“Due diligence” is an established business management concept that only recently came to be applied to occupational health and safety (OHS) in Australia through the Work Health and Safety (WHS) harmonisation process. It’s credibility comes from the Corporations Act, principally, but also Consumer Protection and, partly, Environmental laws.
The attention given by OHS/WHS professionals and senior executives to due diligence is already changing how workplace safety is managed in a positive way but recently the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) proposed weakening the broad due diligence obligations. If this proposal is accepted and implemented by the Australian Government that is sympathetic to business, could these changes diminish the growing attention to OHS/WHS due diligence? More…
It is very common to hear people say that the core motivation for introducing or improving workplace safety management is to cover one’s arse (to protect oneself from various legislative and reputational exposures), be that the collective arse of management, the board and executives or the arse of the individual worker. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the intention occupational health and safety (OHS) laws and principles yet the fear of reputational damage is a strong motivator of change with which safety professionals should learn to work and, perhaps, exploit, particularly as the traditional methods for corporate embarrassment, the media, are declining.
The most pertinent research on reputation risk as a motivator for OHS change seems to come from the UK’s Health and Safety Executive in 2005. In a summary report on research into compliance, HSE looked at the motivations of employers for change. It found that reputational damage was one of many motivators and that each was given around the same weight in deliberations but that
“Respondents cite newspaper reports covering serious incidents and requirement to advise customers of incidents as the best way of increasing risk of reputational damage, followed by a requirement to report health and safety in company reports. ” ( page 10)
This change catalyst relies on two increasingly fragile criteria – the media and annual reports. The media has rarely reported on OHS issues unless the incident
- has caused major disruption
- involves a high profile individual or company
- involves children
- can be given a party political context.
In 2013 the Safety Science journal allowed open access to an article that discusses “The case for research into the zero accident vision” (ZAV). The terminology is slightly different but seems compatible with the “zero harm” trend occurring in Australia. The authors acknowledge that
“…. many companies with a good safety reputation have adopted a zero accident vision, yet there is very little scientific research in this field.” (link added)
Although the discussion revolves around experience in Finland and Finland has a unique culture, the concepts discussed are indicative of the ZAV:
- “accounting for complex contexts;
- setting up norms, rules and performance indicators;
- identifying the role of safety climate and safety culture;
- studying human behavior.”
The authors’ short discussion of context is important as it acknowledges the state of knowledge of hazards and advocates systemic analysis. It also mentions dealing with ‘normal accidents” in complex settings that leads to either looking for safer substitutes or ‘high reliability theory’ and ‘resilience engineering’. Context is vital but there is also the trap of paying too much attention to context and not enough to the hazard, a situation that can often happen with wellbeing programs. More…
When people mention safety, they are often really talking about risk. In a similar way, people talk about the absurdity of ‘elf ‘n’ safety when they actually mean public liability or food safety or HACCP. And when some professionals talk about risk management they mean minimising the cost to the employer or controlling reputational damage.
Recently two books were released that illustrate the limitations of the current Western/patriarchal society’s approach to workplace safety. Dr Dean Laplonge has written about gender and its role in making decisions and Dr Rob Long has written his third book on risk “Real Risk – Human Discerning and Risk“. Both deserve close reading and that reading should be used to analyse how safety professionals conduct their work, the organisational environment in which they work and the cultural restrictions imposed in their technical education.
Laplonge has written a book out of the extensive research and training on gender issues in the mining industry. “So you think you’re tough? – Getting serious about gender in mining” provokes thoughts and self-analysis about gender in the workplace and safety management systems. This perspective may be part of the reason that attempts at changing safety cultures, particularly in industries where there is a strong gender imbalance – construction, mining, emergency services, nursing, teaching, struggle. (For those who cannot purchase the book, check out this free publication on the topic from the WA Department of Mines and Petroleum) More…
At a recent seminar an HSE Manager of a large Australian company revealed that the company has dropped its support of “triple certification” – external certification to safety, quality and environmental standards. This caused a murmur in the audience as external certification has long been seen as an unavoidable element (and cost) of operating a large business. The HSE Manager explained that the company had assessed all of the resources it provides for certification in light of the benefits it receives and determined that the company could still do well without the external certification.
Certification has been considered as a public and commercial statement of good business management. Certification is also required as a minimum requirement to qualify for tenders for government works. But certification has also been seen as a costly and disruptive burden. This perception has strengthened as new regulators have imposed compliance requirements that are usually satisfied through external or third-party audits. This auditing complexity has sometimes been mentioned in the context of the “red tape” debate. More…
The Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) recently uploaded a swag of videos to YouTube, ostensibly, to promote its upcoming conference. One video asks if it is harder or easier to inspire leadership on OHS matters. Most speakers believe it is easier because:
- there is a stronger social expectation of higher safety standards,
- managing people is more inclusive,
- technology allows more effective communication,
- leaders are coaches,
- people have a greater awareness of how to be safe.
Some believe it is harder because:
- it is more difficult to have faith in corporate leaders,
- companies have a more complex structure of accountability and responsibility,
- there is greater cynicism of corporate leaders due to the GFC in 2007.
One speaker at IOSH’s upcoming conference says “It’s easier but it isn’t easy” acknowledging past improvements and future challenges.
The IOSH videos are promoting the conference but there is food for thought in all of them. Conferences in Australia have tried similar teaser ads (some including the author) for conferences but not to the extent that IOSH has through YouTube. As safety conferences seem to be fading in both length and influence in Australia, such videos will become rarer but, as with rarity, the content may become more valuable.
One 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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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…
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…
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…