Incident investigation findings should be shared 13

Accident reportMany people, and OHS professionals, complain about the lack of research in Australia into occupational health and safety issues.  Research is occurring but often this is inaccessible to companies, professionals and decision-makers due to unjustifiable costs for the articles and journals.  Yet there is OHS research, of a type, that can be done by any company should they choose to do so – incident investigation.

Individual investigation reports may only address one set of circumstances, those that led to an incident or, rarely but importantly, a near miss or a systems breach, but together these reports may identify a systemic problem or illustrate broader safer deficiencies in an industry sector. More…

New book provides fresh context to OHS 1

SafetyAtWorkBlog regularly receives excellent review books from the New York publishing company, BaywoodPublishing.  The latest is entitled Safety or Profit? – International Studies in Governance, Change and the Work Environment.   I have yet to get beyond the introduction to the chapters by Australian academics on precarious workers (Quinlan) and the decriminalisation of OHS (Johnstone) but the introduction is fascinating.

The most fascinating is its discussion of Lord Robens’ Report of the Inquiry into Health and Safety at Work from 1973. The editors, Theo Nichols and David Walters, question the “major advance” many claimed for the Robens report by comparing it reviews 40 years earlier.  Nichols and Walters quote the conservatism that led to Robens seeing criminal law as being “largely irrelevant”, and legal sanctions being “counter to our philosophy”.  However, they do admit that Robens was prophetic on the growth of self-regulation and the duties of care.

Nichols and Walters also remind us that the Robens-inspired Health and Safety At Work Act of 1974 did not recommend the creation of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) representatives.

More…

Prediction on accountability and a political kick in the balls Reply

Responsibility highlighted in greenThere will be two areas of occupational health and safety attention in the early months of 2014 in Australia – workplace bullying laws and the Royal Commission into Home Insulation Program.  The labour law firms are gearing up for a “bumper year” as one said prior to Christmas and the business groups are already lobbying/complaining/whingeing about the workplace bullying laws administered by the Fair Work Commission.  However the Royal Commission has the potential for the biggest social and ideological impact so, as the new year begins, I will attempt some predictions of the Royal Commission’s findings based around some of the terms of reference.

Substantial Change

‘the processes by which the Australian Government made decisions about the establishment and implementation of the Program, and the bases of those decisions, including how workplace health and safety and other risks relating to the Program were identified, assessed and managed;’

This paragraph is the one that could have the most long-term effect on governance, due diligence and procurement.  There are many suggestions on these issues in the sphere of project management but trying to keep the discussion in OHS, there are some useful comments on the Government procurement of services.  Australia’s Federal Safety Commission acknowledges that procurement is an important stage in project design.  WorkSafe Victoria’s “handbook for the public sector – health and safety in construction procurement” says

“As procurers, governments can promote better health and safety by requiring projects to include a range of safety measures, such as specifying the safety budget, building layout or the use of certain More…

Media coverage on workplace bullying needs more depth and analysis 2

The Australian media has given workplace bullying the front page, probably because it is a slow news period and there have been no major disasters this Christmas period. However the coverage is of the new rules and opportunities for assistance offered by changes to the Fair Work Act that commence on 1 January 2014, rather than about prevention.

Most of the comments from the business groups in the article by The Age newspaper will be familiar from the last few months. Generally they object to what they see as red tape and increased regulation. Some also believe that workplace bullying should be handled through human resources rather than as an occupational health and safety (OHS) matter.

Red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy is a legitimate concern but one that, in large part, the business sector has allowed to happen. As discussed previously, much of the red tape originates from the risk management strategy of business where, when an issue or hazard cannot be eliminated or it is too difficult to try, insurance or liability protection is obtained. As others have said, too often the risk management of safety is corrupted to become risk management of legal issues. More…

OHS consultation through social media – the new (and better) way 5

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…

NZ Coroner describes quad bike safety dispute as a “Mexican stand-off” Reply

Dave Robertson of Quadbar.com has provided this article on a recent finding and recommendations of a New Zealand Coroner.

