There seems to be an increasing trend for the principles of occupational health and safety (OHS) to be applied to matters outside the workplace. OHS principles were created to reflect the values of society in the 1970s and 80s and, although the laws have changed to reflect economic needs, the principles remain basically the same. A major legal change has been the move away from preventing harm “at the source” to one of reasonable practicability and this can reduce the overall level of safety available to workers and others.
It is interesting to note that statements on the current Ebola outbreak argue the sense in dealing with the outbreak “at the source”. Why do we accept a reasonably practicable control measure for harm at work but expect a stronger preventative measure for public health threats? Shouldn’t we be aiming to reduce all harm “at the source” regardless of the type of harm? More…
On 27 October 2014 the Safety Institute of Australia, with the support of RMIT University conducted a seminar on safety in the construction industry. As with the event last year the issue of Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) dominated the conversation. The same frustrations were expressed as last year – SWMS are too big and complex, they are demanded for tasks they are not legislatively required for, they are rarely read, they are rarely reviewed and they are written only in English. What was missing was an indication of who is (over)demanding SWMS and why.
The seminar contained one client representative experienced in major construction projects who said that he was not directly involved with SWMS as the contract demands only that work is undertaken safely with predetermined levels of risk and reward. That level of safety may or may not involve the use of SWMS - SWMS were not prescribed.
He did not review SWMS unless there was a specific reason and most of the time there was not. It could be argued that too much involvement by the client in how the project is to be completed implies a shared OHS responsibility with the client, changing the client/contractor relationship.
One construction industry representative said that they have been able to reduce the number of SWMS to around twenty types for each of the active construction projects. This has been achieved by limiting the SWMS to the 19 high risk tasks identified in safety legislation. It was significant that this perspective came from the top-level of construction companies, the Tier Ones. More…
Twelve months ago, some Australia media, including this blog, began reporting on safety concerns raised by the Working At Heights Association (WAHA) about the reliability and suitability of anchor points. Australia is currently in the middle of Safe Work Australia Month and there seems to have been little progress on the issue. A reader of SafetyAtWorkBlog provided the following summary and update of the situation:
Who checks the true safety of equipment designed to save the lives of Australian workers? Nobody in particular, it seems.
Last September, the Working At Heights Association, an industry body staffed by volunteers, revealed many of the most commonly-used roof anchors failed to meet basic safety standards. Almost a year later, the association is still battling to see rooftops made safe, despite repeated appeals for action from the OHS regulators and the absence of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
An estimated 800,000 Australians work at height and routinely clip their harnesses onto safety anchors. A worker falls to his or her death every 12 days and WAHA chairman Michael Biddle said authorities should be concerned. Biddle told Industry Update magazine
“It’s the third highest cause of death in the workplace after motor vehicle accidents and being hit by moving objects. In most cases, regulators are more concerned in taking a reactive approach after an accident has happened. There is a great need for an enhanced level of enforcement. If we had an increase in penalties and stronger enforcement of standards I’m sure we would see a higher level of compliance by industry.”
Macquarie University researcher Sharron O’Neill is traveling around Australia refining, through consultation and seminars, her research into Work Health and Safety (WHS) Due Diligence. In a Melbourne seminar this week O’Neill, and her colleague, Karen Wolfe, provided thought-provoking discussions on three principal areas:
- Due Diligence,
- Performance Indicators, and
Below are some of my thoughts that they provoked.
WHS Due Diligence
WHS Due Diligence is still a poorly understood concept. Part of the reason is that the major explainers of due diligence seem to be, predominantly, labour lawyers who, not surprisingly, emphasis the legal requirements and origins rather than the safety elements and application. There are few safety professionals who are explaining due diligence; rather they are discussing OHS/WHS in the context of due diligence.
One colleague explained how an established organisation employed her as their first dedicated OHS professional around the same time as due diligence was being discussed as part of the national OHS harmonisation process. By looking through the company’s existing system of work, More…
WorkSafe Victoria has been reviewing a series of enforcement and prosecution policies for some time. One of these policies set for re-issue relates specifically to the publication of prosecutorial information through its website and media releases and, although the “new” policy is not yet available, it may be worth remembering the previous policy, last revised in 2005.
