After a major incident or at an Annual General Meeting, it will be common to hear a senior executive state something like “Safety is our number one priority”. This is unrealistic and almost absurd because even in the most worker-friendly company, the continued existence of that organisation is the real and ultimate goal. Most corporate leaders believe these safety clichés because they think they reflect their own values but the statements are misrepresenting occupational health and safety (OHS) and need to be questioned.
Corporate leaders who say such statements are not hypocrites. They are more likely to not understand the consequences of their statements. If safety really is the number one priority, an executive should be able or expected to close the company if its work cannot be conducted safely. If a company’s people are paramount to the success of the company, how does it handle an accusation of bullying against a manager? Which of the people does the Board or the company choose to keep and which to lose? Should it keep the “evil” sales representative because the rep is its most effective salesperson or sack the rep because he or she is abusive?
These are executive decisions that need to be worked through if any company is to develop an effective operational culture that truly values the safety of its workers. It is vital that the reality behind the statements is analysed and acted upon, or perhaps such statements should not be uttered in the first instance. More…
Twice in early April 2014, 7.30, a current affairs program of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ran two lead stories about occupational health and safety – home insulation-related fatalities and the risks of working at heights. The latter of these provided only a glimpse of a complex OHS issue and only touched on the matter of the self-certification of anchor points where compliance does not necessarily equate to safety. This issue has been taken up by the Working at Heights Association (WAHA) on 11 April 2014. In a media release WAHA stated:
“In the wake of last night’s ABC 7.30 Report on falls from height, the Working At Heights Association has a warning: “If you’re counting on a harness attached to an anchor system to save your life when you fall from a roof, you need to know that many roof anchors don’t meet the most basic safety standards.”
WAHA has conducted some “drop tests” of common anchor points that are currently in use in Australia and that meet the relevant Australian Standard AS/NZS5532 – Manufacturing requirements for single-point anchor device used for harness-based work at height. They found that
“In the tests, 100kg loads dropped through 2 metres tear single-person anchors away from their mounts, while 150kg loads for two-person-use hit the ground, smashing the weights. Only one out of the five anchors tested pass.”
This is a matter of enormous concern as anchor points are an essential element of fall protection. A lot of attention has been given to fall protection harnesses over the years with some new product types but all of these rely on the integrity of a firmly secured anchor point that can withstand the high forces involved in stopping someone falling to their deaths. More…
WorkSafe Victoria has been reviewing a series of enforcement and prosecution policies for some time. One of these policies set for re-issue relates specifically to the publication of prosecutorial information through its website and media releases and, although the “new” policy is not yet available, it may be worth remembering the previous policy, last revised in 2005.
WorkSafe Victoria’s “Supplementary Enforcement and Prosecution Policy on Publishing Prosecution Outcomes and Other Enforcement Information and Data” (no longer available on-line) says that
“WorkSafe will release media statements and authorised representatives will grant media interviews, as appropriate, to the print, electronic, and/or broadcast media.” (original emphasis)
The reason behind this mode of dissemination, and others, is outlined elsewhere in the policy: More…
Australia’s Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (HIP) demands the attention of all occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals, primarily, because a job creation and economic stimulus program was so poorly planned at the highest level of government, that it seems to have established a culture that led to workplace deaths. However the Royal Commission is already revealing information that shows how OHS is misunderstood by decision-makers, a situation that still persists in many jurisdictions and will only change by watching the Royal Commission carefully and analysing this information through the perspective of workplace safety.
State of Knowledge
The Royal Commission has been investigating when the workplace deaths in New Zealand from using metal staples with foil insulation were known by the Australian Government. In OHS-speak, it is trying to determine the state of knowledge on this workplace hazard in the decision-making process. The deaths of four young Australian workers prove that the state of knowledge was inadequate however it is well established that Australia and New Zealand operate independently and that, although there are legislative similarities, it is rare for a death in one country to generate regulatory change in another. (One could look to the quad bike safety issues for an additional example.) The recent legislative changes in New Zealand may indicate that they listen to Australia more than vice versa. More…
Productivity and regulation is the rationale behind most of the workplace policies of the current Australian Government. Occupational health and safety (OHS) has a role to play in both of these economic and social elements but it rarely gets considered in a positive light. This is partly an ideological position of the conservative politicians but is also due to a lack of economic argument in favour of OHS and an inability, or an unwillingness, to identify essential regulations.
