In May 2013, Workcover Queensland supported the government’s intention to change the definition of worker to match that of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). The definition re-emphasises the significance of the employer/employee relationship. Workplace health and safety laws through most of Australia have recently changed to remove the reliance on the employer/employee relationship with the intention of clarifying the lines of responsibility for preventing harm. The diversity between workers’ compensation and OHS definitions unnecessarily complicates the management of a worker’s health through the linear experience of employment.
The government believes such changes will reduce “red tape” but only in the narrow context of workers compensation. The Work Health and Safety Act expands the definition of worker but another piece of legislation in the same State restricts it. Inconsistencies of concepts are likely to lead to duplications, confusion and arguments that may generate as much unnecessary business and legal costs as the initiatives were intended to save. 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…
Neil Foster of the University of Newcastle is known to SafetyAtWorkBlog for his work looking at the legal liabilities of company directors and officers. Recently Foster released a paper called “You can’t do that! Directors insuring against criminal WHS penalties” which provides an additional legal context to an earlier blog article.
Foster acknowledges that
“…provisions of the criminal law imposing personal liability for company breach of workplace health and safety provisions provide one of the strongest ‘drivers’ for company officers to use due diligence to see to the implementation of company safety policies.”
“… what if the officer knows all along that, should they be subject to such a penalty, the company, or an insurance policy, will come to the rescue?”
This is a concern that relates to insurance policies or indemnities that are being offered in some industrial sectors. Insurance could dilute the diligence of officers and directors on a range of matters including workplace safety. More…
In August-September 2012 a media release was circulated in Australia promoting an
“…an Australian industry first – leading construction & mining workplace safety provider RIS offers to indemnify operators against non compliance prosecution.”
This may be a first for RoofSafe Industrial Safety (RIS) but not for Australia. SafetyAtWorkBlog has reported on a smaller but similar system that originated in the automotive repair industry.
RIS’ Syncron system has several steps to compliance
- Safety Audit
- Assessment and Priorities
- Coordinated actions aimed at maximum cost savings
- Ongoing Monitoring and Continuous Improvement
It seems to be popular in the mining sector, according to the RIS website and clearly, from the media release, RIS is expanding its application from its fall-protection base into construction.
There are lots of issues of concern in the media release, if not in the Syncron system itself. The indemnification is of particular concern and although these sorts of safety management systems are apparently cleared through legal advisers they need a great deal of explanation in order for businesses to feel comfortable.
One of the potential traps of these systems is that indemnification only exists when the assessment and management system is followed absolutely, as highlighted below. Although the advisory resources exist outside the customer’s business, checking and monitoring still comes from the customer and adequate resources are required.
The legalese through all Syncron brochures and statements needs forensic analysis. More…
In a recent edition of Safety Express, a newsletter from WorkSafe Victoria, Clarke Martin outlined the benefits of WorkSafe’s Owner Visit program to one regional company. This good news story needed more depth and detail so Clark Martin provided SafetyAt WorkBlog with additional information.
The Safety Express article outlined that a company of over 200 employees gained advice through WorkSafe’s free 6-hour consultancy service and has
“…made significant savings in insurance premiums over a two-year period. The financial and safety benefits are continuing today.”
“The company agreed to make significant changes to the way the business managed its OHS and RTW, and the financial management of premium costs.”
“WorkSafe worked with the company for two years and in this time the EPR dropped to just 34 per cent above average and work is continuing to further improve its performance. The company advised WorkSafe that savings achieved from reduced insurance premiums was equivalent to the profits on producing and selling an additional $16m of product.” 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…
The terms of reference of the Victorian Government’s review of the Victoria Workcover Authority and the Transport Accident Commission remain hidden in the inquiry by the Essential Services Commission but some hints about the review are appearing in the press and official records.
