Occupational health and safety (OHS) regulatory agencies have existed for decades, originally with an enforcement role but increasingly aimed to prevention and education. It is fair to say the “2nd generation” of OHS regulators in Australia appeared in the 1980s. It is also fair to expect to be able to readily access the corporate memory and prosecutorial activity of the regulators, particularly since the growth in the Internet. Very recently WorkSafe Victoria reviewed its online database of OHS prosecutions excising prosecution summaries prior to 2012. This decision is a major weakening of the “state of knowledge” about workplace safety in this State, a decision that some have described as outrageous. How can one learn from mistakes if those mistakes are not made available?
SafetyAtWorkBlog has questioned the veracity of occupational health and safety statements by Victoria’s Assistant Treasurer, Gordon Rich-Phillips, previously. Early in January 2013, Minister Rich-Phillips stated that:
“Victoria’s workplaces had the safest year on record in 2012…”
Victorian businesses, workers and policy-makers would benefit enormously if the government were to focus on achieving independent accurate data of workplace injury, illness and business costs instead of cherry picking statistics for political gain. More…
The Victorian Government has repeatedly claimed that new Work Health and Safety laws would cost billions of dollars to introduce. It has justified this political decision with a summary of a report produced by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in April 2012. SafetyAtWorkBlog applied for the full report under Freedom of Information (FOI) and was rejected.
The Department of Premier and Cabinet’s FOI Officer indicated that the full report existed but that it was not being released as the FOI Act
“…exempts from disclosure a document that has been prepared by a Minister or on his or her behalf or by an agency for the purpose of submission for consideration by the Cabinet.”
The rejection is difficult to understand as the government had already released a 34 page summary.
SafetyAtWorkBlog has been very critical of the summary report due to the amount of disclaimers, equivocations and selected data sources in the PwC report. The estimated costs have appeared in discussions about the Work Health and Safety laws in other States so the full analysis of the laws by PwC would be enlightening. It was hoped that the full report would provide additional background and context to discussing the “costs of safety” but that is not to be.
OnlineMBA.com recently uploaded a video about “The True Cost of a Bad Boss“. It is a good summary of the spread of negative organisational and employee effects that can result from poor management poor understanding and poor communication. It is well worth remembering this spread when determining the best way to manage workplace safety and increase productivity.
Although the video is from the US, there is research evidence to support many of the points raised. In December 2012, Safe Work Australia released The Australian Workplace Barometer Report On Psychosocial Safety Climate and Worker Health in Australia, a report that has been largely missed by the Australian media. The report says that:
“A standout finding here is that depression costs Australian employers approximately AUD$8 billion per annum as a result of sickness absence and presenteeism and AUD$693 million per annum of this is due to job strain and bullying.” (page 6)
This is a significant impact on Australian business costs and, if one takes the OnlineMBA information concerning bad bosses, Australian bosses may need to undertake a considerable amount of self-analysis when lobbying for red-tape reductions and calling for productivity increases. More…
Seeking justice through the court system is everyone’s right but sometimes court action is more newsworthy than normal and sometimes the media is used in conjunction with legal actions. Either way, any court action, particularly on personal matters such as sexual harassment or workplace bullying will be a stressful activity. The workplace safety context of a recent political scandal in Australia involving the Speaker of the House of Representatives Peter Slipper, and an employee, James Ashby, have not been discussed. A summary of, or commentary on, the Ashby/Slipper scandal can be found HERE.
The judgement by Justice Steven Rares in the December 2012 legal proceedings of Ashby v Commonwealth of Australia (No 4)  FCA 1411, provides a salient lesson for those considering taking legal action over a work-related issue, such as sexual harassment, workplace bullying or other psychosocial matter.
Ashby-Slipper and OHS
The Ashby-Slipper sexual harassment proceedings have a legitimate OHS context, reminiscent of the 2009 political scandal involving Godwin Grech. Although occupational health and safety was not overtly stated by Justice Rares it is briefly discussed in the judgement. It is useful to consider these matters in a similar context to recent issues on workplace bullying. More…
A lot of recent discussion of the impacts of workplace safety and productivity has centred on the Productivity Commission’s “Performance Benchmarking of Australian Business Regulation: Occupational Health & Safety” Report of 2010. However there was a 1995 report by the then-Industry Commission that can provide some broader context to the safety/productivity discussion. Recent evidence and research does not negate earlier reports and the safety/productivity debate should be considered over the longer time period, when there were different economic and political situations.
