One of the professional disciplines that has had the biggest impact on occupational health and safety (OHS) management in Australia has been sociology but that influence seems to be waning as it fails to compete with the managerial imperative of short-termism and the quick fix.
This demand for a quick fix is partly a result of the increased sensitivity to reputational damage of both the organisation and the executive. This can be seen by the increasing attention to apparent solutions to safety problems of the individual worker, for instance, resilience training which is primarily about the individual toughening up. Neuroplasticity has entered OHS by saying that the individual can reconfigure their brain to, somehow, work more safely. Of course, the ultimate short-term solution to most workplace problems has existed for years – sack the worker.
All of this denies the organisational influence on workers, managers and executives because organisational change is hard and it takes time, both are challenges that do not fit with modern expectations of business.
One of the clearest examples of the inability or unwillingness of executives to improve OHS through organisational change is the management of workplace bullying. More…
On 28 April 2015, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, the Legislative Assembly of the Tasmanian Parliament discussed the significance of that day as a Matter of Public Importance. The discussion cannot be described as a debate but it does provide some insight to the ideologies of the political parties in that Parliament, which is almost a microcosm of Australian politics, and the general quality of understanding of occupational health and safety (OHS) management.
One of the fundamental pieces of information for such a day would be an accurate number of workplace fatalities. The Leader of the Opposition, Bryan Green (Australian Labor Party), made a basic faux pas by stating that the total number of workplace fatalities for 2014 was 44 when the figure was for deaths occurring in 2015 (the official figure for 2015 is now 51). Later that evening, he corrected himself saying that this did not change his argument about the importance of inspectors but it does, and it was embarrassing.
Green listed the number of inspectors lost from Workplace Standards (WorkSafe Tasmania), Tasmania’s OHS regulator. The inspection capacity of an OHS regulator is relevant to any discussion on OHS but Green overstates the role of the regulator, as most Labor Party and trade union speakers do. OHS and Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws clearly state it is the employer of Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) who has the principal OHS duty. Workers have a similar responsibility. The regulator is not a dutyholder for anyone other than its own employees according to WorkSafe Tasmania’s Guide to WHS Act. More…
How language can change in only a little time! Earlier this month, SafetyAtWorkBlog wrote on the OHS context of the departure of Orica’s CEO, Ian Smith. In a liftout (not available online) in the Australian Financial Review, many of the same questions were asked by its Chanticleer columnist, Tony Boyd. The issues raised by the poor decisions of the board are a useful reminder of one of the potential contributory factors for the occupational and mental health of employees.
At last, one writer in the business press is describing Smith’s behaviour as it was – “…aggressive verbal, foul-mouthed abuse” when Smith “blew his top” and “humiliated” an employee.
This is much more direct language than that used in earlier media reporting where the carefully selected language of corporate media releases was reiterated. To understand the seriousness of the issue, it is necessary to describe actions accurately.
“…why a 21st-century board of directors would deliberately seek a CEO with an “aggressive management style”.
How different can occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators be? A review into WorkSafe Victoria was announced in February 2015 but the review into its equivalent in South Australia, SafeWorkSA, is more progressed and has released a public discussion paper entitled “Transforming Work Health and Safety Performance“. Its suggestions should be noted by James Mackenzie the reviewer of WorkSafe Victoria.
Maybe not surprising to many, the future is a reworking of the past. More…
Many OHS professionals state that leadership is a crucial element to establishing a safety culture and then support this with examples of positive leadership. But some people fail at leadership and failure is often more instructional than success. Recently the CEO of Orica, Ian Smith, had to resign after his abusive manner resulted in the resignations of two employees. This is bad enough but when the Board hired Smith around three years earlier, the Board saw his manner as attractive. If leadership is crucial to a safety culture, what does this say about Orica’s decisions?
The Chanticleer column of the Australian Financial Review (AFR) wrote on March 24 2015 (paywalled):
“The board’s determination to have Smith shake Orica to its foundations was so great it allowed him to destroy staff engagement and walk all over the company’s culture of mutual respect. What is so bewildering about this deliberately aggressive and occasionally bullying change management strategy is that it was endorsed by a range of respected non-executive directors…..”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has spoken publicly about the removal of the CEO and Chair of WorkSafe Victoria describing them as liars and incompetent. As Jon Faine pointed out in the radio interview, the Premier has established a high level of accountability. Hopefully this results in an increased diligence on OHS matters by government departments and authorities.
The Industrial Relations Minister in the Andrews Government, Robin Scott, was a regular critic of WorkSafe’s operations and decisions while in Opposition and it is no surprise that he went hard on the CEO, Denise Cosgrove, at least. More…
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)