There is a logic being applied to workplace safety and public policy that does not ring true. The argument seems to be that productivity levels in Australia are low, that part of the reason for this low productivity is excessive business paperwork and that workplace safety regulators are a major contributor. (SafetyAtWorkBlog has written around this topic previously.)
The authority on productivity in Australia is, unsurprisingly, the Productivity Commission (PC). In mid-June 2013, the commission released its Productivity Update, the first of promised annual reports. Search in the document for “workplace safety” and there is no mention, even “safety” only pulls up a couple of public safety references. Nothing for “workplace” either.
In fact, the report states that
“Strong growth in labour productivity in the December quarter of 2012-13 could be a sign that a broader improvement in MFP growth is now underway” (page 2)
“modelling shows that a comparatively small increase in the rate of labour productivity growth (primarily due to higher MFP growth) could lead to a comparatively large increase in the level of real GDP per person by 2050.” (page 2)
2050 is a long way off but the forecast is for an increase in productivity and the growth in the December quarter could indicate a trend. So for all the productivity gloom and doom being written about in the business newspapers, the reality may be different. More…
“If it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed”* has been a mantra of business for decades but all measurement can be corrupted. One of the most contentious elements of occupational health and safety (OHS) is the measurement of safety performance and a recent prosecution in the United States provides an important lesson for OHS managers everywhere, even though details are scarce.
“On Apr. 11, 2013, Walter Cardin, 55, of Metairie, La., was sentenced to serve 78 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release…. after being charged by a federal grand jury with eight counts of major fraud against the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), an agency of the United States.” [link added]
According to the US Attorney’s Office
“Cardin generated false injury rates which were used by the Shaw Group to collect safety bonuses of over $2.5 million from TVA. … Cardin was convicted of providing the false information about injuries by underreporting their number and severity… The evidence presented at trial encompassed over 80 injuries, including broken bones, torn ligaments, hernias, lacerations, and shoulder, back, and knee injuries that were not properly recorded by Cardin. Some employees testified that they were denied or delayed proper medical treatment as a result of Cardin’s fraud. Evidence showed that Cardin intentionally misrepresented or simply lied about how the injuries had occurred and how serious the injuries were.” [link added]
There are many safety management issues related to the conduct of Walter Cardin. More…
OnlineMBA.com recently uploaded a video about “The True Cost of a Bad Boss“. It is a good summary of the spread of negative organisational and employee effects that can result from poor management poor understanding and poor communication. It is well worth remembering this spread when determining the best way to manage workplace safety and increase productivity.
Although the video is from the US, there is research evidence to support many of the points raised. In December 2012, Safe Work Australia released The Australian Workplace Barometer Report On Psychosocial Safety Climate and Worker Health in Australia, a report that has been largely missed by the Australian media. The report says that:
“A standout finding here is that depression costs Australian employers approximately AUD$8 billion per annum as a result of sickness absence and presenteeism and AUD$693 million per annum of this is due to job strain and bullying.” (page 6)
This is a significant impact on Australian business costs and, if one takes the OnlineMBA information concerning bad bosses, Australian bosses may need to undertake a considerable amount of self-analysis when lobbying for red-tape reductions and calling for productivity increases. More…
In Australia, Parliamentary inquiries are usually required to provide the Parliament with a copy of their findings. In the last week of November 2012, the Chair of the Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying, Amanda Rishworth, presented its report which included a dissenting report from the Conservative (Liberal Party) committee members. On 28 November both Alan Tudge MP, one of the dissenting committee members, and Deborah O’Neill (Labor Party), spoke to the House of Representatives about the report. Their speeches say much on the issue of workplace bullying and the politics of workplace health and safety (WHS) in Australia.
Statistics and Costs
Tudge acknowledges the importance of preventing workplace bullying but provides an important fact to remember when reading the full report. According to Hansard, Tudge says
“The prevalence of workplace bullying is not known – there is no statistical data to assess exactly how prevalent it is. Regardless of the precise number, we know that it is too prevalent.” (emphasis added)
This may sound a little contradictory but it summarises a problem when investigating workplace bullying, there are no useful statistics on it. More…
A March 2012 report from Safe Work Australia reminds us that the issue of productivity and safety is not a new ideological battle. The report states that
“In 1995, an Industry Commission study estimated that only 25 per cent of the total cost of work–related injury and disease was due to the direct costs of work-related incidents. The remaining 75 per cent was accounted for by indirect costs such as lost productivity, loss of income and quality of life.” [link and emphasis added]
The significance of this quote is that the Industry Commission (now the Productivity Commission) established a direct link between work-related injuries and lost productivity. The link was not established by an organisation focusing on safety but one that is all about productivity. But none of the safety advocates or lobbyists have entered the political debate on productivity, even though the relationship between safety management and productivity has been established for almost 20 years, at least.
