At the end of August 2012, Australia’s Minster for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten, released a discussion paper on quad bike safety. The intention of the discussion paper is a:
“…calls for submissions on potential improvements to quad bike safety to reduce the alarming rate of quad bike fatalities and injuries….
The comments received will be discussed at a one day forum between all levels of government, farming organisations, unions, industry and community groups to be held in October 2012.”
The paper is fairly thin on details and is certainly not like other discussion papers which present a current state of knowledge or present a set of circumstances that comments are wanted on. But most of the quad bike safety research is readily available on the internet so, perhaps Minister Shorten is acknowledging this reality and the intelligence of those interested in this issue. The paper poses the following questions: More…
CCH Australia has a long history as a prominent publisher on occupational health and safety issues but its latest book is a “curate’s egg”.
Australian law firm, Freehills, has always been very involved with CCH’s “Master occupational, or work, health and safety guides but the 2012 edition of the Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide is a more obvious marketing tool for Freehills than previous editions. The books have long had a back page advertisement. This year’s back page is devoted entirely to Freehills. The early pages of this edition include ten of photos of Freehills authors contributors with another eight of other non-Freehills authors before any useful text appears. It is difficult to see the need for such prominence when names alone have been sufficient in books for decades.
The book is also much more graphical and pictorial than previous editions but CCH’s decision to keep the book’s contents in black and white is less than impressive. Some of the monochrome photos in the Manual Tasks chapter are indistinct. Previous OHS books like CCH’s 2003 Australian Master OHS and Environment Guide had no graphics so colour was not missed. The lack of colour was a poor decision for this book.
The chapters on the model Work Health and Safety laws are less interesting than those sections dealing specifically with hazards. This book is a good introduction to many of the OHS issues that safety professionals will deal with or need to be aware. One recently graduated work colleague found the chapter on Plant Safety particularly good but basic. The information on the WHS laws seems familiar, and similar information is likely to be available from a much cheaper source or from reputable online sources.
The Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) is drawing considerable attention to a recent research report into the actions of patients after medical practitioners ( a general practitioner or GP in Australian parlance) have identified a work-related illness. The research is unique and instructive and indicates areas that require more analysis.
According to the media release on the research:
“ISCRR’s Chief Research Officer, Dr Alex Collie, who conceived the research, said that over 22 per cent of workers didn’t make compensation claims even though their GP had determined that the illness was work-related.” (link added)
Dr Collie continues:
“There are a number of reasons we are seeing work-related conditions not being claimed.. More…
Many companies and organisations take in OHS graduates, often as part of a program of internships, but sometimes because they are “cheap” new starters. Whatever the process, graduates are hungry to learn but often they believe their profession started when they did. Increasingly there is an ignorance of history and this puts the graduates at a distinct disadvantage.
Graduates often are strong on theory and poor on the practical. This is understandable in some ways but graduates can be handicapped by not knowing what their older and more experienced work colleagues know. On the job training and instruction is often passed down but the stories are not and the history of safety seems passed over. More…
On 7 August 2012, the Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu, verbally attacked the Federal Government over its COAG program and lack of support for productivity initiatives. The criticism of productivity sounded odd as the Victorian Government has dropped out of the reform program for occupational health and safety laws yet OHS is understood to have a positive effect on productivity. More clarification was needed on this understanding.
In April 2012 the Productivity Commission, an organisation favoured by Premier Baillieu, discussed OHS reforms in Australia. that
“Improved health and safety outcomes achieved in practice would then lead to benefits for businesses (such as increased worker productivity, reduced worker replacement costs and reduced workers’ compensation costs), workers (increased participation, reduced medical costs among others) and society more generally (though reduced public expenses on health, welfare and legal systems).” (page 170)
For years there has been a debate about safety versus productivity. Partly this stemmed from the taking of shortcuts on safety in order to satisfy production. In the short-term, it was perceived that safety could be an impediment to production - take the guard of a machine, run the line speed faster than recommended, “don’t worry about the faceshield, just get it done”. But safety professionals have been arguing that this risky behaviour masks the real problem of not integrating safety management into the business operations and seeing safety as an optional add-on, or something applied when the boss is watching.
The recently released OHS Body of Knowledge provides some relevant insights on the productivity benefits of safety management that deserve better and broader communication. More…
With the change of political heart from some of Australia’s state governments over the harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws, many academic and legal publishers revised their book plans as the national market was less national. However, some continued to publish understanding that although OHS harmonisation had a political deadline of 1 January 2012, refinement of the laws would continue for several years.
Federation Press has released a new book by prominent labour lawyer, Michael Tooma, and academic, Richard Johnstone, called “Work Health & Safety Regulation in Australia – The Model Act“. The title states an immediate limitation that other publishers squibbed at. The book is based on the Model Work Health and Safety Act and not, necessarily, the versions of the Act implemented at State level. Production timelines are responsible for this but it makes it even more important to follow the writings and research of Johnstone and Tooma to understand developments.
