Insurance over OHS prosecution hits the deterrence effect 25

In response to proven breaches of occupational health and safety laws, judges usually apply financial penalties to companies and individuals.  These penalties, like all court-ordered punishments are to deter the offenders from re-offending but also to show others the consequences of their actions.  But what if an insurance company would pay for that penalty in return for regular premium payments?  If the offender does not pay the penalty, deterrence is gone.

On 27 June 2013, a company and its director were fined $A200,000 each in relation to workplace incident that resulted in the gruesome death of one man and a near miss for another but the director had taken out a general  insurance policy and the insurance company paid out!!??.  A fine of $A200K awarded but the offender may pay no more than $A10K. More…

Very useful workplace mental health guidelines released 4

The Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) has released a set of guidelines for the prevention of mental health problems at work. Such guidelines have been sorely required in Australia where workplace mental health problems have become an increasing problem for workers and organisations and workplace bullying dominates the policy landscape. It recommends the development of a mental health and wellbeing strategy that includes the following elements:

  • “the development of a positive work environment that supports and encourages mental health
  • balancing job demands with job control
  • appropriately rewarding employees efforts
  • creating a fair workplace
  • provision of workplace supports
  • effective management of performance issues
  • provision of training to develop management and leadership skills
  • supportive change management processes More…

Nitpicking or forensic analysis? 8

It is common for regulators, major clients and accreditation bodies to require copies of a detailed health and safety management plan so that they can be assured the contractor is complying with OHS laws and contract safety obligations. Over the years, part of my job has been to assess these plans to determine their quality, validity and applicability. Some have accused me of nitpicking, others have appreciated the pedantry but my perspective is that such plans are a crucial method of establishing and communicating OHS practices and providing a base from which a positive safety culture can be constructed.

I would argue that any company that has a carelessly written OHS management plan is unlikely to fully understand its own OHS commitments.  That company would also be providing conflicting and confusing safety information to its own workforce and its subcontractors.

Inaccuracies and inconsistencies

One example that comes to mind was a large company who submitted an OHS management plan which detailed many safety commitments, what I consider “promises”. However, there were inconsistencies such as the person who was responsible and accountable for safety at the start of the plan, let’s say a “safety manager”, and who was not mentioned any further. More…

Safety should not be the red tape bastard of productivity 1

There is a logic being applied to workplace safety and public policy that does not ring true. The argument seems to be that productivity levels in Australia are low, that part of the reason for this low productivity is excessive business paperwork and that workplace safety regulators are a major contributor.   (SafetyAtWorkBlog has written around this topic previously.)

Businessman with devil or angelThe authority on productivity in Australia is, unsurprisingly, the Productivity Commission (PC).  In mid-June 2013, the commission released its Productivity Update, the first of promised annual reports.  Search in the document for “workplace safety” and there is no mention, even “safety” only pulls up a couple of public safety references.  Nothing for “workplace” either.

In fact, the report states that

“Strong growth in labour productivity in the December quarter of 2012-13 could be a sign that a broader improvement in MFP growth is now underway” (page 2)

and

“modelling shows that a comparatively small increase in the rate of labour productivity growth (primarily due to higher MFP growth) could lead to a comparatively large increase in the level of real GDP per person by 2050.” (page 2)

2050 is a long way off but the forecast is for an increase in productivity and the growth in the December quarter could indicate a trend. So for all the productivity gloom and doom being written about in the business newspapers, the reality may be different.   More…

Draft bullying code and cultural measurement 1

cover of 2013 DRAFT-COP-Preventing-Responding-Workplace-BullyingSafe Work Australia has released its latest draft code of practice for preventing and responding to workplace bullying for public comment.  There are many useful and practical strategies in the draft code but workplace bullying is only a small element of the more sustainable strategy of developing a safe and respectful organisational culture.

The definition in the May 2013 draft code is a tidied up version of the September 2011 definition:

“…repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of  workers that creates a risk to health and safety.”

