OHS issues from over the horizon 1

seaOn 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…

OHS professionals should be more politically active 6

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is inextricably linked to everyday life and everyday politics but it is treated as somehow separate, even by those who are experts in OHS.  This is not the case with industrial relations which is much more grounded in the political realities.

Industrial relations has been pushed by the trade union movement that has always seen workers’ rights as a social issue.  The OHS profession and its associations have been content, largely, to live within the factory fence.  Until recently OHS laws related solely to the workplace and OHS professionals had the luxury of a clear demarcation for its operations.

But new OHS laws acknowledge the responsibility for the effects of work on those other than workers, and those who are neighbours to workplaces.  Australian OHS professionals have been slow to embrace the social role that has been foisted on them.  There seems no excuse for this.

Recently, a hearing of an Australia Senate Committee spoke with the CEO of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, Peter Tighe.  The discussion illustrated some of the social, political and economic risks of this long-known workplace hazard. More…

WorkSafe Victoria heads roll 2

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has spoken publicly about the removal of the CEO and Chair of WorkSafe Victoria describing them as liars and incompetent.  As Jon Faine pointed out in the radio interview, the Premier has established a high level of accountability.  Hopefully this results in an increased diligence on OHS matters by government departments and authorities.

The Industrial Relations Minister in the Andrews Government, Robin Scott, was a regular critic of WorkSafe’s operations and decisions while in Opposition and it is no surprise that he went hard on the CEO, Denise Cosgrove, at least. More…

New analysis of deaths at work 3

Cover of Deaths at Work 2014Barry Naismith has followed up his first report into WorkSafe with a second that analyses the workplace deaths in Victoria since 1985.

One of the attractions of Naismith’s analyses is that he considers the broader context to the data.  His first report looked at WorkSafe Victoria’s actions and policies in relation to the executive and board complexion.  In this report he looks at the frequency of deaths with WorkSafe campaigns and enforcement response.

The analysis may not have the authority of a fully-funded research program from an academic institution but the level of detail he has collected from official sources is impressive, and in the absence of any other analysis, Naismith’s work deserves serious attention.

Kevin Jones

Master guide or handbook 4

In 2012, SafetyAtWorkBlog reviewed the first edition of the Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide. CCH Wolters Kluwer has released its second edition and, sadly, it repeats many of the criticisms in the 2012 review.

The title of Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide (2nd ed) seems inaccurate if one considers a book with “master ” in its title to be a “masterwork”. This is not a masterwork and the publishers have emphasised to SafetyAtWorkBlog that the book was never intended to be.  The book is intended to be a brief outline of the most important contemporary occupational health and safety (OHS) issues in Australia and to provide practical advice, checklists and templates.  In fact, the word that should be focussed on in the title is “guide”.

The publishers advised that “master” is in the title to indicate it is part of its “Master Series“, a “brilliant” series described as

“Australia’s premium range of professional books, widely accepted as the leaders in their fields.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog looked at a couple of chapters to assess the quality of the content.  As workplace bullying is such a contentious issue. the Bullying and Violence chapter was a focus. There were a surprising number of omissions in this chapter. More…

Will workers be safer through an expansion of Comcare? 4

At a recent breakfast seminar, Steve Bell of Herbert Smith Freehills mentioned that a Bill is with the Australian Senate that will open up the Comcare scheme to Australian businesses through the removal of the national competition test.  This move has been flagged for some time with several lawyers expressing reservations.  Bell mentioned this to the audience of OHS professionals as the law changes could present a substantial change to their operational knowledge base. The Bill is part of a larger debate on OHS.

In a July 2014 article, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) warned that:

“The proposed changes to Comcare will not only throw state and territory-based workers’ compensation schemes into fiscal chaos, but will also see injured workers left out in the cold,” ALA National President Geraldine Collins said.

“If this legislation is passed, employers may move their workers into the Comcare scheme, thus leaving huge holes of unfunded liability in state schemes which is likely to result in state-based premiums soaring.”

“Opening up the Comcare scheme will be disastrous for workers. Comcare has no meaningful access to common law damages for injuries caused by the negligence of an employer. The scheme is burdensome, paternalistic, and bureaucratic for workers and employers.  Its design means premiums have to go up unless benefits are slashed ,” Ms Collins said.

“Comcare also has no meaningful workplace health and safety regime.  Work environments will develop where lives are lost and permanently damaged with little oversight and enforcement of workplace health and safety.  It is a fundamentally flawed minimalist scheme.  Migration en masse will strike at the heart of the financial stability of state schemes, which are mostly running fairly,” Ms Collins said.”

