Every year, around this time, the mainstream media reports on the findings of employee surveys of the Victorian public service. Each year the statistics on workplace bullying are featured. (The Age newspaper reported on the latest survey on 31 March 2013.) But the approach to an understanding of workplace bullying has changed over the last fifteen years or so. A brief look at the March 2001 Issues Paper on workplace bullying, released by the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA), is useful to illustrate the degree of change but also the origin of some of the contemporary hazard control themes.
The VWA Issues Paper was always intended to lead to a formal Code of Practice but due to belligerence from various industry bodies, no code eventuated and Victoria had to make do with a guidance note. This effectively banished workplace bullying to a nice-to-manage rather than an essential element of modern management. Significantly, Safe Work Australia intends to release a model Code of Practice on workplace bullying shortly. Perhaps the employer associations’ attitudes have mellowed. Perhaps it is the decline of trade union influence since 2001.
The Issues Paper roughly defines workplace bullying as:
“…aggressive behaviour that intimidates, humiliates and/or undermines a person or group.” More…
In November 2012, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government released “Getting Home Safely“, a damning report written by Lynette Briggs and Mark McCabe, into the safety culture and performance of that territory’s building and construction industry. But the Master Builders Association of the ACT has rejected several recommendations and questioned many others, yet refuses to release the evidence that it is assumed would support their position.
In February 2013, ACT’s Minister for Workplace Safety and Industrial Relations, Simon Corbell, accepted all 27 recommendations of the report, much to the surprise of some of us. Corbell said in his media release that
“It is no longer acceptable for people in the construction industry to say there are safety issues in construction sites and then do nothing about them. This report compels unions, employers and government to stand up and actively promote a culture where everyone looks out for their mates, and everyone can go home safely every day…”
“As the report highlights, this is not simply an issue for Government. Safety is an issue for every person on a construction site with principal contractors, sub-contractors, workers, unions and the Regulator all working together.
“The Government expects employers and unions to demonstrate leadership on this issue.”
Safety Leadership or Conspiracy Theory
Today the Master Builders Association of the ACT released its response to “Getting Home Safely” (the Gower review). That response indicates that not all Minister Corbell’s expectations are going to be met with the MBA. In some ways this confirms many of the concerns in the report. More…
Occupational health and safety has many examples of addressing small or short-term issues rather than facing the difficult and hard, but more sustainable, control measures. I was reminded of this by a recent media statement from the United States Chemical Safety Board (CSB) in relation to fatigue management.
In 2007 the CSB recommended that, following the Texas City refinery fire,
“the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the United Steelworkers International Union (USW) jointly lead the development of an ANSI consensus standard with guidelines for fatigue prevention in the refinery and petrochemical industries.” [links added]
The progress of API and USW in developing the 2010 ANSI-approved Recommended Practice 755 (RP 755) has been reviewed by the CSB staff and they have found the following disturbing problems:
- “The document was not the result of an effective consensus process, and therefore does not constitute a tool that multiple stakeholders in the industry can “own.” It was not balanced in terms of stakeholder interests and perspectives, and did not sufficiently incorporate or take into account the input of experts from other industry sectors that have addressed fatigue risks. More…
It is common to use a self-commissioned survey to market one’s services but sometimes the evidence does not support some of the marketing statements. The latest survey by St John Ambulance is a good example of this.
According to St John Ambulance’s media release on 13 March 2013:
“Only 13 per cent of Australian workplaces know how to keep their employees safe according to new research released … by … St John Ambulance Australia.”
This is reworded in the report (page 2) as
“…only 13% of Australian businesses are compliant with the new [First Aid in the Workplace Code of Practice]’s requirements…”
The survey sample does not support the generalisations above. More…
Recently a safety professional told me he was investigating an incident on a work site and asked his first question “What do you think caused the incident?” The response was “safety culture”. Of course the next question will always be “what do you mean by safety culture?” and in most cases at this point the investigation will stall.
All workplaces have a safety culture, it is just that most are dysfunctional or immature. In many workplaces, incident causes are handballed to this poorly understood concept of which most take as the latest iteration of “an act of God” or an SEP – “someone else’s problem”.
Safety regulators need to break the use of safety culture as an excuse by developing codes of practice on how to introduce and build an effective safety culture in Australian workplaces.
Today WorkSafe Victoria launches a new return-to-work campaign which will use Paralympian Jack Swift as the “face” of the campaign. The campaign is sure to be successful but the increasing focus of safety regulators on return-to-work (RTW) may illustrate a growing trend where rehabilitation policy strategies are gaining priority over injury prevention. Yet innovative approaches to injury prevention provide the greatest potential for personal, economic and social savings.