The Australian Financial Review of 21 May 2012 reported that the Victorian Minister for WorkCover, Gordon Rich-Phillips would not rule out the option of merging the two organisations. A reading of the transcript of the budget estimates inquiry conducted by the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) illustrate the reasonableness of Rich-Phillips statement – an inquiry has commenced and he should not pre-empt the inquiry findings.
Rich-Phillips said that the inquiry will be looking at
“how [the functions of both organisations] can be improved and how the two agencies can work together better.”
The concerns, principally raised by the Shadow Finance Minister, Robyn Scott, seem to be over potential changes to the TAC, including the use of private insurance companies to manage injuries from motor vehicle accidents, and not about the VWA or WorkSafe. More…
Australian lawyer Michael Tooma is mentioned regularly in the SafetyAtWorkBlog, mostly because Tooma is one of the few who consider workplace safety in the broader social context. In The Australian newspaper on 10 February 2012 Tooma wrote that new work health and safety laws being introduced in Australia present
“…a march … into the traditional heartland of the public safety, product safety and professional liability territory, and it brings with it a criminalisation of what was once an exclusively civil liability domain. The new laws did not invent this trend, they just perfected it.”
Right-wing commentators would jump on this and declare “nanny state” but it is vitally important to note that this trend of “protectionism”, or the “compensation culture” as described in the United Kingdom, did not originate in occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. The OHS profession, business operators and workers will need to learn to accommodate and manage this social trend that has been imposed.
Tooma writes that “
“…we have not had a proper debate about the incursion of the laws into nontraditional areas and its impact on the resources of firms, regulators and ultimately work safety standards.”
The debate may already be over. More…
England’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, has described OHS as a “monster” in a speech to small business owners on 5 January 2012. It is important to note the PM’s comments prior to his monster reference that have not been repeated in the mainstream press. He refers to
“… a great big machine of health and safety that has built up over years.”
Cameron feels that he needs to address an OHS regulatory system and enforcement strategies that have become too complex for, particularly, small business to comply with. Part of his solution is to exempt the self-employed, in some specific sectors, from OHS laws. This is a questionable decision as it effectively establishes a two-tier safety management regime and sets a precedent for other similar sectors to lobby for an exemption from other, perceived, onerous laws.
It may be that OHS laws in the UK have become overly complicated over time but the role of the media must be considered in that it has focussed on many absurd managerial decisions that have resulted from a skewed understanding of OHS and risk. Frequently the media reports have no relation to OHS laws and all to do with an increasing litigious society and the pursuit of money through, potentially spurious, public liability insurance claims.
In the 5 January 2012 speech Cameron states that
“…the key about health and safety is not just the rules and the laws and the regulations – it is also the culture of fear many businesses have about health and safety.” (emphasis added)
Cameron explains his answer for reducing this fear of health and safety, the capping of fees that lawyers can earn from legal action against businesses on behalf of their clients, usually, employees. There is no fear of health and safety, it is a fear of litigation. Cameron is not on about OHS law reform, his concern is about “unnecessary” litigation costs. This is unlikely to be reduced by cutting the budget of the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) which must reduce services as the HSE resources have been contracting for some time. More…
On 4 November 2011, Victoria’s 7.30 program broadcast a heart-rending story about the suicide of a woman who, her mother believes, took this action after suffering chronic pain due a work-related incident and being given insufficient support from her employer and workers’ compensation bodies. The story of Rebecca Wallis (spelling uncertain) apparently generated sufficient communication to the Australian Broadcast Corporation for 7.30 to undertake a follow-up and more broad look at the relationship between workers compensation and suicide.
One of the people interviewed in the 11 November 2011 program was John Bottomley of the Creative Ministries Network. Bottomley has published several research reports on work-related deaths and suicides. The figures he mentions in the report, that around 30% of the work-related suicides identified in his research had a “work injury or work-related mental illness” as a contributory factor, are included in the online publication from 2002, “Work Factors in Suicide“. What is not mentioned is another statistic in his report:
“Nine people (8%) were on workers’ compensation when they committed suicide.” (page iii) More…