Research project opportunity Reply

SafetyAtWorkBlog believes that the following research project may be of interest to readers.

Underhill graphicA research team from the Faculty of Business & Law at Deakin University, led by Drs. Elsa Underhill & Melissa Parris, are conducting a research project to:

  • Develop a better understanding of how health, safety and well-being outcomes differ between types of workers (ie. permanents, casuals & labour hire) within the same workplace; and
  • Develop an understanding of how employment status impacts on work/life balance.

Their findings are intended to better inform HRM and WHS practitioners on the development of evidence based strategies and policies to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of all employees.

 They are seeking organisations which will allow them to survey their employees including, where appropriate, labour hire workers placed with organisation.  Responses will be anonymous and respondents will have the chance to win 1 of 10 mini Ipads. Participating organisations will receive a report specific to their organisation, as well as the full project report.

 Is your organisation interested in participating?  If so, please contact Elsa.Underhill@deakin.edu.au for further information.

Impairment argument fails to convince Fair Work Commission over unfair dismissal 14

On 16 January 2015 the Australian newspaper (paywall) reported on a Fair Work Commission (FWC) decision involving an unfair dismissal claim by a worker who, as a result of a random drug test, was found to have methylamphetamine in her system “at levels four times above the minimum detection level”.  The company, Downer EDI Mining, sacked the worker, Leah Cunningham, as she presented a hazard to her work colleagues. The newspaper article was called “CFMEU slammed for drugs defence” and the FWC decision is Tara Leah Cunningham v Downer EDI Mining Pty Limited (U2014/1457) (14 January 2015).

The Australian, a newspaper with no love for the trade union movement and the CFMEU in particular, focussed on the apparent absurdity of a trade union, that places such a high priority on workplace safety,  contesting the dismissal of a worker who presented a hazard to herself and others at work.  The newspaper quotes Commissioner Ian Cambridge:

““It was highly regrettable to observe during the hearing that an organisation, which apparently conducts campaigns which strongly advocate safety in the workplace, could contemplate a proposition which, in effect, would countenance a person driving a 580-tonne truck whilst having methylamphetamine in their body at a level four times the reportable cut-off figure,” he said in his decision this week.

“Any realistic and responsible pursuit of the case on behalf of the applicant should have been confined to the development of evidentiary support for the applicant’s explanation for the presence of the methylamphetamine. Indeed, much greater energy and focus should have been devoted to such an evidentiary position rather than any attempt to defend the indefensible.”

More…

Trade Union Royal Commission affects OHS credibility 3

Whether one believes that the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption is a political witch-hunt or a genuine attempt to clean up a corrupt industry sector, the Royal Commission seems to have revealed an abuse and exploitation of occupational health and safety (OHS) – an exploitation that has received next to no attention. The release of the Commission’s interim report allows for a quick analysis of this situation.

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was a particular target of the Commission in relation to a “slush fund” established by her then-boyfriend, Bruce Wilson, commonly referred to as the “AWU affair“.  The “slush fund”, known as the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association, was developed, according to Gillard

“… to support the re-election of union officials who would campaign for workplace reforms including better occupational health and safety.” (Interim Report, Vol 1, page 99)

More…

FOI request for cost of introducing WHS laws fails again 5

Last year SafetyAtWorkBlog reported its failure at gaining the release of the Victorian Government’s full cost analysis of the introduction of the national Work Health and Safety laws.  In November 2014 the Victorian Government changed from conservative Liberal to traditionally more worker-friendly Labor Party.  So I submitted another request, with the same result, the report was

“…prepared for the purpose of submission for consideration by Cabinet in 2012…”

It seems we will have to wait another 28 years, apparently, to see the full estimated costs of Victoria introducing occupational health and safety laws that most other States have already introduced.  It is worth remembering that one State, South Australia, provided dramatically different cost estimates and the Productivity Commission estimated cost savings for some companies:

“…multi-state businesses are likely to see compliance costs fall and safety outcomes improve, generating total possible net cost savings of $480 million per year [under the new Work Health and Safety laws]” (Chapter 8, page 153)

The previous Liberal Government pledged never to introduce the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws.  The new Labor Government failed to mention these laws in its 2014 election/policy platform so their intentions on WHS laws are unclear.  However, it is widely believed that Victoria has lost its claim to be at the leading edge of OHS/WHS legislation in this country.  If such status is important to the Labour Government, as it has been to the Australian Labor Party in the past, it is hard not to see it harmonising its OHS laws to those of the other States even if through quiet diplomacy rather than a noisy legislative change.

Kevin Jones

Media tips for Australian OHS professionals 1

The occupational health and safety (OHS) profession in Australia has suffered from the lack of a public voice.  This is partly due to ineffective and disorganised professional associations but more it is due to fear – fear of embarrassment, fear of ridicule, fear of failure….  This is peculiar because a fundamental element of OHS is communication.  Below is some information from an Australian journalism textbook that may help reduce some of that fear.

Code of Ethics

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (ie. the journalists’ “union” in Australia) publishes a Code of Ethics. (Similar organisations round the world have equivalent documents and obligations)  This is vital information for any journalist but also important for those who want to engage with the media, perhaps through interviews.  For instance, on the use of sources, the Code says

“Aim to attribute information to its source.  Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source’s motives and any alternative attributable source.  Where confidences are accepted,  respect them in all circumstances.”

