CEO survey shows odd attitude to OHS Reply

Cover of AiGroup CEO Survey 2014One has to be very careful with surveys, particularly those involving business confidence or surveys of an organisation’s membership base.  These are surveys of perceptions which may not correlate with reality and may be an excuse to lobby government or set an agenda rather than determining a societal truth.  A recent example of this type of survey was produced by the Australian Industry Group entitled “Burden of Government Regulation“.  The AiGroup’s media release accompanying the report states that

“Over 83% of employers surveyed listed regulation related to industrial relations and occupational health and safety as a significant regulatory burden in 2014.”

One of the major problems with this statement and similar ones throughout the report is the lumping together of industrial relations (IR) and occupational health and safety (OHS). CEOs may perceive these issues as sufficiently compatible to be inseparable but OHS and IR issues are managed in different ways, are regulated by different government agencies and operate from different moral bases. The problem is exacerbated when reading the report itself because the 83% figure also includes workers compensation and employment costs (page 6), elements not mentioned in the media release. The problem is exacerbated when reading the report itself because the 83% figure also includes workers compensation and employment costs (page 6).

The report also seems to describe OHS consultation as consuming

“non-productive time with little practical value”!!

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GlencoreXstrata’s annual report shows more than 26 deaths 4

Last week the Australian Financial Review (AFR) brought some focus on occupational health and safety (OHS) by reporting on the most recent annual report from GlencoreXstrata in its article “Mining’s not war, why 26 deaths?” (subscription required). The article is enlightening but as important is that a business newspaper has analysed an annual report in a workplace safety context.  Curiously, although OHS is often mentioned as part of its sustainability and risk management program, safety is not seen as a financial key performance indicator, and it should be.

AFR’s Matthew Stevens wrote:

“Everybody in mining talks about ‘zero harm’ being the ultimate ambition of their health and safety programs. But talking safe and living safe are two very different things.”

GlencoreXstrata’s 2013 annual report is worth a look to both verify the AFR’s quotes but also to see the corporate context in which fatality statements are stated.  The crux of the AFR article is this statement from the Chairman’s introduction:

“It is with deep sadness that I must report the loss of 26 lives at our combined operations during 2013. Any fatality is totally unacceptable and one of the Board’s main objectives is to bring about lasting improvements to our safety culture.” (page 76)

(A curious sidenote is that the interim Chairman is Dr Anthony Howard, formally of BP and brought to prominence by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.) More…

Workplace mental health deserves more attention 1

Mental health needs in the workplace has been an evolving area of study and application and has been followed by the SafetyAtWorkBlog since its inception.  Several recent statements and reports in Australia have shown that the subject continues to be discussed but not by those who can make the substantial social change, the Government, partly due to a lack of the type of evidence needed by Government to justify the change.

Mental Health is the core element of almost all the contemporary workplace hazards that are categorised as psychosocial.  This includes stress, bullying, fatigue, suicide, work/life balance, and many more.  Each of these categories are important but most reporting and a lot of the health promotion initiatives in the workplace focus on the manifestation of mental health instead of the source.

On February 21 2014 the chair of the Mental Health Council of Australia (MHCA),  Jennifer Westacott, spoke about mental health and the workplace.  Westacott is authoritative in her presentation but approaches workplace mental health from the same perspective as many others in this sector – the integration of mental health into the workplace rather than looking at the mental ill-health that workplaces can create.   More…

Citi Research report provides insight into Australian corporate safety performance 5

On 29 January 2014 Australia’s Fairfax newspapers published an article called “Safety performances at Australia’s top companies is serious business” written by Adele Ferguson.  The article is based on an analysis by Citi Research of the safety performance of companies listed in Australia’s ASX100 share index.  Citi Research (Citi) has kindly provided SafetyAtWorkBlog with a copy of this report developed for its fund manager and superfund clients.  It is a terrific reference document providing a useful insight to the OHS performance of prominent Australian corporations.  It cannot be definitive but we know of nothing else like it in Australia.

In the Fairfax article Ferguson wrote:

“While safety is a complex issue largely due to the fact that safety records are difficult to measure and difficult to compare across companies and industries, it is an important area to explore. For starters, it is a good proxy for the way a company deals with staff and manages risk more generally.”

Safety does not have to be complex but the measurement of safety performance can be as, even though there is a (dreadfully outdated) Australian Standard for measuring OHS performance, companies tweak the existing measures and the principal measurement, the Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR), has been found to be a flawed indicator.  LTIFR is tolerated as a measurement simply because a better alternative has not been developed or widely accepted.

The Citi Research report lists LTIFRs for most of the 117 companies but it balances this with almost as many Total Recordable Injury Frequency Rates (TRIFR).   More…

Interesting new appointment at South Australia’s Master Builders 11

Modern workers rarely stay in jobs longer than six or seven years because they choose to move on or are working on projects that have a short lifespan. Sometimes opportunities arise that can steer people in unpredictable directions, sometimes to positions of influence.  One example of this type of journey could be Ian Markos.

One newspaper recently wrote:

“The recently appointed director of policy for the SA branch of the MBA, Ian Markos, said a “nanny state” approach was stifling job creation. “There’s a raft of laws and regulations. You’ve got employment laws, you’ve got taxation laws, you’ve got environmental laws, you’ve got work health and safety laws, local council regulations. We’re saying enough is enough,” he said.”

Criticism of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws is not surprising from the Master Builders Association but Ian Markos was with South Australia’s OHS regulator, SafeWorkSA, for many years (with a once-only appearance on Gardening Australia) as the Chief Officer, Compliance, Advisory, Legal and Investigations. More…

Serious questions raised about the effectiveness of OHS enforcement strategies 2

Richard Johnstone is always worth reading as he writes perceptively about occupational health and safety (OHS) and its enforcement.  The new book from Baywood PublishingSafety or Profit” provides a chapter by Johnstone that argues:

“…that despite the rhetoric of stronger enforcement and more robust prosecution, the dominant ideology of work health and safety enforcement – ambivalence about whether work health and safety offenses are “really criminal” and viewing prosecution as a “last resort” in the enforcement armory – still dominates the approach of Australian work health and safety regulators.” (page 113)

The importance of Johnstone’s chapter is that he reminds us that much of the current OHS debate is circular and limited and fails to question the soft enforcement strategy that has existed since the Robens Committee recommendations in the 1970s. More…

Moral conflicts in store for Australian politicians and bureaucrats 1

iStock_000016528694XSmall2014 is going to present tough challenges to Australia’s politicians and corporate leaders.  The Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program, in particular, is going to illustrate and perhaps generate ideological conflict.

The Home Insulation Program (HIP) was established quickly to address a looming economic crisis.  Politicians and business leaders wanted Australia to avoid the global recession and they needed creative solutions.  Various importance governance and safety elements appear to have been sacrificed to achieve the economic ends.  In 2014, the politicians of the time and bureaucrats will be grilled over why they made these decisions.  Various inquiries have already identified that these decisions contributed to the deaths of four young workers.  In 2014, these decision- and policy-makers will be held to account for the fatal consequences of their economic decisions.

There has long been a conflict between the pursuit of profit and the pursuit of safe working conditions.  The Royal Commission, and the surrounding debate, is likely to place this conflict squarely in the highest levels of Australia’s government and public service.  Below are some of the issues that the Australian government and business sector are likely to face in 2014. More…

Canberra gets its first Industrial Magistrate for OHS matters Reply

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.

Kevin Jones

Safety in the C Suite doesn’t always run smoothly Reply

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…

Lovely chair that helps greatly but is only part of the solution 2

Figure 4A 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:

More…