The Social Context of Safety
The authors reiterate an important element of the WHS Act in their introduction:
“[the laws] are no longer workplace or occupationally based, nor predicated on the employment relationship; rather the laws protect persons involved in ‘work’ in a business or undertaking, and, in addition, protect ‘others’ whose health and safety is affected by work. Consequently the scope of the Model Act is limited only by the imagination of those entrusted to interpret them and to enforce them.” (page 3)
This paragraph summarises well the elements of the laws that are causing so much fear in the Australian business community. More…
On 10 July 2012, the InDaily online news service ran an article about Jodie Bradbrook of Bradbrook Lawyers, a boutique law firm in South Australia. The article was very critical of the currently Work Health and Safety Bill that is stalled in that State’s Parliament. Bradbrook stated that the major points of contention were, amongst others, the issue of control, union right of entry and confusion over the Persons Conducting Business or Undertaking (PCBU).
This alarmist scaremongering has similarities to matters raised by the Housing Industry Australia (HIA), an organisation that, according to South Australia’s Industrial Relations Minister, Russell Wortley has been represented by Jodie Bradbrook, a relevant fact not acknowledged in the article or by InDaily. Bradbrook’s involvement with the HIA was noted in a December 2011 SafetyAtWorkBlog article. More…
On 12 July 2012, SafetyAtWorkBlog described Moira Rayner as the “stand out speaker at the public hearing into workplace bullying conducted in Melbourne Australia. She was always on topic and spoke of her own experience of being accused of bullying. The Hansard record of that hearing is now available online and deserves some analysis to illustrate Rayner’s points but to also to expand our understanding of workplace bullying and the Committee’s operation.
As a representative of the Law Institute of Victoria, Moira Rayner, questioned the existing definition of workplace bullying favoured by Australian OHS regulators and said that the definition requires case studies and examples of workplace bullying so that people understand the application of the definition in reality. Many case studies are available in the bullying/OHS/HR literature but these are rarely communicated to community except by labour lawyers through bulletins or by media releases from OHS regulators that rarely gain attention beyond the media editors.
Rayner addressed the confusion in the workplace bullying definition from its reliance on “unreasonableness”:
“It seems to me that unreasonableness or the claimed reasonable purpose of the behaviour needs to be, again, spelled out. You hit on the crux of the matter, Madam Chair, when you say that it is More…
Garry Brack is the head of the Australian Federation of Employers and Industries (AFEI), formerly known as Employers First which summarises the industrial philosophy of the organisation. In the past he has stated that OHS laws are not necessary but this week he has upset the parents of Brodie Panlock by emphasising a failed love affair between Brodie and a work colleague and downplaying the instances of abuse and bullying that drove Brodie Panlock to jump to her death.
The comments on the ABC Lateline program echo his comments at the public hearing in Sydney of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying. (The Hansard of his presentation is not yet available online although the AFEI submission to the inquiry is) Brack’s position is difficult to understand as the Inquiry submission and his words at the hearing display a poor understanding of how other organisations and experts (and Brodie’s parents) see workplace bullying.
The AFEI submission says
“What concerns employers is the breadth of these [bullying] definitions which allow a limitless range of actions and behaviour to be construed as bullying by workers – in all jurisdictions. This is where the regulatory difficulty lies. It is not that there are differences in regulatory requirements but that compliance is impossible to achieve. This is because the concept of workplace bullying, as viewed by regulators, is not confined to recklessness, intimidation, aggressive or violent acts, threatening actions or behaviour, verbal abuse or an actual risk to health and safety. It may be anything from a customer demanding faster service or just complaining (even over the phone) to setting deadlines or changing work hours.”
There are several nonsensical statements here. The Parliamentary Inquiry is not an investigation of regulations, it is an inquiry into workplace bullying. More…
South Australia still has not passed the Work Health and Safety legislation that would bring it into line with most of the other States of Australia. A major obstacle to the Bill’s progress in the South Australian Parliament is the “dithering” of Independent MP John Darley.
On 28 June 2012, Darley spoke to the WHS Bill in the Legislative Council (page 1641). Darley reviews the status of WHS laws in Australian States, mentions Victoria’s flawed PricewaterhouseCoopers costings report but without expressing an opinion on it and acknowledges the support from major industrial and employer associations for the laws, but he seems very sympathetic to minority views on workplace safety.
Darley refers to the views of the Housing Industry (HIA) and Master Builders’ Associations (MBA) on “control”, two groups he acknowledges are “the most vocal opponents” of the Bill, and states
“Any person who does not have direct control of a risk should not have responsibility for eliminating or minimising the risk”.
Consider this position in relation to workplace psychosocial hazards. A bully would be breaching OHS laws by bullying another worker but those executives who establish the culture of a workplace that condones the bully’s actions would not be facing any penalty. This scenario seems to contradict a dominant safety principle that compliance and respect stems from the active example shown by an organisation’s leader. How will the legislative obligation for a “positive duty of care” in workplaces apply with in-direct control? More…