The lack of difference in these definitions is a real positive given the complaints, primarily, from the business community since 2011.  The significance in both definitions is that there must be a direct relationship between the behaviours and health and safety risks.  This could be substantially difficult to prove, particularly if , as in  most cases, it is the recipient of the bullying who needs to prove this.

Harm Prevention

Consider, for a moment, that this code of practice is used for establishing preventative measures and not just used for disproving a court case, these definitions can help establish a benchmark for creating a safe organisational culture. More…

Case studies and research on gender in workplace safety 1

Engineering Student Marking BlueprintsSeveral SafetyAtWorkBlog articles recently have had record readership statistics. One of particular note concerned gender issues in the workplace.  On 9 June 2013, Marie-Claire Ross wrote about her experiences with gender bias in the workplace and, in particular, its existence in the safety profession.

This reminded me of two documents I recently read about gender and safety. The April 2013 edition of the Australian Journal of Emergency Management (AJOEM)devoted an entire edition of the magazine to gender issues.This is a useful counterpoint to the SafetyAtWorkBlog article as emergency management remains a male-dominated culture.

This edition of AJOEM includes the following snippets.

While investigating communications, Dr Christine Owen’s research revealed

“…cultural challenges to team communication and specifically a masculinist culture (i.e. acting with high confidence and bravado).” More…

WorkHealth raises health awareness but only so far 1

Last week the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) released a review of the WorkHealth program.  The results are very positive and deserve detailed analysis.  However these analyses do not seem to address all the expectations of the Victorian Government when the program was launched several years ago.

Cover of workhealth_synthesis_reportPremier John Brumby said at the launch of WorkHealth that

“Over time the program is expected to free up $60 million per year in health costs, as well as:

  • Cut the proportion of workers at risk of developing chronic disease by 10 per cent;
  • Cut workplace injuries and disease by 5 per cent, putting downward pressure on premiums;
  • Cut absenteeism by 10 per cent; and
  • Boost productivity by $44 million a year.”

One of the key findings of the research seems to meet two of the program’s aims:

“Modelling of outcome forecast goals for a 10% reduction in absenteeism and a 5% reduction in compensable injury rates are likely to be met, especially as health promotion program uptake increases.” (page 5)

It is reasonable to expect from a 4-5 year study of hundreds of thousands of work health checks that hard data be obtained but as the quote above reveals, the researchers needed to apply modelling and draw on research from other sources. More…

“Rule #1 – No Poofters” 11

The Building Safety conference this weekend had one or two underwhelming speakers but these were overshadowed by some brilliant presentations, and by brilliant, I mean challenging. I had no indication of what was to come from the presentation by Dr Dean Laplonge on gender. His presentation has caused me to begin to reassess my own (male) perceptions and those of the safety profession.

The title of this article is a Monty Python reference where a professor from England joins the Philosophy Faculty of the University of Woolloomooloo. He is inducted into the faculty by being told the rules and he even has his name changed to Bruce. This sketch is a good example of humour through hyperbole but over the decades this sketch has become more disturbing as, amongst others, it shows a gender perspective of the early 1970s that, in some industries, still echoes.

More…

Rita Donahy speaks at Australia’s Building Safety conference Reply

Donahy 2013 01The first international speaker at this weekend’s Building Safety conference in Canberra, Australia was Rita Donahy, author of the One Death Is Too Many report into the UK’s construction industry safety performance, and a member of the House of Lords.

Donahy stressed that workplace safety is, and should be, a social issue and not treated as a special case.
More…

Supreme Court decision limits public knowledge of OHS offences 9

Woman CelebratingIn May 2013 Fiona Austin (@upfrontfi) a lawyer with the Australian law firm, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), tweeted:

“Great win in the Supreme Court! No more naming and shaming for health and safety offenders in Queensland”

The Supreme Court decision is an appalling situation over which OHS professionals and regulators should be outraged.

Austin and other HSF lawyers authored a longer article on the case and totally miss the point of why OHS offenders should be named.  Shaming of offenders is a different matter.

The article explains how a decision under the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) may stop the OHS regulator in Queensland, Work Health and Safety Queensland, from listing the names of offenders on its website. More…