Lack of progress on Safe Work Method Statements shows immaturity 4

On 27 October 2014 the Safety Institute of Australia, with the support of RMIT University conducted a seminar on safety in the construction industry.  As with the event last year the issue of Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) dominated the conversation.  The same frustrations were expressed as last year – SWMS are too big and complex, they are demanded for tasks they are not legislatively required for, they are rarely read, they are rarely reviewed and they are written only in English.  What was missing was an indication of  who is (over)demanding SWMS and why.

The seminar contained one client representative experienced in major construction projects who said that he was not directly involved with SWMS as the contract demands only that work is undertaken safely with predetermined levels of risk and reward.  That level of safety may or may not involve the use of SWMS – SWMS were not prescribed.  

He did not review SWMS unless there was a specific reason and most of the time there was not.  It could be argued that too much involvement by the client in how the project is to be completed implies a shared OHS responsibility with the client, changing the client/contractor relationship.

One construction industry representative said that they have been able to reduce the number of SWMS to around twenty types for each of the active construction projects.  This has been achieved by limiting the SWMS to the 19 high risk tasks identified in safety legislation.  It was significant that this perspective came from the top-level of construction companies, the Tier Ones. More…

Whitlam’s dismissal diverted workers compensation reform 6

In October 2014, one of Australia’s Prime Ministers, Gough Whitlam, died at the age of 98.  Whitlam introduced major social reforms, many which still exist today (just).  One reform he valued but was not able to achieve was a national accident compensation scheme. It is worth noting when reading of the current economic and moral arguments over workplace responsibility and over-regulation that Whitlam’s national accident compensation scheme included workers compensation.

In 1974, during Whitlam’s time as the Prime Minister of Australia, the New Zealand government established a no-fault accident compensation scheme following the 1967 Royal Commission of Inquiry into Compensation for Personal Injury in New Zealand chaired by Owen Woodhouse.  Woodhouse was invited to assess the likelihood of a similar scheme being introduced in Australia.  He completed his inquiry (not available online) for such a scheme and legislation was drafted. The bill was in the Australian Parliament when the Whitlam government was dismissed by Governor-General John Kerr.  As a result of the political machinations of the Liberal Party of Australia, Australia missed the opportunity to have a national accident compensation scheme. More…

Finally some valuable and practical details on occupational health and safety programs 1

Earlier this month SafetyAtWorkBlog was critical of a (still yet to be released) guidebook on “Integrated approaches to worker health, safety and well-being”.  Specifically the case study information in the guidebook needed more depth and it was suggested that

“ This weakness could be compensated for through a strong campaign where the companies in the case studies speak about their experiences first-hand.”

The Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA) has redeemed itself slightly with a presentation by one of the case studies’ safety managers during the authority’s annual OHS week.  Murray Keen of ConnectEast provided a detailed list of the combination of safety and health programs the company has applied over the last few years.  Keen claims that these programs have contributed to the company having

  • no workers compensation claims since december 2009;
  • a much lower than average attrition rate in its call centre;
  • annual absenteeism of 4.6 days per person compared to a national average of between 8.75 and 9.2 days; and
  • only 4 first aid incidents for the 2013-14 financial year – no Lost Time Injury or Medical Treatment Injury.

Keen also told the audience that the company has granted him a year-on-year increase to his safety budget and when asked about the cost of the programs introduced he said that one workers compensation claim almost covered the cost of the safety program.

This level of detail is what the guidebook was lacking as it provided the information that many safety managers would need to make a case to their executives for support and resources. More…

Shadow IR Minister addresses trade union OHS conference 4

O'Connor photoAs part of Safe Work Australia month, or perhaps coincidentally, the Australian Council of Trade Unions held its annual occupational health and safety (OHS) conference in Melbourne, Australia.  On the morning of day 2, the conference heard from the Shadow Minister for Employment Relations, Brendan O’Connor.  The Minister is from the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and had a sympathetic audience but he made several interesting points, particularly when he diverged from the scripted speech (which will be available online shortly) and when he took questions.

Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program 

O’Connor supports the ALP position that the Home Insulation Program (HIP) Royal Commission was a purely political affair to target previous ALP government ministers.  He emphasised that the Royal Commission was the last in a long line of inquiries into worker deaths and OHS prosecutions related to the HIP program and that this inquiry has achieved very little change.  O’Connor said (ad libbed)

“…. that Royal Commission has not recommended any changes to the regulations or obligations on employers to do the right thing at the workplace. It’s almost worse than doing nothing, than to use the health and safety of the workers as a political weapon against your political opponent. That’s how dismissive this government is with respect to health and safety.

Let’s set up a Royal Commission. Let’s summons a former Labor Prime Minister and other Ministers but, of course, all of which we could accept and we supported the establishment of the Royal Commission if that’s what they chose to do, with one caveat – that was, go ahead with the eleventh inquiry into these tragic deaths but make sure that when there are findings about the deficiencies in the law that protects the interests of working people, particularly young workers, do something about it.

Well we’ve seen nothing. We’ll see nothing in terms of changing the law by this government because that was purely a political exercise. To me this underlines how cynical this government is when it comes to health and safety. It only saw it as a political exercise and, I’m afraid to say, you won’t see too many good policy changes as a result of that Commission.”

More…

Integrated approach to OHS and wellbeing to be promoted in Australia 1

Cover from VWA_INTEGRATED APPROACH GUIDELINES_D3-2Later this month, the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) will be releasing a document entitled “Integrated approaches to worker health, safety and well-being” (pictured right, but not yet available online).  It is intended to generate discussion on how to improve workplace safety performance by breaking down the walls of various disciplines, production processes, consultative silos and institutional or organisational biases.  This document builds on the overseas experience of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH – Total Worker Health program), the World Health Organisation (WHO – Healthy Workplace Framework) and others to provide an Australian context.

