The Liberals, currently lead by Tony Abbott, are the Australian equivalent of the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom and the Republicans in the United States and follow many of the free market principles that support capitalism. In terms of workplace safety, commitments are less obvious than those from the Left side of politics. Often workplace safety is wrapped in other concepts and there is an expectation that benefits to workers will somehow flow on from those benefits granted to employers and business, benefits frequently termed as part of productivity.
Every year, around this time, the mainstream media reports on the findings of employee surveys of the Victorian public service. Each year the statistics on workplace bullying are featured. (The Age newspaper reported on the latest survey on 31 March 2013.) But the approach to an understanding of workplace bullying has changed over the last fifteen years or so. A brief look at the March 2001 Issues Paper on workplace bullying, released by the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA), is useful to illustrate the degree of change but also the origin of some of the contemporary hazard control themes.
The VWA Issues Paper was always intended to lead to a formal Code of Practice but due to belligerence from various industry bodies, no code eventuated and Victoria had to make do with a guidance note. This effectively banished workplace bullying to a nice-to-manage rather than an essential element of modern management. Significantly, Safe Work Australia intends to release a model Code of Practice on workplace bullying shortly. Perhaps the employer associations’ attitudes have mellowed. Perhaps it is the decline of trade union influence since 2001.
The Issues Paper roughly defines workplace bullying as:
“…aggressive behaviour that intimidates, humiliates and/or undermines a person or group.” More…
Australian research has provided an important additional element to discussions on the safety of using quad bikes as work vehicles on Australian farms. According to a media release to be published on 3 April 2013 from the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety (ACAHS):
“Two new papers released today in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health ….indicate that the costs for fatal [quad bike] incidents between 2001-2010 were $288 million.” [links added, articles only available for purchase or by subscription]
“This conservative estimate draws on deaths data from the National Coroners Information System and includes projected losses in future earnings, impacts on household contributions, insurance payments, investigation and hospital costs…. The average cost was $A2.3 million, with the highest average being in those aged 25-34 years at $A4.2 million”.
The Australian Government has released its report into a review of its national workers’ compensation scheme, Comcare, and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (SRC) Act. Some of the media (and politicians), as it often does, has focused on the seemingly absurd compensation claims. Few cases have gained the same degree of national and international attention as the sex case for instance, and although most workers’ compensation reports focus on post-incident treatments, there is a glimmer of hope on occupational health and safety (OHS) in this latest review.
The report, the latest undertaken by Peter Hanks QC, states that one of the guiding principles of the SRC Act should be an acknowledgement that
“The benefit and premium structure should promote incident prevention and reduce risk of loss.” (page 25)
This would be a wonderful benchmark to apply but is likely to be overshadowed by the compensation and rehabilitation issues of the review, unless OHS professionals and practitioners continue to remind regulators that prevention is better than cure.
Peter Hanks admits in a 2012 video interview on his review that injury prevention is not part of the terms of reference but there are elements of his report that require serious consideration by OHS professionals in consultation with their Human Resources (HR) colleagues. More…
In November 2012, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government released “Getting Home Safely“, a damning report written by Lynette Briggs and Mark McCabe, into the safety culture and performance of that territory’s building and construction industry. But the Master Builders Association of the ACT has rejected several recommendations and questioned many others, yet refuses to release the evidence that it is assumed would support their position.
In February 2013, ACT’s Minister for Workplace Safety and Industrial Relations, Simon Corbell, accepted all 27 recommendations of the report, much to the surprise of some of us. Corbell said in his media release that
“It is no longer acceptable for people in the construction industry to say there are safety issues in construction sites and then do nothing about them. This report compels unions, employers and government to stand up and actively promote a culture where everyone looks out for their mates, and everyone can go home safely every day…”
“As the report highlights, this is not simply an issue for Government. Safety is an issue for every person on a construction site with principal contractors, sub-contractors, workers, unions and the Regulator all working together.
“The Government expects employers and unions to demonstrate leadership on this issue.”
Safety Leadership or Conspiracy Theory
Today the Master Builders Association of the ACT released its response to “Getting Home Safely” (the Gower review). That response indicates that not all Minister Corbell’s expectations are going to be met with the MBA. In some ways this confirms many of the concerns in the report. More…
Occupational health and safety has many examples of addressing small or short-term issues rather than facing the difficult and hard, but more sustainable, control measures. I was reminded of this by a recent media statement from the United States Chemical Safety Board (CSB) in relation to fatigue management.
