide a prominent role of the Fair Work Commission are unlikely to be rolled back but Abetz has promised More…

One in three safety devices unfit to save lives 18

On September 3 2013 I will be on a panel in Sydney discussing issues associated with working at heights. Below is a media release (not yet available online) about the panel and some recent data on working at heights risks. The quotes are mine.

Inaction by policy makers is putting lives at risk and now, says a peak safety industry body, there are the numbers to prove it.

The Working At Heights Association (WAHA) will host a crisis summit on Tuesday at The Safety Show Sydney, where it will reveal that one in three roof anchors are unfit for use. Of the 3245 anchors audited by association members over the last three months, 2260 were deemed unusable.

Part of the problem, says WAHA secretary Gordon Cadzow, has been the lack of awareness of the number of inadequate safety systems on Australia’s rooftops.

More…

CSIRO bullying case shows the complexity of the issue for all of us Reply

For some time the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has been plagued with accusations of bullying and harassment.   A researcher began court action in 2011.  An anonymous website “Victims of CSIRO” was established in 2012 and provides a timeline of disgruntlement for back as far as 2002.  In May 2012, Liberal politician Sophie Mirabella, raised the issue of bullying in criticism of the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.  In July 2012, Comcare issued an Improvement Notice to CSIRO following an investigation

”thoroughly reviewing the workplace systems relating to the prevention and management of bullying behaviour at CSIRO”.

In September 2012, CSIRO whistleblowers spoke of bullying. The CSIRO Staff Association reported anecdotal evidence of increased bullying and harassment in late 2012.

In August 2013 HWL Ebsworth released the independent report  (the Pearce report) which, according to the CSIRO, found

“no major or widespread issues with unreasonable behaviour or bullying in CSIRO”.

How does that work? More…

Schoolyard to workplace bullying needs more examination Reply

Australian Academic Press has forwarded a bullying article, written by Stephen May, that links together many of the themes of its authors with the topicality of recent statements on schoolyard bullying by the Queensland Attorney General, Jarrod Bleijie. The statements on schoolyard bullying seem reasonable and bullying at school is an established hazard but extrapolating these to the workplace is a questionable leap. Thankfully Australian Academic Press’ list has workplace bully texts.

“Young bullies who don’t learn why such behaviour is wrong will likely remain as bullies into adulthood.”

This statement reflects a common assumption but fails to consider the dramatically different legislative, organisational, cultural, social and personal differences between school and work. Schools have a different type of duty of care that requires nurturing, encouragement and psychological development. The teachers, the equivalent of managers or workplace supervisors, have more of a mentoring role than exists in most workplaces. The relationships are less Jedi and Padawan and more colleagues or, in some industries, mates.

More…

Workplace drug data needs a creative application Reply

Pages from policy talk - workplace alcohol and other drug programs - australian drug foundation - july 2013On 12 July 2013 the Australian Drug Foundation reported that alcohol use is responsible for:

  • five per cent of all Australian workplace deaths, and
  • up to 11 per cent of non-fatal injuries.

These figures should be of great concern to everyone but what if these figures generate no concern and no outrage, and no change?

The significance of the research data above and in the full document – Workplace alcohol and other drug programs: What is good practice? - is not in the research but in the potential responses to the research. More…

Coronial report into insulation deaths slams government actions 3

This week a Queensland Coroner brought down the findings into the deaths of three men, Matthew Fuller (25), Rueben Barnes (16) and Mitchell Sweeney (22). Each of these men were electrocuted whilst installing foil insulation in the roofs of Queensland houses as part of a Federally funded economic stimulus project during 2009 and 2012.

Since the Coroner’s findings were published on 4 July 2013, the Australian media has focussed its attention, principally, on Kevin Rudd.  Rudd was the Prime Minister and a major motivator at the time for the stimulus package, named the Home Insulation  Program or HIP by the Coroner.  Rudd recently regained the Prime Ministership providing a fresh political newsworthiness to the HIP issues.  But in this attention, the Coroner’s broad findings are often being overlooked. More…

Insurance over OHS prosecution hits the deterrence effect 24

In response to proven breaches of occupational health and safety laws, judges usually apply financial penalties to companies and individuals.  These penalties, like all court-ordered punishments are to deter the offenders from re-offending but also to show others the consequences of their actions.  But what if an insurance company would pay for that penalty in return for regular premium payments?  If the offender does not pay the penalty, deterrence is gone.

On 27 June 2013, a company and its director were fined $A200,000 each in relation to workplace incident that resulted in the gruesome death of one man and a near miss for another but the director had taken out a general  insurance policy and the insurance company paid out!!??.  A fine of $A200K awarded but the offender may pay no more than $A10K. More…

Very useful workplace mental health guidelines released 4

The Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) has released a set of guidelines for the prevention of mental health problems at work. Such guidelines have been sorely required in Australia where workplace mental health problems have become an increasing problem for workers and organisations and workplace bullying dominates the policy landscape. It recommends the development of a mental health and wellbeing strategy that includes the following elements:

  • “the development of a positive work environment that supports and encourages mental health
  • balancing job demands with job control
  • appropriately rewarding employees efforts
  • creating a fair workplace
  • provision of workplace supports
  • effective management of performance issues
  • provision of training to develop management and leadership skills
  • supportive change management processes More…

Nitpicking or forensic analysis? 8

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…

Safety should not be the red tape bastard of productivity 1

There is a logic being applied to workplace safety and public policy that does not ring true. The argument seems to be that productivity levels in Australia are low, that part of the reason for this low productivity is excessive business paperwork and that workplace safety regulators are a major contributor.   (SafetyAtWorkBlog has written around this topic previously.)

Businessman with devil or angelThe authority on productivity in Australia is, unsurprisingly, the Productivity Commission (PC).  In mid-June 2013, the commission released its Productivity Update, the first of promised annual reports.  Search in the document for “workplace safety” and there is no mention, even “safety” only pulls up a couple of public safety references.  Nothing for “workplace” either.

In fact, the report states that

“Strong growth in labour productivity in the December quarter of 2012-13 could be a sign that a broader improvement in MFP growth is now underway” (page 2)

and

“modelling shows that a comparatively small increase in the rate of labour productivity growth (primarily due to higher MFP growth) could lead to a comparatively large increase in the level of real GDP per person by 2050.” (page 2)

2050 is a long way off but the forecast is for an increase in productivity and the growth in the December quarter could indicate a trend. So for all the productivity gloom and doom being written about in the business newspapers, the reality may be different.   More…