Last week the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) released a review of the WorkHealth program. The results are very positive and deserve detailed analysis. However these analyses do not seem to address all the expectations of the Victorian Government when the program was launched several years ago.
Premier John Brumby said at the launch of WorkHealth that
“Over time the program is expected to free up $60 million per year in health costs, as well as:
- Cut the proportion of workers at risk of developing chronic disease by 10 per cent;
- Cut workplace injuries and disease by 5 per cent, putting downward pressure on premiums;
- Cut absenteeism by 10 per cent; and
- Boost productivity by $44 million a year.”
One of the key findings of the research seems to meet two of the program’s aims:
“Modelling of outcome forecast goals for a 10% reduction in absenteeism and a 5% reduction in compensable injury rates are likely to be met, especially as health promotion program uptake increases.” (page 5)
It is reasonable to expect from a 4-5 year study of hundreds of thousands of work health checks that hard data be obtained but as the quote above reveals, the researchers needed to apply modelling and draw on research from other sources. More…
Today Australia hosts a No2Bullying conference. It is a timely conference as the debate on Australia’s changes to the Fair Work Act in relation to workplace bullying heats up.
Lawyer Josh Bornstein is particularly critical of the politicisation of the amendments and believes this increases the instability or remedies available to victims of workplace bullying by increasing pressure on under-resourced OHS regulators.
The amendments are unlikely to reduce the incidence of workplace bullying in Australia as they address post-incident circumstances.
As the new legislation is being passed through Parliament, the industrial relations, political and legal context will dominate the media, More…
The Australian Government has released its report into a review of its national workers’ compensation scheme, Comcare, and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (SRC) Act. Some of the media (and politicians), as it often does, has focused on the seemingly absurd compensation claims. Few cases have gained the same degree of national and international attention as the sex case for instance, and although most workers’ compensation reports focus on post-incident treatments, there is a glimmer of hope on occupational health and safety (OHS) in this latest review.
The report, the latest undertaken by Peter Hanks QC, states that one of the guiding principles of the SRC Act should be an acknowledgement that
“The benefit and premium structure should promote incident prevention and reduce risk of loss.” (page 25)
This would be a wonderful benchmark to apply but is likely to be overshadowed by the compensation and rehabilitation issues of the review, unless OHS professionals and practitioners continue to remind regulators that prevention is better than cure.
Peter Hanks admits in a 2012 video interview on his review that injury prevention is not part of the terms of reference but there are elements of his report that require serious consideration by OHS professionals in consultation with their Human Resources (HR) colleagues. More…
I’ve frequently observed a manner of bullying not easily described, a below the surface iceberg of bullying. It can range from a parent relentlessly nagging a child with “You don’t love me”, to a manager at work asking a worker – with a fixed grin, “Don’t you love me anymore, matey?” whilst requesting (always with good humour) a dangerous task to be done, for the good of The Team. It’s here that language and gestures are used as instruments of camouflage.
A permanent tone of obligation is present, constructed on illusions marketed locally as axioms of behaviour: “We’re a team, Team, aren’t we Team?!”, “Our first concern is the H&S of our employees”, “They are our most important resource”, “We take their safety issues most seriously”, “Nothing comes before that”. This is a hybrid form of insidious double bind, but much more subtle than ‘You‘re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t’. It’s a single theme with regular pin pricks often generating permanent anxiety and learnt helplessness.
I have seen workers completely worn out by it. They are silently humiliated and angry because the truth of the matter is never exposed. I’ve seen them sitting quietly eating their lunch surrounded by fancy documents in thin frames or dutifully laminated for posterity: The Corporate OHS Policy, The Family Support Policy, The Anti-Discrimination Policy; The Anti-Bullying Policy; The Fatigue Policy. More…
The Victorian Workcover Authority’s (VWA) WorkHealth program is coming to the end of its five-year life. But what is the way forward? Has the $A600 million program achieved its aims?
Aims and Results
VWA’s annual report for 2008 (page 33) stated the following aims for WorkHealth, reiterated in the WorkHealth Strategic Framework 2010-12 (page 1):
“Over the long term, the program aims to:
- cut the proportion of workers at risk of developing chronic disease by 10%
- cut workplace injuries and disease by 5%, putting downward pressure on premiums
- cut absenteeism by 10%.
