There is a constant tension between occupational health and safety (OHS) and workers compensation. OHS is intended to prevent harm and workers compensation is available for when harm cannot be, or has not been, prevented. In Australia, these two elements of safety are administered by different organisations under different legislation but it is a distinction that baffles many. The recent discussion about a sex-related workers compensation claim illustrates this bafflement to some degree.
This time last year Comcare filed an appeal over a Federal Court decision regarding
“A Commonwealth employee is seeking workers’ compensation for injuries sustained after a light fitting was pulled from the wall of a motel during sex, on a business trip.”
(A good summary of most of the legal proceedings is provided by Herbert Geer.)
The case has received wide media attention mostly for the salacious matter of the case, and some political attention, but the purpose of the appeal, according to Comcare, was
“… to seek a High Court ruling on the boundaries between private More…
In early September 2013 I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on the issue of working at heights. The “crisis summit” was reported on recently by Marian Macdonald. The videos of this panel are now available through the WAHA YouTube channel and all the separate videos are worth viewing. The video in which I first advocate for a focus on safety is embedded below.
The questions from the floor are included in the last video of the panel discussion. If the issue of working at heights seems dry it is worth looking at the video from the 4.30 minute mark. Several members of the audience take the Workcover NSW representative to task.
The article below has been written by Marian Macdonald and is about an event that I recently attended in Sydney about fall protection.
When a plumber perched on the rooftop of a skyscraper clips a safety harness onto the point that anchors him to the building, there’s a one-in-three chance the anchor itself is unsafe. Remarkably, the installers being held to blame are pleading for greater scrutiny of their work from the regulator.
The Working At Heights Association (WAHA), which represents fall prevention equipment installers, today sent a call to action submission (not available online) to the Heads Of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA). It follows an industry crisis summit held last month where, with a sea of upstretched hands, hundreds packed into a stifling conference room demanded urgent action from governments. More…
On September 9 2013, the Canberra Times published an article by Bill Eddy, entitled “Bullying a practice for the whole workplace to solve“. (The article has been tweeted and referenced several times in the past week in Australia.) Bill Eddy is due in Australia soon to conduct a workshop on workplace bullying. The article has some sound advice on workplace bullying but what caught my attention was the opening line:
“Research indicates that workplace bullying has a more negative effect on employees than sexual harassment, perhaps because there are more procedures in place for dealing with sexual harassment.”
What research? More…
A most curious article about workplace bullying appeared in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on 11 September 2013. In discussing recent changes to Australia’s Fair Work Act Nick Ruskin of K&L Gates wrote about the broad definition of workplace bullying to be applied:
“…the intriguing thing is that worker is very broadly defined. Its definition, reliant on the Workplace Health & Safety Act 2011, is so wide it could even include the director of a corporation.
In other words, non-executive directors of corporations will have the same ability as a traditional worker to take a bullying grievance to the Fair Work Commission.
We could see a situation in which a company director alleges they have been bullied by another director and seeks early intervention from the Commission.” (emphasis added)
One of the most discussed posts on this blog concerned an insurance company that paid the fines awarded against a company director. The company director had been found guilty of OHS breaches that led to the death of a worker. Yesterday, South Australia’s Deputy Premier and Minister for Industrial Relations. John Rau, said that he will be taking action to close the loophole that allows for this situation. But this is unlikely to succeed and may be a distraction from the more significant issue of new penalties for deterrence.
In a media release, not yet available online, Rau states that
“Insurance should not be the preference over safe equipment and safe workplace standards….
Whilst most employers do the right thing, this dodge effectively means that the incentive for a company to provide a safe environment for its workers is diminished or eliminated.”
Rau’s current strategy for closing this loophole, which is not really a legal loophole at all, is weak. Rau, a Labor Party politician, says that he will bring the matter to the attention of the Federal Minister for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten. However, Australia is ten days away from an election that the current (Labor) government is tipped to lose.
Australia’s conservative opposition leader, Tony Abbott, has announced that he intends to conduct a judicial inquiry into the government’s handling of the home insulation program (HIP) that resulted in the deaths of four workers in Queensland and New South Wales in 2009 and 2010.
Such a call would, normally, be very welcome but the timing of Abbott’s announcement brings a level of political baggage that weakens his commitment. More…
The recent coronial finding into three workplace deaths related to an Australian government economic stimulus package in 2009 has muddled the safety profession over the political context and the OHS context of these deaths. But the finding and resulting discussions could be the catalyst for a much-needed analysis of how decisions made with good intentions in Canberra can lead to the tragic personal and shopfloor decisions in the suburbs.
The Home Insulation Program (HIP) could have been interpreted as government “interference” in the market and been badged as “nanny state” economics. However it may be possible to argue that Prime Minister Rudd could have been an economic hero if the Home Insulation Program had continued without any deaths. More…
The Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) has released a set of guidelines for the prevention of mental health problems at work. Such guidelines have been sorely required in Australia where workplace mental health problems have become an increasing problem for workers and organisations and workplace bullying dominates the policy landscape. It recommends the development of a mental health and wellbeing strategy that includes the following elements:
- “the development of a positive work environment that supports and encourages mental health
- balancing job demands with job control
- appropriately rewarding employees efforts
- creating a fair workplace
- provision of workplace supports
- effective management of performance issues
- provision of training to develop management and leadership skills
- supportive change management processes More…
Safe Work Australia has released its latest draft code of practice for preventing and responding to workplace bullying for public comment. There are many useful and practical strategies in the draft code but workplace bullying is only a small element of the more sustainable strategy of developing a safe and respectful organisational culture.
The definition in the May 2013 draft code is a tidied up version of the September 2011 definition:
“…repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.”
The lack of difference in these definitions is a real positive given the complaints, primarily, from the business community since 2011. The significance in both definitions is that there must be a direct relationship between the behaviours and health and safety risks. This could be substantially difficult to prove, particularly if , as in most cases, it is the recipient of the bullying who needs to prove this.
Consider, for a moment, that this code of practice is used for establishing preventative measures and not just used for disproving a court case, these definitions can help establish a benchmark for creating a safe organisational culture. More…