This weekend the Australian people voted for the conservative Liberal Party to be the next Federal government. Workplace safety has been largely absent from the pre-election campaign but when it has been mentioned it has almost always been couched in terms of productivity. In the next few years, workplace safety issues must be couched in terms of productivity to have any hope of gaining the ear of the new government and, particularly, the ear of Senator Eric Abetz, the most likely candidate for the ministry of workplace relations.
Recent changes to workplace bullying laws which provide a prominent role of the Fair Work Commission are unlikely to be rolled back but Abetz has promised More…
On September 3 2013 I will be on a panel in Sydney discussing issues associated with working at heights. Below is a media release (not yet available online) about the panel and some recent data on working at heights risks. The quotes are mine.
Inaction by policy makers is putting lives at risk and now, says a peak safety industry body, there are the numbers to prove it.
The Working At Heights Association (WAHA) will host a crisis summit on Tuesday at The Safety Show Sydney, where it will reveal that one in three roof anchors are unfit for use. Of the 3245 anchors audited by association members over the last three months, 2260 were deemed unusable.
Part of the problem, says WAHA secretary Gordon Cadzow, has been the lack of awareness of the number of inadequate safety systems on Australia’s rooftops.
Recently a colleague of mine expressed regret that occupational health and safety in Australia is no longer occupational. Occupational health and safety (OHS) established its parameters in its title but now most of Australia is bound to Work Health and Safety laws. Work is more than a workplace and so the discipline, the OHS profession, became more complex. Some would say that it has always been complex and that many OHS professionals failed to see the bigger picture, the broad social context of workplace health and safety.
I was reminded of my colleague’s regrets when someone on a construction site recently asked for my opinion on some pictures of her son, at a childcare centre, hitting some nails into a block of wood. The boy (pictured right, at home) was wearing safety glasses, albeit a little large; the “work area” was separated from the rest of the children and the boy was supervised at all times by a child care worker. I was told that some of the parents had expressed concern that such an activity should not be happening in a childcare centre due to the potential risk to other children.
For some time the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has been plagued with accusations of bullying and harassment. A researcher began court action in 2011. An anonymous website “Victims of CSIRO” was established in 2012 and provides a timeline of disgruntlement for back as far as 2002. In May 2012, Liberal politician Sophie Mirabella, raised the issue of bullying in criticism of the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. In July 2012, Comcare issued an Improvement Notice to CSIRO following an investigation
”thoroughly reviewing the workplace systems relating to the prevention and management of bullying behaviour at CSIRO”.
In September 2012, CSIRO whistleblowers spoke of bullying. The CSIRO Staff Association reported anecdotal evidence of increased bullying and harassment in late 2012.
In August 2013 HWL Ebsworth released the independent report (the Pearce report) which, according to the CSIRO, found
“no major or widespread issues with unreasonable behaviour or bullying in CSIRO”.
How does that work? More…
Australian Academic Press has forwarded a bullying article, written by Stephen May, that links together many of the themes of its authors with the topicality of recent statements on schoolyard bullying by the Queensland Attorney General, Jarrod Bleijie. The statements on schoolyard bullying seem reasonable and bullying at school is an established hazard but extrapolating these to the workplace is a questionable leap. Thankfully Australian Academic Press’ list has workplace bully texts.
“Young bullies who don’t learn why such behaviour is wrong will likely remain as bullies into adulthood.”
This statement reflects a common assumption but fails to consider the dramatically different legislative, organisational, cultural, social and personal differences between school and work. Schools have a different type of duty of care that requires nurturing, encouragement and psychological development. The teachers, the equivalent of managers or workplace supervisors, have more of a mentoring role than exists in most workplaces. The relationships are less Jedi and Padawan and more colleagues or, in some industries, mates.
On 12 July 2013 the Australian Drug Foundation reported that alcohol use is responsible for:
- five per cent of all Australian workplace deaths, and
- up to 11 per cent of non-fatal injuries.
These figures should be of great concern to everyone but what if these figures generate no concern and no outrage, and no change?
The significance of the research data above and in the full document – Workplace alcohol and other drug programs: What is good practice? - is not in the research but in the potential responses to the research. More…
The Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) has released a set of guidelines for the prevention of mental health problems at work. Such guidelines have been sorely required in Australia where workplace mental health problems have become an increasing problem for workers and organisations and workplace bullying dominates the policy landscape. It recommends the development of a mental health and wellbeing strategy that includes the following elements:
- “the development of a positive work environment that supports and encourages mental health
- balancing job demands with job control
- appropriately rewarding employees efforts
- creating a fair workplace
- provision of workplace supports
- effective management of performance issues
- provision of training to develop management and leadership skills
- supportive change management processes More…
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…