Barry Naismith has followed up his first report into WorkSafe with a second that analyses the workplace deaths in Victoria since 1985.
One of the attractions of Naismith’s analyses is that he considers the broader context to the data. His first report looked at WorkSafe Victoria’s actions and policies in relation to the executive and board complexion. In this report he looks at the frequency of deaths with WorkSafe campaigns and enforcement response.
The analysis may not have the authority of a fully-funded research program from an academic institution but the level of detail he has collected from official sources is impressive, and in the absence of any other analysis, Naismith’s work deserves serious attention.
In 2012, SafetyAtWorkBlog reviewed the first edition of the Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide. CCH Wolters Kluwer has released its second edition and, sadly, it repeats many of the criticisms in the 2012 review.
The title of Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide (2nd ed) seems inaccurate if one considers a book with “master ” in its title to be a “masterwork”. This is not a masterwork and the publishers have emphasised to SafetyAtWorkBlog that the book was never intended to be. The book is intended to be a brief outline of the most important contemporary occupational health and safety (OHS) issues in Australia and to provide practical advice, checklists and templates. In fact, the word that should be focussed on in the title is “guide”.
The publishers advised that “master” is in the title to indicate it is part of its “Master Series“, a “brilliant” series described as
“Australia’s premium range of professional books, widely accepted as the leaders in their fields.”
SafetyAtWorkBlog looked at a couple of chapters to assess the quality of the content. As workplace bullying is such a contentious issue. the Bullying and Violence chapter was a focus. There were a surprising number of omissions in this chapter. More…
At a recent breakfast seminar, Steve Bell of Herbert Smith Freehills mentioned that a Bill is with the Australian Senate that will open up the Comcare scheme to Australian businesses through the removal of the national competition test. This move has been flagged for some time with several lawyers expressing reservations. Bell mentioned this to the audience of OHS professionals as the law changes could present a substantial change to their operational knowledge base. The Bill is part of a larger debate on OHS.
In a July 2014 article, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) warned that:
“The proposed changes to Comcare will not only throw state and territory-based workers’ compensation schemes into fiscal chaos, but will also see injured workers left out in the cold,” ALA National President Geraldine Collins said.
“If this legislation is passed, employers may move their workers into the Comcare scheme, thus leaving huge holes of unfunded liability in state schemes which is likely to result in state-based premiums soaring.”
“Opening up the Comcare scheme will be disastrous for workers. Comcare has no meaningful access to common law damages for injuries caused by the negligence of an employer. The scheme is burdensome, paternalistic, and bureaucratic for workers and employers. Its design means premiums have to go up unless benefits are slashed ,” Ms Collins said.
“Comcare also has no meaningful workplace health and safety regime. Work environments will develop where lives are lost and permanently damaged with little oversight and enforcement of workplace health and safety. It is a fundamentally flawed minimalist scheme. Migration en masse will strike at the heart of the financial stability of state schemes, which are mostly running fairly,” Ms Collins said.”
Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), in its Australian partners and as a firm, has been prominent in occupational health and safety (OHS) matters, even though the organisation is “on the nose” with much of the trade union movement. This week HSF conducted a breakfast for the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) in Melbourne, the first in a couple of years after an alleged falling out with the SIA. The presentations did not sparkle as some have in previous years.
The most anticipated presentation was from Len Neist, an executive director of WorkSafe Victoria. Neist outlined the aims of the organisation but much of this was familiar. He reiterated the obligations on WorkSafe from the various legislation and pledged to focus on prevention.
Neist is not beyond executive jargon (“risk tolerability framework” ?) and stated one of his aims was to “incentivise compliance and improvement”. One can argue that compliance should require no encouragement only enforcement. Why provide incentives to businesses for what is their legislative and moral duty? More…
The new Andrews Government in Victoria has followed through on its election pledge to abolish the Construction Compliance Code Unit (CCCU) of the Department of Treasury and Finance. It announced this in a peculiar manner within a media release on whooping cough, a process that Senator Abetz went to town on. But Premier Andrews’ decision raises the question of, if the Code is gone, what replaces it? The simply answer is nothing.
A spokesperson for the Premier advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that
“The Andrews Labor Government has delivered on its election commitment to scrap the Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry and its monitoring body the Construction Code Compliance Unit (CCCU).