As part of the annual WorkSafe Week, WorkSafe‘s Ian Forsyth presented the organisation’s OHS strategy to a large crowd at the Melbourne Convention Centre on 28 October 2012.
Clearly Forsyth anticipated questions about the Victorian Government’s decision not to implement the model Work Health and Safety laws that will exist in all but two States and territories from 1 January 2013. He stressed that the government is adamant that the WHS laws will not be introduced “in the foreseeable future” and therefore Victorians need to refocus on compliance with the existing Victorian laws. He effectively shutdown any discussion on those laws before they started. The laws are off the Victorian table so let’s start working with what we have.
His stance has great significance for Victorian businesses and almost projected isolationism as a positive move. Part of his, familiar, justification was that the model WHS laws were based largely on the Victorian occupational health and safety laws and so there is little need to change, particular if the change would increase the regulatory cost burden to Victorian businesses. More…
Australian OHS discussion forums have been buzzing with the passing of the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) bill through the South Australian Parliament. SafetyAtWorkBlog has been advised that the WHS Bill has yet to go to Committee stage which then requires a third reading. Some engaged in South Australian politics still believe the WHS Bill will fail to become law.
However the focus should not only be on the WHS Bill as there were other OHS matters discussed in Parliament on 6 September, such as workplace bullying.
The Second Reading Speech (page 2069) by Russell Wortley on 6 September 2012 includes some comments of note. Below are a couple of extracts:
“There has been a lot of fearmongering about the effects of these laws. I want to assure honourable members that these fears are misguided and, sadly, often based on misinformation from lobby groups with a particular self-interest in seeing this legislation defeated.”
“…if we do not modernise our laws now, the scope of legal workplace safety protections will continue to be limited by the employer/employee relationship and existing ambiguities will remain. Honourable members need to understand that if the bill is not passed, a South Australia worker will have lower standards of safety than other workers in other states and territories across Australia.”
Of particular note is that Wortley tables (pages 2077-2079) the Housing Industry Association‘s table of increased costs from the new WHS laws. More…
SafetyAtWorkBlog began in February 2008 with 27 views. In August 2012, the blog had its 500,000th view on this site. For a small independent weblog – in a niche topic – in Australia, that statistic is remarkable.
View statistics vary a lot but in August the blog came back to its average of over 500 views each day.
Thanks to everyone who reads the articles. Thanks to those who write some of them, and thanks to everyone who comments, takes me to task or appreciates my effort.
Next week Australia holds public hearings into the issue of workplace bullying. Currently the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment has not yet made any submissions publicly available which handicaps the value of the public hearings for observers but the Trade Unions have released their submissions. Generally, the suggestions for control measures are progressive but the submissions also indicate the extent of the challenge in “controlling” workplace bullying and some of the challenges facing this inquiry.
The ACTU claims that workplace bullying was given national prominence following a survey of union members in 2000 but that survey is not representative of the broader Australian community and should be treated with caution. The ACTU submission seeks support for its survey results from more authoritative sources such as Safe Work Australia and the Productivity Commission. But neither of these sources indicates workplace bullying to be as big an issue as the ACTU claims.
Safe Work Australia’s figures, quoted by the ACTU , say that in
“In 2007/08, 26% of accepted workers compensation claims for mental stress in Australia resulted in 26 or more weeks off work.”
The significance in this quote is that bullying is not mentioned and if one accepts that bullying is a subset of mental stress and psychosocial hazards, bullying should be only a fraction of the 26% figure. It is also the case that it is common for victims of bullying to eliminate the hazard through resignation rather than lodge workers’ compensation claims. So one metric may indicate a low bullying rate but another indicates a “hidden” rate. Accurate measurement, the accumulation of evidence, is a major problem in any study of workplace bullying and is a major challenge for this Parliamentary Inquiry. More…
In a recent edition of Safety Express, a newsletter from WorkSafe Victoria, Clarke Martin outlined the benefits of WorkSafe’s Owner Visit program to one regional company. This good news story needed more depth and detail so Clark Martin provided SafetyAt WorkBlog with additional information.
The Safety Express article outlined that a company of over 200 employees gained advice through WorkSafe’s free 6-hour consultancy service and has
“…made significant savings in insurance premiums over a two-year period. The financial and safety benefits are continuing today.”
“The company agreed to make significant changes to the way the business managed its OHS and RTW, and the financial management of premium costs.”
“WorkSafe worked with the company for two years and in this time the EPR dropped to just 34 per cent above average and work is continuing to further improve its performance. The company advised WorkSafe that savings achieved from reduced insurance premiums was equivalent to the profits on producing and selling an additional $16m of product.” More…