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…
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…
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…
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…
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.
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…
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…
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…
As part of annual safety week activities, South Australia’s Minister for Industrial Relations, John Rau, launched a workplace fatalities counter (on the right of the webpage). Rau said in a media release that
“As Safe Work Week begins in South Australia, we are reminded of the nine workers who have not returned home from work this year….. In a similar way to the reporting of the road toll, providing this information is a reminder to us all that we must make every effort to ensure this number does not rise.”
The comparison with the road toll is an admirable aim and one that some have advocated for but there are other potential metrics that may have had more impact. More…
The investigation into workplace deaths associated with Australia’s Home Insulation Program (HIP) was refreshed yesterday with the publication of some of the terms of reference for a new Government inquiry into the program. The HIP deaths is an enormously politically charged issue in Australia and the politics, and associated media attention, could derail an inquiry that has the potential to provide important occupational health and safety, risk management and governance issues.
Greg Hunt, Environment Minister is quoted as saying that
“The Government is committed to a full inquiry into Kevin Rudd’s home insulation scheme that was linked to the tragic loss of four young lives,….”
According to the Courier-Mail newspaper on 27 October 2013 there will be ten elements in the terms of reference but only four are mentioned:
- The process and basis of government decisions while establishing the program, including risk assessment and risk management;
- Whether the death of the four men could have been avoided;
- What if any advice or undertakings given by the government to the industry were inaccurate or deficient, and;
- What steps the government should have taken to avoid the tragedies.
These four seem reasonable aims but this information has been leaked, the full terms of reference have not been released and a person to head the inquiry is yet to be announced.