A New Zealand coroner, Brandt Shortland, recently handed down his findings on five farm-based quad bike deaths (Mendoza, McInnes, Ferguson, Cornelius and Van Der Pasch) that happened within six weeks of each other.  Australian agricultural newspaper The Weekly Times reported,

“Mr Shortland [Coroner], who was a keynote speaker at a Farmsafe Australia symposium in Canberra last week, said all five deaths would have been prevented if the vehicles had Crush Protection Devices (CPD) installed”

In Coroner Shortland’s findings he found that quad bikes are best described as “error intolerant” and in the quad bike manufacturers’ view “a quad bike require a rider to make good decisions”.  One NZ media report reports the Coroner as advocating continuing rider training but that

“… training and education cannot teach common sense or good judgement.”

Shortland supports the wearing of helmets while riding quad bikes and a taskforce review into roll-over protection structures (ROPS) which increases the significance of the current Australian review.  The Coroner acknowledged the tension between safety advocates and quad bike manufacturers describing it as a “Mexican standoff”. More…

Canberra gets its first Industrial Magistrate for OHS matters Reply

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has named Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker as its first industrial magistrate. The establishment of an industrial court in the ACT stems from the government accepting the recommendations of the Getting Home Safely report which in turn was a response to a spike in workplace fatalities in 2012.

Walker is unknown outside of the ACT but the best introduction to her is probably through a long interview she gave in February 2012 to ABC radio in Canberra.  Occupational health and safety specifically was not on Walker’s radar at the time of the interview but it may be useful to note her comments on sentencing and how this should reflect, or consider, community expectations.  Walker also discusses the importance of the preventive and educative role that penalties can have. How this perspective applies under the recent Work Health and Safety laws will be worth watching.

Kevin Jones

Attitudinal survey has promise but the restriction of data stifles discussion 2

The “Australia’s Behaviour Concerns” (ABC) survey has received a good deal of press in Australia this week as it provides so many options for each State’s media to report on concerns identified by the survey’s respondents.  Of the thirty-eight concerns identified, three involve occupational health and safety (OHS) directly:

  • Work Harassment
  • Discrimination and Bullying
  • Unsafe Work Practices.

One of the significant issues with such surveys and findings is that these measure perceptions of safety and not the reality.  Community concerns may be high but may mostly reflect topical events, campaigns and advertising so in terms of verifying marketing and OHS awareness campaigns, the survey may be most useful.   More…

Australian media fishes for bad news on NBN Co and asbestos and misses the good news 2

Prior to the 2013 election, the Australian media, particular the News Limited newspapers, went to town  on the  previous (Labor) government over its handling of the National Broadband Network (NBN) strategy.  The media sniffed a political vulnerability as it had in the Home Insulation Program and other economic stimulus packages, such as the Building the Education Revolution, even though the economic program is seen by some as a very successful strategy.

The NBN has several OHS contexts but asbestos is the most prominent.  NBN needed to install its fibre-optic cables through the established and old infrastructure of a major competitor and partially government-owned telecommunication company, Telstra.  Many of Telstra’s old pits were constructed using asbestos.

On 5 November 2013 The Australian newspaper published its latest article on NBN and asbestos but the content of its own article shows how much hyperbole the newspaper has employed in this long campaign and that NBN Co seems to be managing its asbestos safety well. More…

Fair Work Commission girds its loins for workplace bullying complaints Reply

Official statistics on workplace bullying in Australia are notoriously unreliable.  The Productivity Commission estimated the cost of workplace bullying with a huge margin of variation, between A$6 billion and A$36 billion annually.  WorkSafe Victoria has indicated in the past that the number of interventions on workplace bullying is way below the number of workplace bullying complaints.  On 29 October 2103, in a long discussion on workplace bullying the Australian Capital Territory’s Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher stated:

“According to reports from the Commissioner for Public Administration, reports of bullying and harassment have totalled 68 cases in 2010-11, 71 in 2011-12, and 118 cases in the financial year that has just passed, 2012-13. Proven cases of bullying have numbered four, eight 11 and 19 respectively. This amounts to complaints being made by 0.5 per cent of staff, and substantiated in relation to 0.08 per cent of staff.” (Hansard, page P3930, emphasis added)

These latest statistics, in conjunction with those previously reported, indicate that the perception of workplace bullying is much higher than the reality in Australia.   More…