Media coverage on workplace bullying needs more depth and analysis 1

The Australian media has given workplace bullying the front page, probably because it is a slow news period and there have been no major disasters this Christmas period. However the coverage is of the new rules and opportunities for assistance offered by changes to the Fair Work Act that commence on 1 January 2014, rather than about prevention.

Most of the comments from the business groups in the article by The Age newspaper will be familiar from the last few months. Generally they object to what they see as red tape and increased regulation. Some also believe that workplace bullying should be handled through human resources rather than as an occupational health and safety (OHS) matter.

Red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy is a legitimate concern but one that, in large part, the business sector has allowed to happen. As discussed previously, much of the red tape originates from the risk management strategy of business where, when an issue or hazard cannot be eliminated or it is too difficult to try, insurance or liability protection is obtained. As others have said, too often the risk management of safety is corrupted to become risk management of legal issues. More…

Always look for the evidence on workplace bullying and make sure it’s local 3

Boss is BullyOn September 9 2013, the Canberra Times published an article by Bill Eddy, entitled “Bullying a practice for the whole workplace to solve“.  (The article has been tweeted and referenced several times in the past week in Australia.)  Bill Eddy is due in Australia soon to conduct a workshop on workplace bullying. The article has some sound advice on workplace bullying but what caught my attention was the opening line:

“Research indicates that workplace bullying has a more negative effect on employees than sexual harassment, perhaps because there are more procedures in place for dealing with sexual harassment.”

What research? More…

Labour productivity is “soaring” in a period of IR/OHS variability 1

Mental health, happiness, well being, safety, red tape …. each of these have been linked to productivity recently in Australian discourses but, as has been mentioned previously, productivity has a flexible definition depending on one’s politics and political agenda. There is multi-factor productivity and labour productivity.  Each measure provides different results.  So where does OHS sit?

An article in The Weekend Australian on 27 July 2013 illustrates the flexible definitions and includes a rare acknowledgement on labour productivity.

“On the measure of labour productivity, which captures the output of each worker, productivity growth is in fact soaring, hitting 3.4 per cent in 2011-12. [emphasis added]

But on the broader measure, which includes the use business makes of capital equipment, growth is still a negligible 0.1 per cent and has declined on average 0.7 per cent a year ever since Labor was elected.”

The labour productivity figure is important to remember when one hears about excessive workloads, excessive hours of work and other potential causes for psychosocial hazards.   More…

IR to HR to OHS to WHS to Mental Health in one lunchbreak Reply

Every so often, legal seminars on industrial relations and occupational health and safety identify possible solutions instead of spruiking a lawyer’s latest publication or showing off legal expertise and OHS ignorance.  In a lunchtime seminar in July 2013, Melbourne law firm Maddocks provided 30 minutes of clarity on flexible working arrangements and another 30 on workplace bullying providing a useful and refreshing bridge between human resources, industrial relations and OHS.

Flexible Work Arrangements

The Fair Work Act seems to be constantly changing and one of the most recent changes is a revision of flexible working arrangements.  These arrangements have always been on the fringe of OHS but integral to HR where returning to work from extended leave needs phasing in, or where one’s familial situation has changed so that 9 to 5 is no longer manageable.  OHS is not overt in these negotiations More…

Latest review into workers compensation provides OHS clues Reply

Cover of src_act_review_reportThe 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…

Three competency elements of the safety professional 1

The October 2012 edition of The Synergist, the magazine of the  American Industrial Hygiene Association, included a frank interview with Niru Davé of Avon. Dave says that many safety and health professionals have a low level of competence.

He explains his statement through his belief that there are three competency elements in a safety professional:

  • Knowledge – staying up-to-date with the information in your field
  • People Skills – respect and approachability, and
  • Contribution – communication and involvement, participating in and generating a strategic approach.

These elements could apply to any profession and to any professional association, or industry group. Indeed these elements can be both personal and organisational. More…

First look at Australia’s workplace bullying report 5

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…

Increased productivity and dignity at work are achievable 1

David Yamada, in his blog Minding the Workplace, states that

“the more we can get the concept of human dignity into our everyday discussions of work, the better.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog is a supporter of dignity at work and it is heartening to see that the concept is being discussed globally.  Dignity, as an activator for change, seems to be a missing element in not only The Hedgehog Review but also very recently released reports, OHS guidances and Australia’s debate on productivity.

The Australian Human Rights Commission released a report last week about sexual discrimination called Working Without Fear.  A quick word search for “dignity” shows no results, nor do searches for “bully” or “bullying”.  This is disappointing but perhaps should not be a surprise as this report indicates again that the Australian Government considers sexual discrimination and workplace bullying to be separate issues although lawyers and the media often overlap the two.

The Working Without Fear report, based on a large telephone survey concludes that

“…. targets of sexual harassment are most likely to be women and less than 40 years of age. Consistent with previous surveys, the 2012 National Survey also shows that the harassers are most likely to be male co-workers, though women were at least five times more likely than men to have been harassed by a boss or employer. Men More…

Half bored and tired to death 3

They both nodded in agreement when she said, “I’m half bored to death in this job, nearly had it”.  Both women were freezing, sitting outside in the covered area.  Their fingers blue.

The short morning break.  You hurry, you panic, get a quick hot drink, a cigarette, quickly back into it.  Hour after hour after hour “for the last 20 years” she said.  From 5 am when she gets up to do things before rushing to work to start at 7 am.  Rush back home at 3 pm to pick up ‘the youngan-whydidIdoit’ as she said of her late in life baby.  She looked about 40.

Of course workplace fatalities and injuries are heart breaking tragedies.  People work to earn a living, this is not a war zone.   But the more common issues at work, those that grind people hour by hour for decades of their one single life are not to do with that.

They are to do with what in polite text will spawn dots.  It’s to do with the daily tiredness, humiliation and wall-to-wall disrespect experienced by so many workers on a daily basis. It’s to do with that exhausting sense of,  ‘I’ve just about had enough’.  It’s to do with what I call F..kwit Fatigue. More…

Performance Management may be key to building a safe workplace culture 6

Occupational safety advice and incident investigations are peppered with the need to have an improved workplace culture.  In some ways, workplace culture is another, and broader, way of saying of “system of work”, a concept that has existed in Australian OHS laws for a long time but never received the prominence of clarity it deserved.  But how does one develop an improved workplace culture and system of work?  Performance Management seems to be one option.

Performance management is well established in the human resources (HR) discipline but the OHS implications are just being acknowledged in the safety discipline.  The concept has been mentioned several times in the public hearings of Australia’s inquiry into workplace bullying as a positive and potential negative.

According to Associate Professor Robin Kramar (now Professor of Human Resource Management at the Australian Catholic University) of  in the 2004/2005 edition of CCH’s Australian Master Human Resources Guide, performance management is

“..a way of encouraging behaviour that supports organisational objectives.” (page 19)

This is particularly relevant to the management and removal of psychosocial hazards that safety professionals are increasingly being called on to address or to assist with. More…