This week Australia’s Productivity Commission (PC) released a draft paper into the costs of public infrastructure projects that includes some telling OHS information even though most of the media has focused on the political angle or on the taxing of cars?!
A brief review of the draft report reveals OHS dotted throughout both volumes of the report and early on there is some support for Safety in Design in the tender development stage. More…
WorkSafe NZ has released “best practice guidelines” on workplace bullying. Best practice is a nonsense term but this guide is a major step above similar guides in Australia, in particular.
Guides always begin with definitions and the definition New Zealand has applied is the same as that in the recently released Australian workplace bullying guide but with a couple of odd semantic differences. These variations should not have any effect on organisational changes required to prevent bullying but the variations are curious. Australia describes “unreasonable behaviour” the actions that generate the bullying as:
“… behaviour that a reasonable person, having considered the circumstances, would see as unreasonable, including behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.”
New Zealand’s definition is:
“…. actions that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would see as unreasonable. It includes victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening a person.”
Is there a difference between actions and behaviours? More…
Mental health needs in the workplace has been an evolving area of study and application and has been followed by the SafetyAtWorkBlog since its inception. Several recent statements and reports in Australia have shown that the subject continues to be discussed but not by those who can make the substantial social change, the Government, partly due to a lack of the type of evidence needed by Government to justify the change.
Mental Health is the core element of almost all the contemporary workplace hazards that are categorised as psychosocial. This includes stress, bullying, fatigue, suicide, work/life balance, and many more. Each of these categories are important but most reporting and a lot of the health promotion initiatives in the workplace focus on the manifestation of mental health instead of the source.
On February 21 2014 the chair of the Mental Health Council of Australia (MHCA), Jennifer Westacott, spoke about mental health and the workplace. Westacott is authoritative in her presentation but approaches workplace mental health from the same perspective as many others in this sector – the integration of mental health into the workplace rather than looking at the mental ill-health that workplaces can create. More…
It is common for industrial relations to be written about without any mention or serious analysis of occupational health and safety (OHS). But a new textbook on Australian industrial relations includes a very good chapter of OHS that, significantly, cross-references other chapters in the book to provide a unified approach that reflects both the title and its intent. The book is called “Australian Workplace Relations” and the workplace health and safety chapter is written by Elsa Underhill.
Underhill has written on the OHS effects of precarious employment extensively and this issue is the basis of her chapter. She sees this as major cause of many of the OHS issues, particularly the growth in psychosocial risks in modern society and provides copious amounts of Australian and international research in support. More…
Australia’s politicians, trade unionists, businesses and media are gearing up for a tumultuous year in industrial relations with the controversial establishment of a Royal Commission into trade union corruption. This royal commission is broad-ranging but targets the construction unions, particularly the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and thus the construction unions’ conduct with regard to allegedly using occupational health and safe as a cover or excuse for industrial action. This royal commission has a strong element of party politics and ideologies and has overshadowed other action in the Australian Parliament where OHS is being discussed.
On 6 February 2014 the Education and Employment References Committee of the Australian Senate continued its inquiry into the Government’s approach to re-establishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) through the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013. One of the terms of reference for this inquiry is
“whether the provisions of the bills relating to occupational health and safety in the building and construction industry are adequate to protect the health and safety of employees and contractors in the industry”.
On February 6 the inquiry had some heated discussion on OHS and the construction industry that deserves a closer look. More…
Recently the UK’s Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) released its second white paper on safety culture. This paper is called “Making the Case for Culture” and outlines the three arguments for a workplace safety culture – legal, moral and financial – from which a safety business case can be built. Financial seems to get the most attention but this is perhaps because it is the element that is argued the least and the one that can get the greatest attention from company executives.
The document seems a little thin but it could be put that the simplicity of the presentation in a booklet designed to provide safety culture guidance is an advantage. It could also be argued that it is primarily a promotional pamphlet for the HSL’s very useful safety climate tool .