These goals aim to drive productivity and reduce health expenditure that is associated with chronic disease.”
None of VWA’s annual reports since 2008 have included any mention of these benchmarks. More…
Several years ago, a WorkSafe Victorian executive saw “reasonably practicable” as a major legal advantage in safety regulation. It is of legal benefit, but does it make workplaces safer? Does it make it easier to manage workplace safety? In this time of economic austerity and the pursuit of red tape reductions, can the “reasonably practicable” elements of Australia safety law be an impediment to safety management?
Employers have always seen legislative compliance as the equivalent of being safe. This position seems sensible because if the safety police of the OHS regulator leave you alone after a site visit and say you are compliant, your workplace must be safe. The safety experts have visited and found nothing wrong, it is logical to then assume safety.
Here’s a radical thought – compliance ≠ safety. Never has and never will.
This will be a shock for many businesses, and even a shock for many OHS regulators, because so much workplace safety strategy is based a flawed logic that “if I comply with workplace safety laws, I am safe”. Regardless of OHS laws, there is a moral social duty to look after the safety and welfare of one’s workers and oneself. When values become codified in law, the law becomes the value, and the moral duty becomes historical.
Seeking justice through the court system is everyone’s right but sometimes court action is more newsworthy than normal and sometimes the media is used in conjunction with legal actions. Either way, any court action, particularly on personal matters such as sexual harassment or workplace bullying will be a stressful activity. The workplace safety context of a recent political scandal in Australia involving the Speaker of the House of Representatives Peter Slipper, and an employee, James Ashby, have not been discussed. A summary of, or commentary on, the Ashby/Slipper scandal can be found HERE.
The judgement by Justice Steven Rares in the December 2012 legal proceedings of Ashby v Commonwealth of Australia (No 4)  FCA 1411, provides a salient lesson for those considering taking legal action over a work-related issue, such as sexual harassment, workplace bullying or other psychosocial matter.
Ashby-Slipper and OHS
The Ashby-Slipper sexual harassment proceedings have a legitimate OHS context, reminiscent of the 2009 political scandal involving Godwin Grech. Although occupational health and safety was not overtly stated by Justice Rares it is briefly discussed in the judgement. It is useful to consider these matters in a similar context to recent issues on workplace bullying. More…
Yesterday Australia’s Fairfax Media reported on a “policy” supposedly being applied in the Western Australia resources sector by Chevron Australia that requires workers to stand, rather than sit, for the purposes of increasing productivity. The initiative has been roundly ridiculed by various political and social commentators, including the Minister for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten. However few have mentioned that the actions by the “policy” may be in line with recent OHS guidance issued by an Australian government safety authority, Comcare, or that the Victorian Government has granted $A600,000 for research into the use of standing workstations.
SafetyAtWorkBlog has been informed that Chevron has had no role in the production of the “leaked memo” and that this memo is likely to be notes and verbal advice provided at a low-level on a worksite and even simply as part of a regular toolbox meeting. Fairfax Media is unfairly linking two disparate issues, dragging in Chevron who is not involved with the information and potential damaging valid safety information through unjustified ridicule. 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…
In Australia, Parliamentary inquiries are usually required to provide the Parliament with a copy of their findings. In the last week of November 2012, the Chair of the Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying, Amanda Rishworth, presented its report which included a dissenting report from the Conservative (Liberal Party) committee members. On 28 November both Alan Tudge MP, one of the dissenting committee members, and Deborah O’Neill (Labor Party), spoke to the House of Representatives about the report. Their speeches say much on the issue of workplace bullying and the politics of workplace health and safety (WHS) in Australia.
Statistics and Costs
Tudge acknowledges the importance of preventing workplace bullying but provides an important fact to remember when reading the full report. According to Hansard, Tudge says
“The prevalence of workplace bullying is not known – there is no statistical data to assess exactly how prevalent it is. Regardless of the precise number, we know that it is too prevalent.” (emphasis added)
This may sound a little contradictory but it summarises a problem when investigating workplace bullying, there are no useful statistics on it. More…