Contractors bidding for Victorian Government work and applying for pre-qualification on construction registers will still need to meet safety and industrial relations management criteria. Contractors must also have occupational health and safety policies and procedures to meet legislative and regulatory requirements.”
The Australian Government has announced an inquiry into workplace relations through the Productivity Commission (PC). The most obvious occupational health and safety (OHS) element of this inquiry relates to workplace bullying which is discussed in the fourth of five issues papers released in January 2015. However the purposeful separation of workplace bullying actions through the Fair Work Commission (FWC) from actions in other sectors, such as OHS regulators, limits the potential impact of the inquiry on this issue.
The PC issues paper acknowledges the lack of the anticipated avalanche of anti-bullying applications and accepts that the structure of the FWC process may be partially responsible. This lack of applications, an issue discussed elsewhere in SafetyAtWorkBlog, deserves further research and analysis. The FWC structure only allows applications from workers currently employed in the workplace about which they are complaining. It can be argued that the inability of the FWC to award financial compensation is an equal deterrent. If this is the case (and, as far as can be determined, this aspect has not been investigated) the motivation of anti-bullying applicants to FWC and OHS regulators may involve natural justice AND compensation. The role of money in bullying complaints and applications has been a taboo subject in the past but deserves some analysis, even though it may be very uncomfortable. More…
Just over six months ago the (conservative) Victorian Government announced that it was dropping the WorkSafe brand (pictured right). This made little sense at the time as the WorkSafe brand was so established that it became accepted shorthand for the OHS inspectorate. On 23 January 2015, less than two months after the election of a new (Labor) Victorian Government, the brand has been resurrected. It seems that this indicates an ideological change.
The benefits of dropping the brand were stated on the Victorian Workcover Authority’s (VWA) website (pictured above) as better reflecting all areas of the VWA’s business but the decision was widely interpreted as a diminution of attention to harm and injury prevention. Such a strategic shift echoed the increased perception of organisational heartlessness by some community sectors. More…
Whether one believes that the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption is a political witch-hunt or a genuine attempt to clean up a corrupt industry sector, the Royal Commission seems to have revealed an abuse and exploitation of occupational health and safety (OHS) – an exploitation that has received next to no attention. The release of the Commission’s interim report allows for a quick analysis of this situation.
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was a particular target of the Commission in relation to a “slush fund” established by her then-boyfriend, Bruce Wilson, commonly referred to as the “AWU affair“. The “slush fund”, known as the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association, was developed, according to Gillard
“… to support the re-election of union officials who would campaign for workplace reforms including better occupational health and safety.” (Interim Report, Vol 1, page 99)
The Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, called a “snap” election for the end of January 2015. On 11 January 2015, Newman tweeted:
“Queenslanders injured at work are covered by Australia’s strongest workers’ compensation scheme.”
This is a further example of political newspeak as what does a “strong” workers’ compensation scheme look like? Newman’s tweet included an image that provides some clarity to his claim.
Last year SafetyAtWorkBlog reported its failure at gaining the release of the Victorian Government’s full cost analysis of the introduction of the national Work Health and Safety laws. In November 2014 the Victorian Government changed from conservative Liberal to traditionally more worker-friendly Labor Party. So I submitted another request, with the same result, the report was
“…prepared for the purpose of submission for consideration by Cabinet in 2012…”
It seems we will have to wait another 28 years, apparently, to see the full estimated costs of Victoria introducing occupational health and safety laws that most other States have already introduced. It is worth remembering that one State, South Australia, provided dramatically different cost estimates and the Productivity Commission estimated cost savings for some companies:
“…multi-state businesses are likely to see compliance costs fall and safety outcomes improve, generating total possible net cost savings of $480 million per year [under the new Work Health and Safety laws]” (Chapter 8, page 153)
The previous Liberal Government pledged never to introduce the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. The new Labor Government failed to mention these laws in its 2014 election/policy platform so their intentions on WHS laws are unclear. However, it is widely believed that Victoria has lost its claim to be at the leading edge of OHS/WHS legislation in this country. If such status is important to the Labour Government, as it has been to the Australian Labor Party in the past, it is hard not to see it harmonising its OHS laws to those of the other States even if through quiet diplomacy rather than a noisy legislative change.