“aggressive verbal, foul-mouthed abuse” – the Ian Smith saga continues to be discussed Reply

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.

Boyd asked

“…why a 21st-century board of directors would deliberately seek a CEO with an “aggressive management style”.

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What can we learn from a failure in leadership? 7

Cover of 2013_Orica_Code-of-Conduct-1Many 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…..”

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Union backflip on drug testing presents huge opportunity for change Reply

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…

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.”

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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…