Those who are experienced in risk management principles may see little new in this approach and the publication’s success is likely to depend on how VWA explains the initiative and how its stakeholders, Victorian businesses of all sizes, accept the concept and believe it can work in their own workplaces.

Integration

The release of a publication advocating Integration implies that an unintegrated approach to safety management has been an impediment to change. This may be a surprise to risk managers and those who have been consulting broadly on OHS in their workplaces and those companies who have integrated systems managers with responsibility for Quality, OHS and Environment. More…

Australian PM responds to Insulation Royal Commission 4

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott provided his interim response to the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (HIP) in Parliament on 30 September, 2014.  One should not expect much sustainable or cultural change from an interim response but Abbott’s responses hold some promise.

The commitments include:

“…[asking] Minister Hunt [Environment] to assume responsibility to oversee the Commonwealth response and to coordinate actions across departments and ministers.”

“…[asking] the Minister for Employment to examine these [OHS] findings, particularly as they relate to the reliance of the Commonwealth on state and territory laws, and his work will inform the government’s final response.”

Minister Hunt and the Minister for Finance have been asked to recommend options to compensate their next of kin [of the deceased workers]“

More…

Safe Work Australia month begins with an online gamble Reply

The annual Safe Work Australia month starts today.  The promotion of this month has fluctuated wildly over the last decade.  Sometimes there are physical launches with interesting speakers, sometimes balloons and merchandise, other times the national OHS authority has left most of the activity to the States.  In 2014, Safe Work Australia has jumped into internet videos, online presentations and webinars each day of the month of October (the full schedule is available HERE).  This initiative is to be supported but it has not been tried before in Australia and its success is not guaranteed.

As expected the first couple of videos are polite launches of the strategy with statements from Ministers and CEOs.  The potential for valuable content is after the initial launch but this value is debatable.  It is unclear who the target audience is.  If the seminar series is for OHS newbies, a restatement of legislative OHS obligations is of little interest to experienced safety managers and professionals.  More…

What is workplace “mental wellbeing”? 1

The 2014 Annual Report of the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) states a new initiative on workplace mental health:

“…a new direction for the VWA’s WorkHealth program has led to the Victorian Mental Wellbeing Collaboration. The VWA has invested in a tripartite collaboration with peak health promotion agencies VicHealth and SuperFriend to develop a range of evidence based tools and resources that will be tested and refined through industry leaders and made broadly available to Victorian workplaces.” (page 25, links added)

Two significant points in this statement are the development of a range of “evidence-based tools and resources” and the pledge to consult.  However what is meant by a tripartite consultation in this context is unclear as traditionally OHS consultation has included employer associations, trade unions and government regulators.  If health promotion agencies are included in this latest “tripartite collaboration”.  Will the employer groups or trade unions be dropped?  Consultation on any new OHS/wellbeing initiative should not be constrained in a tripartite combination.

One of the traps in this initiative is the potential confusion by terminologies.  “Mental health” is a well-understood term that is readily applied to the workplace by organisations such as the Western Australian Mental Health Commission who quotes the World Health Organisation

“…. good mental health is not simply the absence of a mental disorder. It is a state of wellbeing whereby an individual can realise their own potential, manage everyday stresses, work productively and contribute to their community.” (page 6)

More…

A Declaration of lip service on OHS 1

Next month Australia hosts the G20 but there is always a lot of activity leading to this meeting and labour relations is part of that preparation.  In September 2014 the G20 conducted its Labour and Employment Ministerial meeting at which a Declaration was released that includes some occupational health and safety (OHS) information.  The Declaration is full of “weasel words” and “soft verbs” but it is worth noting so that the actions of governments on OHS in the future can be referenced, even though tangible results will be few.

On promoting safer workplaces, the Declaration states:

“Improving workplace safety and health is an urgent priority that protects workers and contributes to increased productivity and growth. We agree to take further steps to reduce the substantial human and economic costs associated with unsafe workplaces and work-related illnesses. We endorse the attached G20 Statement on Safer and Healthier Workplaces (Annex C), and we commit, as appropriate, to implement its recommendations in collaboration with governments, international organisations and social partners.”

If we were to deconstruct this statement, accepting that the paragraph is extracted from the labour relations context, the Australian Government, and other parties, does not accept that OHS is an “urgent priority”, only that improving it is.  Any government can prove that it is “improving” OHS even when controls are removed due to red tape reduction or by the ideological strategy of increasing employer control through increased flexibility. More…

Book review: Business, Environment, and Society – Themes and Cases Reply

Book coverAustralia’s Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (HIP) spent a great deal of time looking at the design of what started as an environmental initiative delivered in one way to an economic stimulus package delivered another way.  The HIP, and the people working with it, struggled to accommodate these changes.  A new book from Baywood Publishing in the United States, coincidentally, looks at the growth in ‘green jobs” and, among many issues, discusses how such jobs can affect worker health.

In “Business, Environment, and Society – Themes and CasesVesela R Veleva writes

“Green jobs, however, are not necessarily safe jobs, and, any of the current green technologies pose significant health and safety risks to workers.  A life-cycle approach and greater emphasis on worker health and safety is necessary when promoting future policies and practices. (Page 7)

The advantage of looking at the HIP inquiries as green jobs is that it provides a broader, even global, context to the scheme. Veleva writes:

“While there is no universally accepted definition of a green job, several organisations have proposed working definitions.  The United Nations Environmental Program defines a green job as “work in agriculture, manufacturing, research and development, administrative and service activities that contribute substantially to preserving and restoring environmental quality”…. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics defines green jobs as jobs involved in producing green products and services and increasing the use of clean energy, energy efficiency and mitigating negative impacts on the environment…” (page 9)

More…