The Cancer Council of Western Australia has released a report (not yet available online)that states:
“The number of occupationally caused cancers compensated each year equates to less than eight per cent of the expected number.” (Executive Summary)
This is an extraordinary statistic but consistent with the history of occupational health and safety (OHS) statistics where the core data originates from compensation figures rather than incident figures. Cancer has always been a challenge in this area as it can manifest years after exposure or not at all. But this report also provides important data, and a challenge, for OHS professionals and business owners as
“Occupational exposures to carcinogens are estimated to cause over 5,000 new cases of cancer in Australia each year.” (Executive Summary)
The report has an excellent discussion on why such statistics are estimates and the unreliability of previous data in Australia and overseas but there is only a short, but important, discussion about risk and hazard controls – the principle focus for OHS professionals. More…
One of the most significant motivators for changes in safety leadership in the executive circles in Australia has been the obligation to apply due diligence to occupational health and safety (OHS) matters. The obligation has existed for several years now but is still dominated by legal interpretations rather than managerial ones. To support the legal obligations, OHS professionals should look at how they can add value to due diligence. One way of achieving, and exceeding, compliance of due diligence would be to subject OHS systems and strategies to a peer-review rather than a narrow audit process. More…
On the eve of its 2015 Budget, the Australian Parliament was debating an increase in enforcement powers of the Fair Work Building and Construction inspectorate and the resurrection of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Occupational health and safety (OHS) is rarely mentioned in these debates but not so on 11 May 2015. Excerpts from yesterday’s safety-related comments are worth noting, particularly as no mainstream media has done so or is likely to..
Senator Cory Bernardi (Liberal Party) attacked a recent video from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) saying that
“For too long the unions have falsely cried safety as a lazy defence for their unlawful and unethical industrial conduct. They have cried wolf so often that they can no longer be believed.”
Over the last few months some in Australia’s trade union movement have renewed calls for the introduction of industrial manslaughter laws in various jurisdictions. The issue has appeared both on television and online.
Curiously the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) seems to have dropped the “industrial manslaughter” terminology it has used in the past. In a 28 April 2015 media release, the ACTU stated:
““Strengthening OHS laws to make negligent companies and individual directors liable sends a clear message to employers that they must ensure people are safe at work.”
“Current laws need to be strengthened so that companies and company directors are liable for our safety at work.”
It seems that the charge has been left to the South Australian Greens Parliamentarian, Tammy Franks, who has proposed amendments to the SA Work Health and Safety laws in Parliament on 6 May. But what does Franks expect to achieve with this Bill? Will it reduce harm or is it a heartfelt cry of frustration? More…
One year ago, this blog included an article about possibly applying “broken windows” theory to occupational health and safety (OHS) as both involve the enforcement of rules. The article said:
“The principal OHS lessons from Broken Windows Theory are that one needs to scratch the surface of any new OHS approach, that these theories need time to mature and to be verified or questioned and that it remains an important exercise to look beyond our own experiences, but to look with an analytical eye.”
The theory is evolving according to the architect of the theory, William J Bratton in an audio report in NPR’s All Things Considered for 4 May 2015. According to that article:
“Bratton says he’s open to some revisions of the city’s broken windows philosophy, including more warnings for first-time offenders. But his larger message seems to be: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
All theories require adjustment to make sure they remain practical and relevant.
OHS professionals who correct the workplace hazards, particularly worker behaviours, that are the “low hanging fruit” seem to be following Broken Windows, theory to some extent. But to continue to do this, without addressing hazards higher up the hierarchy of controls, the organisational structure and the managerial prerogatives will devalue the original intention of enforcing worker behaviours and improving the work environment.
Mark Griffith illustrates the risk of devaluing the enforcement effort when he says, in the NPR article:
“We all want a better quality of life…. What we’re saying is the approach to it — the tactics that are used to arrive at that — are overly aggressive, and are ultimately on some level counterproductive to the very goals you’re trying to achieve.”
This seems equally valid to workplace safety management.
On 28 April 2015, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, the Legislative Assembly of the Tasmanian Parliament discussed the significance of that day as a Matter of Public Importance. The discussion cannot be described as a debate but it does provide some insight to the ideologies of the political parties in that Parliament, which is almost a microcosm of Australian politics, and the general quality of understanding of occupational health and safety (OHS) management.
One of the fundamental pieces of information for such a day would be an accurate number of workplace fatalities. The Leader of the Opposition, Bryan Green (Australian Labor Party), made a basic faux pas by stating that the total number of workplace fatalities for 2014 was 44 when the figure was for deaths occurring in 2015 (the official figure for 2015 is now 51). Later that evening, he corrected himself saying that this did not change his argument about the importance of inspectors but it does, and it was embarrassing.
Green listed the number of inspectors lost from Workplace Standards (WorkSafe Tasmania), Tasmania’s OHS regulator. The inspection capacity of an OHS regulator is relevant to any discussion on OHS but Green overstates the role of the regulator, as most Labor Party and trade union speakers do. OHS and Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws clearly state it is the employer of Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) who has the principal OHS duty. Workers have a similar responsibility. The regulator is not a dutyholder for anyone other than its own employees according to WorkSafe Tasmania’s Guide to WHS Act. More…
How language can change in only a little time! Earlier this month, SafetyAtWorkBlog wrote on the OHS context of the departure of Orica’s CEO, Ian Smith. In a liftout (not available online) in the Australian Financial Review, many of the same questions were asked by its Chanticleer columnist, Tony Boyd. The issues raised by the poor decisions of the board are a useful reminder of one of the potential contributory factors for the occupational and mental health of employees.
At last, one writer in the business press is describing Smith’s behaviour as it was – “…aggressive verbal, foul-mouthed abuse” when Smith “blew his top” and “humiliated” an employee.
This is much more direct language than that used in earlier media reporting where the carefully selected language of corporate media releases was reiterated. To understand the seriousness of the issue, it is necessary to describe actions accurately.
“…why a 21st-century board of directors would deliberately seek a CEO with an “aggressive management style”.
Many OHS professionals state that leadership is a crucial element to establishing a safety culture and then support this with examples of positive leadership. But some people fail at leadership and failure is often more instructional than success. Recently the CEO of Orica, Ian Smith, had to resign after his abusive manner resulted in the resignations of two employees. This is bad enough but when the Board hired Smith around three years earlier, the Board saw his manner as attractive. If leadership is crucial to a safety culture, what does this say about Orica’s decisions?
The Chanticleer column of the Australian Financial Review (AFR) wrote on March 24 2015 (paywalled):
“The board’s determination to have Smith shake Orica to its foundations was so great it allowed him to destroy staff engagement and walk all over the company’s culture of mutual respect. What is so bewildering about this deliberately aggressive and occasionally bullying change management strategy is that it was endorsed by a range of respected non-executive directors…..”
In late March 2015, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) dropped its objection to drug and alcohol (D&A) testing on Australian construction sites. There seems to be several reasons for this change and the evidence for D&A testing of construction workers remains scant but the opportunity for enormous change on this public health and occupational hazard should not be missed. More…
On 18 March 2015, the Melbourne office of Herbert Smith Freehills conducted a breakfast seminar that doubled as a launch for the latest edition of the CCH Wolters Kluwer book Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide (reviewed recently). The seminar had three of the book’s authors talking about emerging occupational health and safety (OHS) and work health and safety (WHS) issues for Australia. These included
- The growth of WHS/OHS “Assurance Programs”
- The potential implications for the safety management from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Free Trade Agreements.
- The OHS trend in the European Union for “Supply Chain Safety“.
The first two of these topics are discussed below. More…