WorkSafe Victoria’s “Supplementary Enforcement and Prosecution Policy on Publishing Prosecution Outcomes and Other Enforcement Information and Data” (no longer available on-line) says that
“WorkSafe will release media statements and authorised representatives will grant media interviews, as appropriate, to the print, electronic, and/or broadcast media.” (original emphasis)
The reason behind this mode of dissemination, and others, is outlined elsewhere in the policy: More…
In late March 2014, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) was fined $A1.25 million over a violent dispute at the Emporium construction site that occurred in 2012. In its media release about the fine, the CFMEU’s state secretary, John Setka, says:
“The protest at the Myer site in 2012 was about safety.”
Yes and no. The dispute was about the representation of workers on safety matters, which is a different thing. Setka goes on:
“Building workers need someone on site who genuinely represents their interests, and that doesn’t happen when that person is hand-picked by the boss.”
The core issue in this dispute seems to be that the CFMEU will not accept the Health and Safety Representatives (HSR) chosen by the workforce at the Emporium site, which is being built by Grocon P/L. The CFMEU has its own HSRs that it believes will better represent the workforce on OHS matters.
The dispute represents an ideological dispute that seems more about unionism and industrial relations than about safety, but worker safety may still be the lose.
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Anyone dealing with occupational health and safety (OHS), or in any profession, knows to be careful with one’s words in public. This is particularly so when one is dealing with mental health issues or claims of workplace bullying. This week Senator Eric Abetz, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, seems to have overstepped the mark by misrepresenting some Federal Court Orders as related to workplace bullying, when the Court made no such statement. This could simply be dismissed as political hyperbole in the heat of the moment but this was no off-the-cuff remark. He headlined his media release on 13 March 2014 as:
“Joe McDonald found guilty of workplace bullying – yet again. Bill Shorten must now act”.
According to Safe Work Australia, an organisation within Senator Abetz’s portfolio, workplace bullying is defined in the most recent national guide as
“repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.” (page 2)
Nowhere in the Federal Court orders* is workplace bullying, or any other bullying, mentioned and the Federal Court has not found Joe McDonald guilty of workplace bullying. The best that can be said is that Joe McDonald has a history of intimidation on construction sites and that this has created tense relations between the workforce and employers (perhaps a confused safety culture) and generated delays in construction.
Does this all matter? Yes More…
WorkSafe NZ has released “best practice guidelines” on workplace bullying. Best practice is a nonsense term but this guide is a major step above similar guides in Australia, in particular.
Guides always begin with definitions and the definition New Zealand has applied is the same as that in the recently released Australian workplace bullying guide but with a couple of odd semantic differences. These variations should not have any effect on organisational changes required to prevent bullying but the variations are curious. Australia describes “unreasonable behaviour” the actions that generate the bullying as:
“… behaviour that a reasonable person, having considered the circumstances, would see as unreasonable, including behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.”
New Zealand’s definition is:
“…. actions that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would see as unreasonable. It includes victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening a person.”
Is there a difference between actions and behaviours? More…
Recently the UK’s Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) released its second white paper on safety culture. This paper is called “Making the Case for Culture” and outlines the three arguments for a workplace safety culture – legal, moral and financial – from which a safety business case can be built. Financial seems to get the most attention but this is perhaps because it is the element that is argued the least and the one that can get the greatest attention from company executives.
The document seems a little thin but it could be put that the simplicity of the presentation in a booklet designed to provide safety culture guidance is an advantage. It could also be argued that it is primarily a promotional pamphlet for the HSL’s very useful safety climate tool .
A guest post by Carl Sachs
The revised Australian Standard AS1657 for fixed ladders, platforms and walkways released in October 2013 plugs some serious holes. Guard rails made of rubber, for example, are now explicitly unacceptable.
While absurd, rubber guard rails technically complied with the 21-year-old AS1657 and the example shows just how sorely an update was needed.
Four big changes to AS1657
The biggest changes to AS1657 concern selection, labelling, guardrail testing and the design of fixed ladders. More…