In 2007 the CSB recommended that, following the Texas City refinery fire,
“the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the United Steelworkers International Union (USW) jointly lead the development of an ANSI consensus standard with guidelines for fatigue prevention in the refinery and petrochemical industries.” [links added]
- “The document was not the result of an effective consensus process, and therefore does not constitute a tool that multiple stakeholders in the industry can “own.” It was not balanced in terms of stakeholder interests and perspectives, and did not sufficiently incorporate or take into account the input of experts from other industry sectors that have addressed fatigue risks. More…
Today WorkSafe Victoria launches a new return-to-work campaign which will use Paralympian Jack Swift as the “face” of the campaign. The campaign is sure to be successful but the increasing focus of safety regulators on return-to-work (RTW) may illustrate a growing trend where rehabilitation policy strategies are gaining priority over injury prevention. Yet innovative approaches to injury prevention provide the greatest potential for personal, economic and social savings.
In 2001 WorkCover NSW began its Paralympian Sponsorship Program, a program that continues. The advantage of the New South Wales program is that it features a range of incident scenarios and, most importantly, the paralympians speak about “workplace safety, injury prevention and management and their personal road to recovery, return to work.” (emphasis added) This broad, multi-category approach seems to be missing from the new Victorian campaign. More…
The Victorian Workcover Authority’s (VWA) WorkHealth program is coming to the end of its five-year life. But what is the way forward? Has the $A600 million program achieved its aims?
Aims and Results
“Over the long term, the program aims to:
- cut the proportion of workers at risk of developing chronic disease by 10%
- cut workplace injuries and disease by 5%, putting downward pressure on premiums
- cut absenteeism by 10%.
These goals aim to drive productivity and reduce health expenditure that is associated with chronic disease.”
None of VWA’s annual reports since 2008 have included any mention of these benchmarks. More…
The corporate wellness advocates have been able to estimate the return-on-investment (ROI) for their programs but there has been little research on the return-on-prevention, until recently. In 2012 the International Social Security Association (ISSA) determined that, in microeconomic terms,
“…there are benefits resulting from investment in occupational safety and health… with the results offering a Return on Prevention [ROP] ratio of 2.2.”
This means that for every one dollar spent per employee per year the potential return is 2.2 dollars.
The report also found that OHS provides, amongst other benefits:
- Better corporate image
- Increased employee motivation and satisfaction, and
- Prevention of disruptions.
But why bother costing harm prevention when there is already a legislative requirement to provide safe and healthy workplaces? Such a question usually comes from those whose understanding of OHS is principally compliance and who believe compliance equals safety.
The calculation of ROP, in the ISSA report at least, counters the belief that safety is always a cost with no economic benefit to the company. A positive ROP provides an opportunity to actively participate in the economic debate over productivity and, in some countries, austerity.
Politicians are sufficiently media-savvy to release policies and information to gain the maximum exposure in the media cycle. For some reason, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, missed the opportunity to have his changes on workplace bullying in the newspapers for 12 February 2013. The news cycle is also being dominated by the resignation of Pope Benedict. However Shorten’s response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying deserves detailed analysis.
Shorten is bringing the investigation of workplace bullying cases under the Fair Work Commission. There are likely to be complex consequences of this decision, a decision that is clearly the Minister’s as the Parliamentary Inquiry made no clear recommendation on the location of the “new national service”.
“The Committee did not receive evidence on where such a service ["a single, national service to provide advice to employers and workers alike on how to prevent, and respond to workplace bullying" 5.51, page 136] should be located. It might be best situated within an existing government agency or department such as Safe Work Australia, the Fair Work Ombudsman or the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. It may also be considered appropriate for the service to be an independent body that is funded by the Commonwealth. Consequently, the Committee does not have a clear recommendation as to where the new national service may sit.” (Section 5.58, page 138)
Clearly Shorten’s announcement could easily have been “Minister rejects independent body on workplace bullying”. The Minister should be asked about his reasons for not establishing an independent body into this important issue. More…