Uninspiring discussion on OHS in Tasmania’s Parliament Reply

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…

Dignity and solemnity at Workers’ Memorial Day 3

The Victorian commemoration of International Workers Memorial Day has held on28 April 2015 and was a major improvement on previous memorials.  The politics was muted by the speakers.  There was no tray truck of angry unionists yelling through tannoys and heading off half way through the event to a protest rally that they see as more important than remembering the dead. There was a good level of dignity and solemnity …… finally.

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Business report is contradictory on OHS 4

cover of small_business_taskforce_fa_lr_r2The Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) has released its small business blueprint.  The document continues the misunderstanding of industry and business groups in respect to occupational health and safety (OHS) and red tape.

The “Small business. Big opportunities” document continues to show OHS as a burden rather than an opportunity.  The chapter that discusses “high level of
labour market adaptability and flexibility” includes this recommendation:

“Simplify existing workplace relations legislation applying to small business, without removing the intent of regulations to provide safe, fair, productive and successful workplaces.

Small business currently needs to comply with numerous
substantial pieces of legislation (for example, taxation,
superannuation, OHS, equal opportunity and corporations law) that can act as a major disincentive to growth, employment and investment.” (page 10)

Previous SafetyAtWorkBlog articles have highlighted how inaccurate and unfair it is to include OHS obligations with other laws, such as taxation, as they have fundamentally different origins.  OHS laws are not a “major disincentive to growth, employment and investment”.  More…

Standing workstations – useful, fad or salesmanship? 6

Over the last week Australian media has been reporting on office workers using standing workstations. Given sedentary working has been shown to have negative health effects, standing seems sensible as it increases mobility but is it enough to stand?  Or is this recent media attention just another example of shallow writing on occupational health and safety matters, or even media manipulation?

An article in the Canberra Times (which appeared in other Fairfax publications around 17 April 2015) states that:

“…health and ergonomics experts say the benefits to overall health for standing-up workers is irrefutable..”

and

“Some also believe it makes workers more productive…”

The article then quotes the head of office supplies and furniture from an office furniture retailer, Jim Berndells of Officeworks.  Its next expert is another retailer of furniture, Office Workstations and its managing director Jovan Vucetic.  The attention granted to these retailers along with a mention of the price of a standing workstation and the companies that Vucetic has supplied, seems to imply that the article is less about OHS than about product information.

(It may be relevant that Vucetic’s LinkedIn profile shows that in 2012 he was running an Ebay company and that he continues to operate JOVAN Imedia, which he describes as an “affiliate marketing business”, alongside his workstations business.) More…

“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”.

More…

Podcast of interview on OHS reviews 3

The recent article into the review of SafeWorkSA caught the attention of the Your Rights at Night radio program and led to an interview on 9 April 2015.  The podcast of that interview is now available online.

Interviews are odd experiences, particularly when they are over the phone.  Although there is a reason someone wants to talk with you, you usually do not know the questions beforehand.

For the interview above, I was in the bedroom, away from noises, with printed blog articles, media releases and OHS statistics across the pillows.  I thought the spread of information was important to have at hand to make sure the information I provided was accurate but one can still get caught out when the pace of the interview has settled. The last question asked in the interview could have been answered better.  Neither of the reviews announced have a fixed end date, regardless of what I said, in fact you can hear the shuffling of papers while I looked for the SA government’s media release. Oh well.

Kevin Jones

“The regulator should be respected, but not feared” 8

cover of Transforming Work Health and Safety Performance FINALHow different can occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators be? A review into WorkSafe Victoria was announced in February 2015 but the review into its equivalent in South Australia, SafeWorkSA, is more progressed and has released a public discussion paper entitled “Transforming Work Health and Safety Performance“. Its suggestions should be noted by James Mackenzie the reviewer of WorkSafe Victoria.

Maybe not surprising to many, the future is a reworking of the past. More…

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 and public health at The Coal Face 1

The Hazelwood mine fire has faded from the memory of most Victorians following the Parliamentary inquiry but not so for those who continue to live in the Latrobe Valley and with the health consequences of the fire.  Tom Doig has written a short book on the incident and its consequences that will put pressure on the Andrews (Labor) Government to honour its election promise and reopen the inquiry.

Doig’s book, The Coal Face, summarises many of the issues raised by the inquiry by looking at a selection of personal stories from residents, neighbours and firefighters.  It is a short book of just over 100 pages but it is an important reminder that the consequences of the mine fire are still being felt. More…