Latest review into workers compensation provides OHS clues Reply

Cover of src_act_review_reportThe 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…

Master Builders’ curious response on construction safety 3

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.

Cover of http___www.mba.orgIn 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…

CSB pushes for a more effective discussion on fatigue management 7

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 progress of API and USW in developing the 2010 ANSI-approved Recommended Practice 755 (RP 755) has been reviewed by the CSB staff and they have found the following disturbing problems:

  • “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…

New campaign indicates old-school thinking 1

IPC Athletics World Championship, Tuesday, 25 January 2011

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…

Where to for the “the expensive and failed WorkHealth scheme”? 2

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

VWA’s annual report for 2008 (page 33) stated the following aims for WorkHealth, reiterated in the WorkHealth Strategic Framework 2010-12 (page 1):

“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…

Double your money, invest in OHS 6

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.

Kevin Jones

Australian Government shifts workplace bullying into the industrial relations system 7

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…

How can one learn from OHS mistakes if those mistakes are hidden? 13

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?

More…

OHS statistics sound good but do not reflect reality 8

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…

Victorian Government refuses to release full costings of OHS laws 5

FOI PwCThe 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.

Kevin Jones