The Safety Institute of Australia‘s (SIA) CEO David Clarke revealed his four big issues for the SIA at a recent breakfast function in Melbourne.
Clarke stated that he had instigated the creation of a National Policy Agenda for the SIA – a first for the over 60-year-old registered charity. Clarke emphasised that the SIA needed to understand the language of government, employers and unions as it relates to safety. The significance of the agenda was reinforced by Clarke who said that without such a strategy, the SIA would struggle for relevance.
Another priority was the certification of the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession in Australia. Clarke admitted that this was a controversial move but sees the establishment of a “licence to operate” as vital to increasing the status of the profession. More…
Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), in its Australian partners and as a firm, has been prominent in occupational health and safety (OHS) matters, even though the organisation is “on the nose” with much of the trade union movement. This week HSF conducted a breakfast for the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) in Melbourne, the first in a couple of years after an alleged falling out with the SIA. The presentations did not sparkle as some have in previous years.
The most anticipated presentation was from Len Neist, an executive director of WorkSafe Victoria. Neist outlined the aims of the organisation but much of this was familiar. He reiterated the obligations on WorkSafe from the various legislation and pledged to focus on prevention.
Neist is not beyond executive jargon (“risk tolerability framework” ?) and stated one of his aims was to “incentivise compliance and improvement”. One can argue that compliance should require no encouragement only enforcement. Why provide incentives to businesses for what is their legislative and moral duty? More…
Professor Michael Quinlan has a new book that focuses on lessons from recent mining disasters but, as with the best of occupational health and safety (OHS) books, it challenges orthodoxies. Some OHS consultants and experts have built careers on these orthodoxies, trends and fads, and will feel uncomfortable with the evidence put forward by Quinlan in “Ten Pathways to Death and Disaster – Learning from Fatal Incidents in Mines and Other High Hazard Workplaces“. The honesty and humanity in this book makes it an essential part of any OHS professional’s library.
Quinlan establishes an important tenet from the very start:
“… knowledge is not created in a social vacuum.” (page xi)
This simple dictum is vital to an understanding of the true causal factors on OHS decision-making. People die from OHS failures. Politicians create laws and situations that can encourage failures, increase risk and can provide a veneer of respect for heartlessness and exploitation. Business owners may feel pressured to place production before safety. Some OHS writers and advocates stop, often unconsciously, at the point where their theory or market research would fail scrutiny. Some apply critical thought only “as far as is reasonably practicable” to continue a business activity that is short-term or to sell their consultancy package to gullible or naive corporate executives.
Quinlan writes of the “political economy of safety”:
“The political economy perspective argues that safety, including workplace disasters, can only be understood in the context of the distribution of wealth and power within societies, and dominant social policy paradigms that privilege markets and profit, production or economic growth over safety.” (page 24, emphasis added)
To many readers this may sound like socialism in its mention of wealth distribution and power but such a perspective is valid even though it may be unfashionable. Such a broad perspective allows for a critical assessment of other OHS research approaches such as, for instance, the culture advocates. More…
Whether one believes that the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption is a political witch-hunt or a genuine attempt to clean up a corrupt industry sector, the Royal Commission seems to have revealed an abuse and exploitation of occupational health and safety (OHS) – an exploitation that has received next to no attention. The release of the Commission’s interim report allows for a quick analysis of this situation.
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was a particular target of the Commission in relation to a “slush fund” established by her then-boyfriend, Bruce Wilson, commonly referred to as the “AWU affair“. The “slush fund”, known as the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association, was developed, according to Gillard
“… to support the re-election of union officials who would campaign for workplace reforms including better occupational health and safety.” (Interim Report, Vol 1, page 99)
Any new book by Andrew Hopkins is a cause for excitement. The latest book co-written with Associate Professor Jan Hayes* focusses, primarily, on two pipeline disasters in the United States but has sufficient information and thoughts for those OHS professionals outside this sector and jurisdiction.