In 1995, the Industry Commission estimated the cost
“…to injured employees, their employers and the rest of the community of work-related injury and disease is at least $20 billion a year.” (page xiii)
(The March 2010 report stated the Australian Safety and Compensation Council
“…found the total economic cost of work-related injury and illness for the 2005-06 financial year to be $57.5 billion, representing 5.9 per cent of GDP.” Page 45)
The Industry Commission identified a ratio of costs associated with workplace injuries – 30-40-30:
“Around 30 per cent of the total cost
Vaughan Bowie is an Australian academic who has chosen workplace violence as his major area of interest. Bowie came to general prominence earlier this century with several books and his contribution to the WorkcoverNSW guidance on workplace violence.
His research has taken him to look at “organisational violence” and in October 2012, he addressed the 3rd International Conference on Violence in Healthcare (the proceedings are available HERE) on the topic in a presentation called “Understanding organizational violence: The missing link in resolving workplace violence?”
Bowie writes, in the conference proceedings (Page 155), that
“Initially much of the workplace violence (WPV) prevention and management responses focused on criminal violence from outside organizations. At the same time there was also a growing concern about service user violence on staff especially in the human services area. A later stage of this development was a growing recognition of relational violence at work. This includes staff-on-staff violence and aggression, bullying, horizontal violence, sexual harassment and domestic violence.
Models based on these areas of WPV have been developed by the International Labor Organisation (ILO), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Injury Prevention Research Center (IPRC) and the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) and other regulatory bodies. This presentation will show that the current models and responses based on these types of WPV are inadequate and ineffective because they largely ignore the fact that organizational culture and management style have a direct contributory effect on the types of violence experienced by employees, third parties, and service users. The findings demonstrate that what at first appears to be criminal, service user or relational violence at work may in fact be the outcome of a type of ‘upstream’ organizational violence trickling down in a toxic way triggering further violence.” (emphasis and links added) More…
In Australia, Parliamentary inquiries are usually required to provide the Parliament with a copy of their findings. In the last week of November 2012, the Chair of the Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying, Amanda Rishworth, presented its report which included a dissenting report from the Conservative (Liberal Party) committee members. On 28 November both Alan Tudge MP, one of the dissenting committee members, and Deborah O’Neill (Labor Party), spoke to the House of Representatives about the report. Their speeches say much on the issue of workplace bullying and the politics of workplace health and safety (WHS) in Australia.
Statistics and Costs
Tudge acknowledges the importance of preventing workplace bullying but provides an important fact to remember when reading the full report. According to Hansard, Tudge says
“The prevalence of workplace bullying is not known – there is no statistical data to assess exactly how prevalent it is. Regardless of the precise number, we know that it is too prevalent.” (emphasis added)
This may sound a little contradictory but it summarises a problem when investigating workplace bullying, there are no useful statistics on it. More…
The report, issued last week, from Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying, is a terrific discussion on workplace bullying but is a major missed opportunity to achieve necessary change, and change in this area equates to the reduction of, principally, psychological harm to workers and their families.
The report starts off shakily by giving prominence to a statement that is clearly wrong. Page 1 of the report quotes Carlo Caponecchia and Anne Wyatt, saying:
“Bullying is the key workplace health and safety issue of our time.”
Caponecchia and Wyatt may believe that, but to open a Parliamentary report with this quote shows poor judgement from the Committee by giving workplace bullying prominence over other workplace health and safety (WHS) hazards and issues. Workplace bullying may indeed be the most difficult workplace health and safety challenge but that is very different from what the quote says. More…
The first recommendation that most will look forward is the latest workplace bullying definition. The committee suggests:
“repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety”.
This is no great shake from most of the previous definitions but illustrates further the isolation of Victoria from nationally harmonised work health and safety laws as WorkSafe Victoria’s preferred definition is
“… persistent and repeated negative behaviour directed at an employee that creates a risk to health and safety.”
Regardless of which definition is “better”, Victoria will be further out-of-sync.
The Committee also recommends the Government
“develop a national advisory service that provides practical and operational advice on what does and does not constitute workplace bullying..”
This is sorely needed and will relieve State OHS regulators of the pressure and the resources. No timeline is mentioned but it is likely that the Federal Government will move to establish such a service quickly, as the recommendation is not surprising.
However, the opposition political mantra for any government initiative is how it will be funded. More…