More…

WorkSafe Victoria’s Len Neist addresses safety profession breakfast Reply

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), in its Australian partners and as a firm, has been prominent in occupational health and safety (OHS) matters, even though the organisation is “on the nose” with much of the trade union movement. This week HSF conducted a breakfast for the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) in Melbourne, the first in a couple of years after an alleged falling out with the SIA.  The presentations did not sparkle as some have in previous years.

The most anticipated presentation was from Len Neist, an executive director of WorkSafe Victoria.  Neist outlined the aims of the organisation but much of this was familiar.  He reiterated the obligations on WorkSafe from the various legislation and pledged to focus on prevention.

Neist is not beyond executive jargon (“risk tolerability framework” ?) and stated one of his aims was to “incentivise compliance and improvement”.  One can argue that compliance should require no encouragement only enforcement.  Why provide incentives to businesses for what is their legislative and moral duty? More…

Abolition of Construction Code is a return to the past on OHS 2

The new Andrews Government in Victoria has followed through on its election pledge to abolish the Construction Compliance Code Unit (CCCU) of the Department of Treasury and Finance. It announced this in a peculiar manner within a media release on whooping cough, a process that Senator Abetz went to town on. But Premier Andrews’ decision raises the question of, if the Code is gone, what replaces it? The simply answer is nothing.

A spokesperson for the Premier advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that

“The Andrews Labor Government has delivered on its election commitment to scrap the Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry and its monitoring body the Construction Code Compliance Unit (CCCU).

Contractors bidding for Victorian Government work and applying for pre-qualification on construction registers will still need to meet safety and industrial relations management criteria. Contractors must also have occupational health and safety policies and procedures to meet legislative and regulatory requirements.”

More…

Productivity Commission looks at workplace bullying – not really 1

The Australian Government has announced an inquiry into workplace relations through the Productivity Commission (PC). The most obvious occupational health and safety (OHS) element of this inquiry relates to workplace bullying which is discussed in the fourth of five issues papers released in January 2015. However the purposeful separation of workplace bullying actions through the Fair Work Commission (FWC) from actions in other sectors, such as OHS regulators, limits the potential impact of the inquiry on this issue.

The PC issues paper acknowledges the lack of the anticipated avalanche of anti-bullying applications and accepts that the structure of the FWC process may be partially responsible.  This lack of applications, an issue discussed elsewhere in SafetyAtWorkBlog, deserves further research and analysis.  The FWC structure only allows applications from workers currently employed in the workplace about which they are complaining.  It can be argued that the inability of the FWC to award financial compensation is an equal deterrent.  If this is the case (and, as far as can be determined, this aspect has not been investigated) the motivation of anti-bullying applicants to FWC and OHS regulators may involve natural justice AND compensation. The role of money in bullying complaints and applications has been a taboo subject in the past but deserves some analysis, even though it may be very uncomfortable. More…

New book challenges current OHS trends Reply

Quinlan coverProfessor Michael Quinlan has a new book that focuses on lessons from recent mining disasters but, as with the best of occupational health and safety (OHS) books, it challenges orthodoxies.  Some OHS consultants and experts have built careers on these orthodoxies, trends and fads, and will feel uncomfortable with the evidence put forward by Quinlan in “Ten Pathways to Death and Disaster – Learning from Fatal Incidents in Mines and Other High Hazard Workplaces“. The honesty and humanity in this book makes it an essential part of any OHS professional’s library.

Quinlan establishes an important tenet from the very start:

“… knowledge is not created in a social vacuum.” (page xi)

This simple dictum is vital to an understanding of the true causal factors on OHS decision-making.  People die from OHS failures.  Politicians create laws and situations that can encourage failures, increase risk and can provide a veneer of respect for heartlessness and exploitation.  Business owners may feel pressured to place production before safety.  Some OHS writers and advocates stop, often unconsciously, at the point where their theory or market research would fail scrutiny.  Some apply critical thought only “as far as is reasonably practicable” to continue a business activity that is short-term or to sell their consultancy package to gullible or naive corporate executives.

Quinlan writes of the “political economy of safety”:

“The political economy perspective argues that safety, including workplace disasters, can only be understood in the context of the distribution of wealth and power within societies, and dominant social policy paradigms that privilege markets and profit, production or economic growth over safety.” (page 24, emphasis added)

To many readers this may sound like socialism in its mention of wealth distribution and power but such a perspective is valid even though it may be unfashionable.  Such a broad perspective allows for a critical assessment of other OHS research approaches such as, for instance, the culture advocates.  More…