“Nightmare Pipeline Failures: Fantasy planning, black swans and integrity management” is a typically slim volume written in Plain English that benefits from the broad knowledge of its authors. Readers of Hopkins’ early books will get all of the cross-references. In some ways, this book can be seen as almost a case-study of Hopkins’ work on mindfulness and high-reliability organisation, as the themes of management perspectives, activity and decision-making occur repeatedly in this book. More…
Later this month, Victoria is conducting its regular State election. Workplace safety has not been mentioned by any of the candidates but at least one industry association has mentioned occupational health and safety in its pre-election statement. The Australian Industry Group (AiGroup) has recommended
“The next Victorian Government should immediately commit to the harmonised OHS laws as the state remains the only jurisdiction not to do so.” (page 5)
The AiGroup does not expand on the reasons for this recommendation other than seeing OHS has part of its general call for harmonisation and that it is part of “reducing costs of doing business”. SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to fill in some of the AiGroup’s reasoning by talking, exclusively, with Mark Goodsell, in the unavailability of the author of the pre-election statement, Tim Piper. More…
Next month Australia hosts the G20 but there is always a lot of activity leading to this meeting and labour relations is part of that preparation. In September 2014 the G20 conducted its Labour and Employment Ministerial meeting at which a Declaration was released that includes some occupational health and safety (OHS) information. The Declaration is full of “weasel words” and “soft verbs” but it is worth noting so that the actions of governments on OHS in the future can be referenced, even though tangible results will be few.
On promoting safer workplaces, the Declaration states:
“Improving workplace safety and health is an urgent priority that protects workers and contributes to increased productivity and growth. We agree to take further steps to reduce the substantial human and economic costs associated with unsafe workplaces and work-related illnesses. We endorse the attached G20 Statement on Safer and Healthier Workplaces (Annex C), and we commit, as appropriate, to implement its recommendations in collaboration with governments, international organisations and social partners.”
If we were to deconstruct this statement, accepting that the paragraph is extracted from the labour relations context, the Australian Government, and other parties, does not accept that OHS is an “urgent priority”, only that improving it is. Any government can prove that it is “improving” OHS even when controls are removed due to red tape reduction or by the ideological strategy of increasing employer control through increased flexibility. More…
Little of the recent commentary on the findings of the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (HIP) have mentioned the opinion of the Royal Commissioner Ian Hanger that the Australian Government acted in a “grossly negligent” manner. Such a comment deserves considerable analysis by a specialist lawyer but it remains a remarkable criticism in terms of obligations under OHS/WHS laws.
Commissioner Hanger wrote:
“To encourage inexperienced young people to work in an environment where there was a risk of defective electrical wiring, and allow them to install conductive material was, in my opinion, grossly negligent. It is no answer for the Australian Government to say that it was the responsibility of those young people’s employers to protect them.” (para 5.2.20, emphasis added)
Gross negligence has been equated to the term “reckless endangerment” included in Australia’s Work Health and Safety laws. One legal website site says that:
“Reckless endangerment is the offense of engaging in activity that has a disregard for risks with foreseeably dangerous consequences.”
Commissioner Hanger’s comments certainly seem to fit reckless endangerment as the risks, not only of electrocution but simply from working in domestic roof spaces, were well known.
SafetyAtWorkBlog has written previously about the evidence of Margaret Coaldrake to the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (HIP) given at the public hearings and also the occupational health and safety role of risk management and risk registers. The release of the Royal Commission’s final report on 1 September 2014 provides further details on a risk management process that is common to all large projects.
Commissioner Ian Hanger spent considerable time on the issue of the risk register as this was one of the crucial elements in the project’s whole decision-making process up to Ministerial level.
Commissioner Hanger was scathing of the risk management process that not only ignored the risk of worker fatalities but purposely dropped this risk from the register. He was unforgiving in his criticism of Margaret Coaldrake. He criticised her judgement. In working with her Minter Ellison colleague Eric Chalmers:
“it was up to [Coaldrake] to make sure that she and the people working with her were qualified to provide the service that Minter Ellison consultants had been retained to do.” (para 7.11.15)
“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…