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…
The lower house (thanks, Rex) of the Australian Parliament has passed amendments to its industrial relations laws, the Fair Work Act, to allow for matters concerning workplace bullying to be heard in its Commission, once the laws pass the Senate.. But recent media and parliamentary discussion on this action seems to forgotten the welfare of the bullied workers.
Professor Andrew Stewart of the University of Adelaide is reported to have said that there is a risk that the Fair Work Commission will be “swamped” with bullying complaints and that a system of filtering should be applied. Such a mechanism is supported by Professor Ron McCallum who said in The Australian on 14 June 2013:
“I would agree with the Coalition that there should be some filtering mechanism because we don’t know how many complaints there are going to be,” he said. “There’s been wildly varying suggestions.
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…
Last week the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) released a review of the WorkHealth program. The results are very positive and deserve detailed analysis. However these analyses do not seem to address all the expectations of the Victorian Government when the program was launched several years ago.
Premier John Brumby said at the launch of WorkHealth that
“Over time the program is expected to free up $60 million per year in health costs, as well as:
- Cut the proportion of workers at risk of developing chronic disease by 10 per cent;
- Cut workplace injuries and disease by 5 per cent, putting downward pressure on premiums;
- Cut absenteeism by 10 per cent; and
- Boost productivity by $44 million a year.”
One of the key findings of the research seems to meet two of the program’s aims:
“Modelling of outcome forecast goals for a 10% reduction in absenteeism and a 5% reduction in compensable injury rates are likely to be met, especially as health promotion program uptake increases.” (page 5)
It is reasonable to expect from a 4-5 year study of hundreds of thousands of work health checks that hard data be obtained but as the quote above reveals, the researchers needed to apply modelling and draw on research from other sources. More…
Australian politics is currently embroiled in a dispute generated by a contractor entering the telecommunications pits of the asset owner. Some, or many, of the pits contain asbestos and the contractor’s work, the laying of new fibre-optic cables, may disturb the asbestos. There are many other concerns but that is the nub.
The Australian newspaper has been running on this issue for many weeks but one article in today’s edition called “Taking a dig: will Bill come up short?” (page 9 – online paywall), by David Crowe, caught my attention. Crowe reports that:
“The Australian has been told Telstra chief executive David Thodey wrote to Shorten in December 2009 to argue against his proposal for a ‘‘proactive’’ program to remove asbestos from the company’s pits. Thodey gave three reasons for not proceeding: the cost; the risk of releasing asbestos; and the fact plans for the NBN were in train but had not been locked in.”
I realise that the OHS legislative concept of “reasonably practicable” does not extend to all facets of life but if it were applied to the current asbestos exposure (and I think it could) Thodey’s three reasons given above would be crucial in any potential prosecution, particularly if the reasons in Thodey’s response to Bill Shorten were listed in order of priority. In OHS law, cost is the last element to be considered in determining a reasonably practicable hazard control measure.
The first international speaker at this weekend’s Building Safety conference in Canberra, Australia was Rita Donahy, author of the One Death Is Too Many report into the UK’s construction industry safety performance, and a member of the House of Lords.
Donahy stressed that workplace safety is, and should be, a social issue and not treated as a special case.
In May 2013 Fiona Austin (@upfrontfi) a lawyer with the Australian law firm, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), tweeted:
“Great win in the Supreme Court! No more naming and shaming for health and safety offenders in Queensland”
The Supreme Court decision is an appalling situation over which OHS professionals and regulators should be outraged.
Austin and other HSF lawyers authored a longer article on the case and totally miss the point of why OHS offenders should be named. Shaming of offenders is a different matter.
The article explains how a decision under the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) may stop the OHS regulator in Queensland, Work Health and Safety Queensland, from listing the names of offenders on its website. More…
Today Australia hosts a No2Bullying conference. It is a timely conference as the debate on Australia’s changes to the Fair Work Act in relation to workplace bullying heats up.
Lawyer Josh Bornstein is particularly critical of the politicisation of the amendments and believes this increases the instability or remedies available to victims of workplace bullying by increasing pressure on under-resourced OHS regulators.
The amendments are unlikely to reduce the incidence of workplace bullying in Australia as they address post-incident circumstances.
As the new legislation is being passed through Parliament, the industrial relations, political and legal context will dominate the media, More…
Recently New Zealand stole some of Australia’s thunder on quad bike safety when, according to one media report, one of the country’s state-owned enterprises, Landcorp Farming Limited decided it:
“…will not be using quad bikes on its new farms, and is limiting use of the vehicles elsewhere, as it looks for a safer and more suitable alternative.”
The differing positions on quad bike safety mirror the Australian debate. Landcorp will remove or limit the use of quad bikes just as did the New South Wales’ National Parks & Wildlife Service. The Motor Industry Association argues against crush protection devices just as has the FCAI in Australia. Charley Lamb of Lincoln University echoes Australian academic researchers and believes:
“The argument that rollover protection killed riders was “rubbish”. More…
On 28 April 2013, New Zealand lawyer, Hazel Armstrong, published a 48-page book on how workplace fatalities and the management of the NZ rail industry has been related to politics and economics.
This is an ideological position more than anything else and the evidence is thin in much of this short book but there is considerable power in the description of the manipulation of occupational health and safety regulations and oversight during the political privatisation of the NZ rail sector. Many countries have privatised previously nationalised, or government-owned, enterprises usually on the argument of productivity and efficiency increases. Armstrong argues that these arguments were used to justify breaking the trade union dominance of the rail industry. More…