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 .
A guest post by Carl Sachs
The revised Australian Standard AS1657 for fixed ladders, platforms and walkways released in October 2013 plugs some serious holes. Guard rails made of rubber, for example, are now explicitly unacceptable.
While absurd, rubber guard rails technically complied with the 21-year-old AS1657 and the example shows just how sorely an update was needed.
Four big changes to AS1657
The biggest changes to AS1657 concern selection, labelling, guardrail testing and the design of fixed ladders. More…
Victoria’s Construction Compliance Code Unit in the Department of Treasury and Finance has just completed its public comments stage for its model Health and Safety Management Plan (HSMP). The comments period was extended by a month after initially ending after only one month‘s public consultation on 6 January 2014. New South Wales and Queensland have mirrored the Victorian construction compliance code so the significance of this OHS submission stage should not be underestimated however the submission process and unusual secrecy is not building the faith and trust in the HSMP that the process needs for it to succeed.
The regular process for submissions to government inquires is for those submissions to be made publicly available, with the permission of the writer. The CCCU seems to have no plans to follow this protocol which is an enormous shame as the submissions would have provided a window into both the understanding of OHS in the Victorian construction sector, an understanding of the OHS role of the CCCU and an insight into how the CCCU is generally perceived by the Victorian community.
SafetyAtWorkBlog put the following (we think reasonable) questions to the CCCU last week in preparation for the end of the commentary phase:
- Could you please estimate the number of submissions the CCU has received on the model Health and Safety Management Plan (HSMP) to date? More…
On 6 February 2014 the Victorian Premier. Denis Napthine, announced the intention to
“…require construction companies to implement comprehensive drug and alcohol screening measures to ensure the safety of workers to be eligible to tender for Victorian Government construction contracts.”
This is to be part of the occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations of companies under the Implementation Guidelines to the Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry. Understandably the construction union, particularly, is angry and feels as if it is being singled out. Both organisations have chosen their words very carefully. Premier Napthine is quoted as saying:
“Reports of illicit drug use and distribution on Victorian construction sites are widespread.”
The CFMEU‘s Victorian Secretary John Setka has stated that
“There is no epidemic of drug taking on construction sites…. Our Health and Safety representatives who look out for workers’ health and safety are not reporting a problem.”
It is unlikely there is an epidemic of drug use but the Premier is talking of drugs AND alcohol. More…
On 29 January 2014 Australia’s Fairfax newspapers published an article called “Safety performances at Australia’s top companies is serious business” written by Adele Ferguson. The article is based on an analysis by Citi Research of the safety performance of companies listed in Australia’s ASX100 share index. Citi Research (Citi) has kindly provided SafetyAtWorkBlog with a copy of this report developed for its fund manager and superfund clients. It is a terrific reference document providing a useful insight to the OHS performance of prominent Australian corporations. It cannot be definitive but we know of nothing else like it in Australia.
In the Fairfax article Ferguson wrote:
“While safety is a complex issue largely due to the fact that safety records are difficult to measure and difficult to compare across companies and industries, it is an important area to explore. For starters, it is a good proxy for the way a company deals with staff and manages risk more generally.”
Safety does not have to be complex but the measurement of safety performance can be as, even though there is a (dreadfully outdated) Australian Standard for measuring OHS performance, companies tweak the existing measures and the principal measurement, the Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR), has been found to be a flawed indicator. LTIFR is tolerated as a measurement simply because a better alternative has not been developed or widely accepted.
The Citi Research report lists LTIFRs for most of the 117 companies but it balances this with almost as many Total Recordable Injury Frequency Rates (TRIFR). More…
Many 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…
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.
There 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.
‘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…