The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has named Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker as its first industrial magistrate. The establishment of an industrial court in the ACT stems from the government accepting the recommendations of the Getting Home Safely report which in turn was a response to a spike in workplace fatalities in 2012.
Walker is unknown outside of the ACT but the best introduction to her is probably through a long interview she gave in February 2012 to ABC radio in Canberra. Occupational health and safety specifically was not on Walker’s radar at the time of the interview but it may be useful to note her comments on sentencing and how this should reflect, or consider, community expectations. Walker also discusses the importance of the preventive and educative role that penalties can have. How this perspective applies under the recent Work Health and Safety laws will be worth watching.
It is rare for workplace safety to gain a half-page in the daily press in Australia but this occurred recently in The Australian. The newspaper’s industrial editor, Ewin Hannan, built an article, “Tunnel Vision on Safety“, around the following quote from a leaked memo from 2010 then head of human resources, industrial relations and safety for John Holland, Stephen Sasse, in relation to the management of the Airport Link project:
“‘‘In my seven years with John Holland, I have never seen any project or management team that was so cavalier about the company’s OHS (occupational health and safety) system, principles and values and I have grave doubts about the management’s team’s capability in safety.’”
This is a remarkable statement but Sasse has been outspoken on safety issues in the general construction sector before. In 2011 a change in the senior management of Leighton Holdings, the parent company of John Holland, created doubt about Sasse’s future and Sasse left the organisation in October 2011. The latter articles also indicate Sasse’s relationship with the union movement which may be part of the reason the unions are repeating their calls for an inquiry into John Holland and its licence with Comcare. SafetyAtWorkBlog has several articles about these industrial relations tensions from 2009. More…
A diagram of safe posture at modern workstations has become iconic but it has also become a symbol of ergonomic misunderstanding. There are assumptions behind the angular figure about the way modern workers work, the equipment used and the tasks undertaken.
Too often images, such as the one included here, are taken out of context. The image is used as a shortcut to what is considered the “correct” way to sit. The context, the risk assessments, the tasks undertaken, the location of the workstation – basically all of the OHS information included in the workplace safety guides is ignored. People think “the picture has a tick of approval, so why read when the picture says enough”?
This week Steelcase, a one hundred year old company that originally constructed waste paper baskets, launched its Gesture chair. The marketing of this chair is based on the discovery (?) of nine new postures in the workplace:
A most curious article about workplace bullying appeared in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on 11 September 2013. In discussing recent changes to Australia’s Fair Work Act Nick Ruskin of K&L Gates wrote about the broad definition of workplace bullying to be applied:
“…the intriguing thing is that worker is very broadly defined. Its definition, reliant on the Workplace Health & Safety Act 2011, is so wide it could even include the director of a corporation.
In other words, non-executive directors of corporations will have the same ability as a traditional worker to take a bullying grievance to the Fair Work Commission.
We could see a situation in which a company director alleges they have been bullied by another director and seeks early intervention from the Commission.” (emphasis added)
For some time the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has been plagued with accusations of bullying and harassment. A researcher began court action in 2011. An anonymous website “Victims of CSIRO” was established in 2012 and provides a timeline of disgruntlement for back as far as 2002. In May 2012, Liberal politician Sophie Mirabella, raised the issue of bullying in criticism of the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. In July 2012, Comcare issued an Improvement Notice to CSIRO following an investigation
”thoroughly reviewing the workplace systems relating to the prevention and management of bullying behaviour at CSIRO”.
In September 2012, CSIRO whistleblowers spoke of bullying. The CSIRO Staff Association reported anecdotal evidence of increased bullying and harassment in late 2012.
In August 2013 HWL Ebsworth released the independent report (the Pearce report) which, according to the CSIRO, found
“no major or widespread issues with unreasonable behaviour or bullying in CSIRO”.
How does that work? More…
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…
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.)
The 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)
“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…
Safe 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.
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…
Professor Andrew Hopkins‘ frequent appearances at safety conferences are always fascinating as he does not simply trot out the same presentation each time. He is certainly not a priest with the same 52 sermons each year.
At the Building Safety conference Hopkins spoke briefly about mindfulness but grounded this in how executives and others should inspect a worksite and what questions to ask. He discussed audits also but there will be more on that in another article.
Hopkins insisted that executives should show leadership and begin to satisfy their positive OHS duty and their due diligence obligations by walking their worksites, talking with their workers and, most importantly, listening to the answers. There are no hard and fast rules or guidelines on the frequency of these visits but he said that the executives should NOT be accompanied. Having a phalanx of execs in pristine PPE approaching a work group puts the workers on guard and makes them self-conscious. More…
The May 2013 National Safety magazine has an article on safety leadership by Australia lawyer, Michael Tooma. It is a terrific article but it also highlights the lack of case studies of the practical reality of safety leadership in Australia and the great distance still required to improve safety. Tooma starts the article with
“It is widely recognised that strong safety leadership is integral to work, health and safety performance in any organisation.” [emphasis added]
Later he writes
“There is little doubt that safety leadership is a prerequisite to a positive safety culture in any organisation.”
These equivocations may indicate authorial caution on the part of Michael Tooma but they could illustrate that the role of safety leadership still remains open to question. More…