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…
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…
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…
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…
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…
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…
Australian recruiting company, Hays, has released its annual salary surveyin which it says that there is increasing demand for OHS professionals in Australia however the salary levels seem comparatively low, particularly at the entry-level. The survey says that the introduction of harmonised OHS laws in most Australian States has:
“…led to increased accountability and thus demand for high risk safety experts.”
It could be said that many safety experts have been “high risk” but the quote above places safety in a risk context. Safety professionals must be able to understand and deal with business risks in the broader context. In some sectors risk management integrates OHS but in others, where risk management is almost exclusively concerned with insurances and safety is the purview of a Health and Safety Representative, OHS is shunned as a foreign concept or a poorly under threat. More…
On Saturday morning, May 26 2012, the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and her Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, announced an inquiry into workplace bullying to be undertaken by the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment and to report to Parliament in November 2012.
This announcement seems to be another that is buried or overtaken by current political events. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation mentioned workplace bullying as a “silent epidemic”. There is a strong risk that the politicians are overstating the workplace bullying case. WorkSafe Victoria receives thousands of enquiries about workplace bullying but only a portion of them fit the workplace bullying definition and only a handful proceed to a prosecution. The government needs to be careful that it is not operating to a perception of workplace bullying instead of the reality, even though the community outrage is genuinely felt.
The Age newspaper and AAP, basically printed an edited media release but the most significant statements have not been printed. These are the comments by the Prime Minister, Minister Shorten and the parents of Brodie Panlock, Damian and Rae. Below is a selection or statements from the doorstop transcript:
PM : “I’ve have had the opportunity to have a conversation with Damian and with Rae about their family experience and they will talk about that family experience themselves, but it led to the loss of their daughter Brodie. And they fought hard here in Victoria for Brodie’s law, to have a law that deals with serious bullying at work. More…
Most managers complain about “silos” even though they often operate comfortably in one. Having an organisational structure that operates without narrow parameters of professional turf is very difficult and sustainable change takes time. Similarly many professions operate in silos and the safety profession is a good example. Rarely does it “play well with others”. A recent workplace relations survey report from the Australian law firm, Madgwicks, illustrates the silo of the professions and its impediment to change.
Most law firms that have occupational health and safety professionals sit the unit with the Workplace Relations portfolio, for good reasons mostly. Workplace Relations, or Industrial Relations in other jurisdictions, deals with the pay and conditions of workers and the negotiation of these issues with employers and business owners. ”Pay” is mostly wages and the remuneration received for effort but “conditions’ is more inclusive with OHS a major, but often underplayed, component.
Madgwicks asked two significant questions:
“Currently which workplace relations issues are the most challenging for your business?” and
“Which workplace relations issues do you believe will be the most significant for your business?”
None of the responses (pictured below) to these questions included any occupational health and safety issues. There was no stress. Nothing on workloads or working hours. Nothing on workplace bullying.
An article in the Weekend Australian newspaper and magazine (not available fully online) provides some statistics that raise serious questions about the level of bullying in workplaces in Australia, with particular focus on Victoria. Of the 2,080 complaints lodged with WorkSafe Victoria in 2010-11
“only eight were deemed serious enough to warrant possible prosecution.”
Yet the OHS regulator received 7,050 inquiries about bullying. There is clearly a problem in Victorian workplaces but it is not always bullying, as defined under OHS law. Something else is happening and it has been happening for some time.
As reported previously in SafetyAtWorkBlog, the issue of workplace relationships is broader than can be handled by one regulator under one law. There are human rights issues, mental health issues, harassment and potential suicides – a range of social issues that should have taken the prevention of “workplace bullying” out of the workplace sometime ago.
The newspaper article, by Richard Guilliatt, draws on several significant cases of proven workplace bullying beyond the more familiar case of Brodie Panlock. Christine Hodder’s suicide in 2005 following bullying in the New South Wales Ambulance Service generated a review of the organisation that found systemic bullying. Sixteen year old Alex Meikle committed suicide in 2008 after many workplace “pranks” that included being set on fire. More…