Each Australian State conducts its own occupational health and safety (OHS) awards. It has been a long-held tradition that the winners of these awards are entered into the national OHS awards conducted by Safe Work Australia. No more. The national awards have been quietly dropped.
Safe Work Australia has decided to end the national awards just over a year since the Minister for Employment, Senator Eric Abetz, stated:
“I am delighted to see individuals, small businesses and large organisations finding solutions to make their workplaces safer….
“Their commitment and passion has made a difference in the community and ensured safer workplaces leading to more people getting home safely to their families.
“The leadership and innovation of people and organisations like those celebrated at the Awards that not only helps to reduce the number of workplace deaths and injuries but also helps to create a positive workplace culture.”
The 2014 media release went on to state:
“The Safe Work Australia Awards showcase the best workplace safety solutions, innovations and systems across our nation and are a celebration of what can be achieved to reduce workplace incidents and deaths.”
On the eve of its 2015 Budget, the Australian Parliament was debating an increase in enforcement powers of the Fair Work Building and Construction inspectorate and the resurrection of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Occupational health and safety (OHS) is rarely mentioned in these debates but not so on 11 May 2015. Excerpts from yesterday’s safety-related comments are worth noting, particularly as no mainstream media has done so or is likely to..
Senator Cory Bernardi (Liberal Party) attacked a recent video from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) saying that
“For too long the unions have falsely cried safety as a lazy defence for their unlawful and unethical industrial conduct. They have cried wolf so often that they can no longer be believed.”
Over the last few months some in Australia’s trade union movement have renewed calls for the introduction of industrial manslaughter laws in various jurisdictions. The issue has appeared both on television and online.
Curiously the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) seems to have dropped the “industrial manslaughter” terminology it has used in the past. In a 28 April 2015 media release, the ACTU stated:
““Strengthening OHS laws to make negligent companies and individual directors liable sends a clear message to employers that they must ensure people are safe at work.”
“Current laws need to be strengthened so that companies and company directors are liable for our safety at work.”
It seems that the charge has been left to the South Australian Greens Parliamentarian, Tammy Franks, who has proposed amendments to the SA Work Health and Safety laws in Parliament on 6 May. But what does Franks expect to achieve with this Bill? Will it reduce harm or is it a heartfelt cry of frustration? More…
On 7 May 2015, Senator Doug Cameron (Australian Labor Party, pictured) launched a new book written by John Bottomley (pictured, centre) called “Hard Work Never Killed Anybody – How the idolisation of work sustains this deadly lie“. Cameron acknowledged the uniqueness of the book as ranging
“…across, theology, Marxism, the Protestant work ethic, and the Enlightenment.”
This combination is rare in the field of occupational health and safety but Cameron said that Bottomley provides evidence that
“…the promise of industrialised society that hard work brings its own rewards is a lie”
and that this is a necessary and important challenge to the current political consensus. More…
One year ago, this blog included an article about possibly applying “broken windows” theory to occupational health and safety (OHS) as both involve the enforcement of rules. The article said:
“The principal OHS lessons from Broken Windows Theory are that one needs to scratch the surface of any new OHS approach, that these theories need time to mature and to be verified or questioned and that it remains an important exercise to look beyond our own experiences, but to look with an analytical eye.”
The theory is evolving according to the architect of the theory, William J Bratton in an audio report in NPR’s All Things Considered for 4 May 2015. According to that article:
“Bratton says he’s open to some revisions of the city’s broken windows philosophy, including more warnings for first-time offenders. But his larger message seems to be: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
All theories require adjustment to make sure they remain practical and relevant.
OHS professionals who correct the workplace hazards, particularly worker behaviours, that are the “low hanging fruit” seem to be following Broken Windows, theory to some extent. But to continue to do this, without addressing hazards higher up the hierarchy of controls, the organisational structure and the managerial prerogatives will devalue the original intention of enforcing worker behaviours and improving the work environment.
Mark Griffith illustrates the risk of devaluing the enforcement effort when he says, in the NPR article:
“We all want a better quality of life…. What we’re saying is the approach to it — the tactics that are used to arrive at that — are overly aggressive, and are ultimately on some level counterproductive to the very goals you’re trying to achieve.”
This seems equally valid to workplace safety management.
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…
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.
The 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…
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.
How 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…