In 2001 WorkCover NSW began its Paralympian Sponsorship Program, a program that continues. The advantage of the New South Wales program is that it features a range of incident scenarios and, most importantly, the paralympians speak about “workplace safety, injury prevention and management and their personal road to recovery, return to work.” (emphasis added) This broad, multi-category approach seems to be missing from the new Victorian campaign. More…
Vaughan Bowie is an Australian academic who has chosen workplace violence as his major area of interest. Bowie came to general prominence earlier this century with several books and his contribution to the WorkcoverNSW guidance on workplace violence.
His research has taken him to look at “organisational violence” and in October 2012, he addressed the 3rd International Conference on Violence in Healthcare (the proceedings are available HERE) on the topic in a presentation called “Understanding organizational violence: The missing link in resolving workplace violence?”
Bowie writes, in the conference proceedings (Page 155), that
“Initially much of the workplace violence (WPV) prevention and management responses focused on criminal violence from outside organizations. At the same time there was also a growing concern about service user violence on staff especially in the human services area. A later stage of this development was a growing recognition of relational violence at work. This includes staff-on-staff violence and aggression, bullying, horizontal violence, sexual harassment and domestic violence.
Models based on these areas of WPV have been developed by the International Labor Organisation (ILO), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Injury Prevention Research Center (IPRC) and the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) and other regulatory bodies. This presentation will show that the current models and responses based on these types of WPV are inadequate and ineffective because they largely ignore the fact that organizational culture and management style have a direct contributory effect on the types of violence experienced by employees, third parties, and service users. The findings demonstrate that what at first appears to be criminal, service user or relational violence at work may in fact be the outcome of a type of ‘upstream’ organizational violence trickling down in a toxic way triggering further violence.” (emphasis and links added) More…
On 30 November 2012, SAI Global announced a commercial arrangement with SafetyCulture for the sale of generic Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS), particularly for high-risk industries. This has caused something of a stir with some Australian safety professionals who claim that this runs contrary to good safety practice. The controversy of SWMS in Australia is a hot topic and one that is unlikely to be resolved soon, as it goes to the heart of some of the safety red-tape objections from the business sector.
SAI Global announced:
“SAI Global Limited (ASX: SAI) has signed a distribution agreement with SafetyCulture Pty Ltd one of Australia’s leading providers of Occupational, Health and Safety information and materials, to publish and sell their “Safe Work Method Statements”.
These Safe Work Method Statements, developed by SafetyCulture, are templates documenting procedures and methods for safely executing common tasks and operations on construction sites.
These templates cover a wide range of potentially dangerous tasks and activities which:
- Save construction companies time and effort drafting various OH&S procedures for different applications.
- Are available in Word format and can be easily tailored to meet the requirements for specific construction sites.
- Are based on industry expertise and latest OH&S best-practice for high-risk construction work.”
SafetyAtWorkBlog has written previously about the commercial situation and strategy of SAI Global and its relationship with Standards Australia. SAI Global has always been a commercial organisation that has marketed the work undertaken by Standards Australia. This has never sat well with many safety professionals as some, including SafetyAtWorkBlog, have argued that any Standards referenced in workplace safety legislation should be free or at a reduced cost due to their role in preventing incidents and harm. More…
In 2012, the Victorian Government introduced a construction industry compliance code intended to control industrial relations in that industry sector. Significantly, this Code included specific work health and safety (WHS) obligations. On 6 December 2012. the New South Wales Government, led by the Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell proposed a similar code with exactly the same WHS obligations.
In Premier O’Farrell’s media release, the Minister for Industrial Relations Mike Baird made no mention of the WHS obligations. The statement focuses on containing wages, controlling potential cost blowouts on infrastructure projects and, without mention it by name, productivity. Minister Baird missed a golden opportunity to argue both the economic and moral positions; an opportunity that was not missed by the Victorian Minister for Finance Robert Clark when he announced his State’s construction compliance code in July 2012. More…
Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying has released its report that includes 23 recommendations and a dissenting report from the Coalition (conservative) committee members.
The first recommendation that most will look forward is the latest workplace bullying definition. The committee suggests:
“repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety”.
This is no great shake from most of the previous definitions but illustrates further the isolation of Victoria from nationally harmonised work health and safety laws as WorkSafe Victoria’s preferred definition is
“… persistent and repeated negative behaviour directed at an employee that creates a risk to health and safety.”
Regardless of which definition is “better”, Victoria will be further out-of-sync.
The Committee also recommends the Government
“develop a national advisory service that provides practical and operational advice on what does and does not constitute workplace bullying..”
This is sorely needed and will relieve State OHS regulators of the pressure and the resources. No timeline is mentioned but it is likely that the Federal Government will move to establish such a service quickly, as the recommendation is not surprising.
However, the opposition political mantra for any government initiative is how it will be funded. More…