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.
Today the Victorian Coroner has released the findings into the 2007 Kerang rail disaster and other level crossing fatalities. SafetyAtWorkBlog has written about issues related to level crossings those articles may help when reading the many media articles that the inquest findings will generate.
Already family members of the Kerang victims have expressed their dissatisfaction with the findings. More…
Defining safety culture is still a tricky proposition. Definitions can vary from what Global Safety Index quotes:
‘the product of individual and group values, attitudes and beliefs, competencies and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organisation’s health and safety management’.
to the, arguably more functional, definition of
‘the way you work when nobody’s looking”.
Safety culture comprises a mix of personal values, corporate values, laws, norms, expectations, hopes, respect, dignity, care, amongst others. By assessing and linking these elements it should be possible to map or pictorialise a company’s safety culture.
Several years ago at a Comcare conference in Canberra, one speaker outlined leadership and safety culture of some sections of the public service in web, spider or radar graphs (example above). The image stuck with me, particularly after additional sets of data allowed for animation to show the evolution of culture and leadership in relation to specific interventions. The importance of being able to provide a visual image of safety culture should not be understated. More…
The harmonisation of Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) laws has stagnated since the West Australian government’s tepid response to the strategy and Victoria’s belligerent and ill-founded rejection. But some continue to examine the harmonisation process. Eric Windholz is one of those researchers.
Windholz is a former executive of Victoria’s WorkSafe and is now with the Monash Centre or Regulatory Studies and is writing his thesis on OHS harmonisation (to be available soon through the Monash Library). Windholz acknowledges the political context of harmonisation, a context he describes as “contentious”.
The political maneuvering of various stakeholders in the harmonisation process deserves additional study. The harmonisation, or even national uniformity, of safety has occurred over a similar period in Australia with other industry sectors, most noticeably in rail. It is a strategy that was started by the conservative government of John Howard, embraced by the Australian Labor Party through its various prime ministerial incarnations and is now stagnant or even ignored. More…
On September 9 2013, the Canberra Times published an article by Bill Eddy, entitled “Bullying a practice for the whole workplace to solve“. (The article has been tweeted and referenced several times in the past week in Australia.) Bill Eddy is due in Australia soon to conduct a workshop on workplace bullying. The article has some sound advice on workplace bullying but what caught my attention was the opening line:
“Research indicates that workplace bullying has a more negative effect on employees than sexual harassment, perhaps because there are more procedures in place for dealing with sexual harassment.”
What research? More…
In the next edition of the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA), Dr Tony Lower, Director of Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety and Monash University researchers ( Angela J Clapperton and Emily L Herde) will be providing more evidence about the death and injury rate associated with the use of All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV) and quadbikes. A unique feature of this study is that “it is the first Australian study quantifying injuries from three different data sources.”
This research is timely as only last week a Tasmanian court case was occurring over a quad bike incident on a dairy farm. According to a newspaper report on the case:
“Defence counsel Glynn Williams told magistrate Michael Brett that quad bikes were inherently unsafe and unstable…. [and]
“There is ongoing carnage on farms and while the government can legislate to make stronger and stronger dog laws there is no willingness to legislate for stronger quad bike laws”
According to a media statement on the MJA paper due for release on 16 September 2013, Lower says:
“As the data indicates not only are there increasing numbers of quad cases, they are also more serious than other similar injuries. Further, because of their threat to life, they will frequently require higher levels of medical treatment and longer recovery periods for the victims.”
“The impact of deaths and serious injuries from quad bikes is significant and I am sure everyone would like to see a decrease in these incidents.”
This weekend the Australian people voted for the conservative Liberal Party to be the next Federal government. Workplace safety has been largely absent from the pre-election campaign but when it has been mentioned it has almost always been couched in terms of productivity. In the next few years, workplace safety issues must be couched in terms of productivity to have any hope of gaining the ear of the new government and, particularly, the ear of Senator Eric Abetz, the most likely candidate for the ministry of workplace relations.
Recent changes to workplace bullying laws which provide a prominent role of the Fair Work Commission are unlikely to be rolled back but Abetz has promised More…