More…

Some are losing faith in the Victorian Workcover Authority 6

At a remembrance service in December 2014, the founder and outgoing deputy director of the Creative Ministries Network (CMN), John Bottomley, explained his refusal of funding from the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) for CMN’s work-related grief support services (now called GriefWork). VWA has a different take on his comments.

In discussing the relevance of the Book of Isaiah to the motivations of the CMN to help people, Bottomley said that

“… it is God’s response to injustice and suffering that has planted this same spirit at the heart of our endeavours to transform work-related harm.

So CMN rejected VWA’s contract in April this year, after WorkSafe had funded our agency for over ten years to provide grief support services. My reason for rejecting the new contract was that VWA wanted to hide bereaved families grief from the public domain of injustice at work. The contract brief treated grief as an individual psychological problem to be addressed behind the closed doors of a clinic shut off from the rest of society. The contract wanted to treat work-related grief like an illness, and treat grieving families as sick and lacking the ability to ‘cope’. This heaps injustice upon injustice.”

More…

Workplace Safety finally gets a mention in the Victorian election campaign (sort of) 4

On 25 November 2014 the Federal Minister for Employment, Eric Abetz, attacked the Victorian Labor Party over its pledge to revoke the Construction Compliance Code which, primarily, deals with industrial relations but also has some occupational health and safety (OHS) requirements.

Abetz states that

“the Victorian Shadow Industrial Relations Minister [Natalie Hutchins] falsely claimed that the Code would not improve workplace safety, despite the numerous improved safety standards that it contains.”

The claim, apparently in the Herald-Sun newspaper, cannot be verified except through a reference in a news.com.au article. The original quote seems unavailable.

It is curious that this OHS criticism has come from a Federal Parliamentarian instead of from Victoria’s own Industrial Relations Minister and Attorney-General, Robert Clark. Clark echoed Abetz’s statement yesterday but where Senator Abetz mentions the possible OHS ramifications of the Opposition’s Leader Daniel Andrews’ tearing up (page 16 of the ALP 2014 Platform) of the Construction Compliance Code, Robert Clark hardly mentions the workplace safety context. More…

Should Australian safety professionals be certified? 26

On November 12 2014, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) conducted its first large seminar on the certification of occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals. The seminar had an odd mix of some audience members who were suspicious, others who were enthusiastic and presenters who were a little wary.  There were few who seemed to object to certification but, as the SIA admitted, the process is a long way from complete.

Justification for Certification

Certification works when it is either mandated by government, usually through legislation, or in response to a community/business/market need.  Australia does not seem to have either.  The SIA explained that there is a “legal requirement” for OHS certification by placing it as part of the OHS due diligence obligations of Australian businesses, that Safe Work Australia (SWA) sort-of refers to it it in its National OHS Strategy and that the “Recommendation 161″ of an unspecified international law:

“….calls for organisations to have access to “sufficient and appropriate expertise” as a basic right of all workers.”

There is no such Recommendation but there is an Occupational Health Services Convention, 1985 (No. 161)
Convention concerning Occupational Health Services (Entry into force: 17 Feb 1988) – a International Labour Organisation Convention that Australia has not ratified.

The SWA strategy repeatedly mentions the important of “health and safety capabilities” as a “national Action Area”.  It specifies this action area as:

  • “Everyone in a workplace has the work health and safety capabilities they require.
  • Those providing work health and safety education, training and advice have the appropriate capabilities.
  • Inspectors and other staff of work health and safety regulators have the work health and safety capabilities to effectively perform their role.
  • Work health and safety skills development is integrated effectively into relevant education and training programs.” (page 9)

In the strategy’s chapter on Health and Safety Capabilities, SWA says:

“In a decade many existing workplace hazards will still be present and new ones will have appeared. It is particularly important that education and training enable those who provide professional or practical advice to competently deal with old and new hazards. Those who provide advice need to know when to refer the matter to others with appropriate expertise.” (page 12)

There is no mention of certification in the SWA strategy but the SWA is sympathetic to certification. More…

AiGroup pushes for harmonised OHS laws during Victoria’s election campaign 5

Cover of Vic Pre-election statementLater this month, Victoria is conducting its regular State election.  Workplace safety has not been mentioned by any of the candidates but at least one industry association has mentioned occupational health and safety in its pre-election statement.  The Australian Industry Group (AiGroup) has recommended

“The next Victorian Government should immediately commit to the harmonised OHS laws as the state remains the only jurisdiction not to do so.” (page 5)

The AiGroup does not expand on the reasons for this recommendation other than seeing OHS has part of its general call for harmonisation and that it is part of “reducing costs of doing business”.  SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to fill in some of the AiGroup’s reasoning by talking, exclusively, with Mark Goodsell, in the unavailability of the author of the pre-election statement, Tim Piper. More…

Serious questions raised (again) about the role of safety culture 6

One of the central tenets of modern safety management is the need to establish a safety culture.  However recent Australian research has cast serious doubt on whether this current belief is valid or useful.

Cover of 10.2-Organisational-CultureIn October 2014, the Safety Institute of Australia launched several new chapters to the Body of Knowledge (BoK) project.  One of those chapters, based on a literature review and authored by David Borys, addresses organisational culture* and says that safety culture:

“… [has] limited utility for occupational health and safety (OHS) professional practice.”

“… literature has unresolved debates and definitional dilemmas.”

“…..remains a confusing and ambiguous concept in both literature and in industry, where there is little evidence of a relationship between safety culture and safety performance.”

These findings should cause all OHS professionals and company executives to re-evaluate the safety culture advice and products that they have received over the last decade. More…