The meaning of work Reply

A weekly radio program broadcast on Australian community radio station 3CR, Stick Together, broadcast a lecture by Barbara Pocock on the meaning of work.

Barbara Pocock is a leading workplace researcher and remains the voice on work/life balance.  She is always worth reading and listening to.  It is impossible to management workplace safety without continuing to learn what work is and how people look at work.  A podcast of the Stick Together program is available for download.

Pocock says that many of the perspectives on work are negative and is therefore approached as a chore.  She talks about how laborious jobs have declined in relation to technology and client demand and discusses

  • “efficacy, identity, contribution, vocation
  • social connection
  • opportunity to learn
  • positive spillover from work”

Kevin Jones

Pure research and applied research on shiftwork 2

At secondary school there used to be a pure science and applied sciences.  Pure dealt with concepts and applied concerned the application of the concepts.  This dichotomy exists in most disciplines and occupational health and safety is no different.

Both elements are equally important, research should be able to be applied for social benefit and applied sciences constantly needs new information to try.

Some pure research was supplied to SafetyAtWorkBlog last week from the publishers of the Chronobiology International The Journal of Biological and Medical Rhythm Research, a publication not usually on our reading list.  Within this research on shift work was a useful summary of some of the issues shift work and health issues that OHS Managers must deal with.

The article is called “Wearing Blue-Blockers in the Morning Could Improve Sleep of Workers on a Permanent Night Schedule: A Pilot Study” and was published on 12 November 2009. It’s aims are below:

“The circadian clock is most sensitive to the blue portion of the visible spectrum, so our aim was to determine if blocking short wavelengths of light below 540 nm could improve daytime sleep quality and nighttime vigilance of night shiftworkers…..Blue-blockers seem to improve daytime sleep of permanent night-shift workers.”

The role of the circadian rhythm would be familiar to most readers who have had a role in managing shift workers or fatigue but it is difficult to see how the aims and findings of the research can directly assist safety managers.  The article’s introduction gives a great summary of the hazards of shift work and the research references.  It says

“In our modern society, working at night has become unavoidable in many fields. Night work is not only associated with acute (Giebel et al.,2008) and chronic health problems (Haus & Smolensky, 2006), but also with social impairment (Wirtz et al., 2008), lower performance (Rosa et al., 1990), increased risk of error (Gold et al., 1992), and industrial (Frank, 2000; Ong et al., 1987; Smith et al., 1994) and road accidents (Akerstedt et al., 2005; Folkard et al., 2005; Ingre et al., 2006; Novak & Auvil-Novak, 1996). Essentially, the most frequent complaints among shiftworkers are the lack of proper sleep during the day and lower vigilance while working at night (Akerstedt et al., 2008; Shield, 2002).”

The report goes on to explain the research study and how blueblocking helps eye discomfort, visual acuity and other shift-related issues but applying the OHS perspective to the hazards associate with shift work would require one to ask whether the shift work is required in the first place.  The decision-making process would then descend through the hierarchy of controls to possibly, engineering or administrative controls, where the Chronobiology International research may have some application.

The Chronobiology article is a good example of academic research into a particular problem.  It does not provide a particular practical solution but it provides an option that an OHS professional could consider by itself or in conjunction with other measures.  It may be that a major solution could only come through a combination of minor solutions.

The context of the research’s application is understandable even if most of the study is too technical for the usual OHS professional’s mind but along the way the “pure” science has provided a very contemporary summary of shift work safety research as well as a possible control option.

Kevin Jones

Global OHS statistics and trends Reply

It is very easy to forget that workplace health and safety is a global issue.  The pressures of work and the daily OHS issues can constrict our perspective for so long that we are surprised when we are reminded that people work everywhere and are therefore in danger in some way.

An article (citation below) from the  Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health released online on 12 November 2009 is just one of those reminders that we need every so often.  The article is called “The global and European work environment – numbers, trends, and strategies” and says

“We have estimated that globally there are 2.3 million deaths annually for reasons attributed to work.”

For the statistics junkies, the article goes on to report that 1.95 million of the annual deaths are due to illness and

“The average rate of disability and absence from work can be some 25% of the workforce in Europe.”

“The biggest causes of work-related illness in Europe are musculoskeletal diseases and psychosocial disorders (mental health)….”

“Work-related stress….affect(ed) an estimated 22% of EU workers in 2005…”

By looking at a variety of statistical records, the authors conclude that

“In the present political situation and serious economic downturn, legal measures need to be supplemented with economic justification and convincing arguments to reduce corner-cutting and avoid long-term disabilities, premature retirement, and corporate closures due to a poor work environment.”

The relationship between fatalities and other outcomes of work injuries and illnesses

The researchers advocate an integrated approach to managing safety in a workplace and list a “toolbox” of suggested areas.  Many of these are already in place in many management systems.

This sort of global data is not going to change the management or operational practices in individual workplaces.  That change will mostly come in response to site-specific events or initiatives.  Governments need to know these statistics and trends so that they may plan strategic programs or structure their legislation but it is equally important for citizens and OHS professionals to be aware of this data for it is the citizens who hold governments accountable.

Kevin Jones

Takala J, Urrutia M, Hämäläinen P, Saarela KL. The global and European work environment – numbers, trends, and strategies. SJWEH Suppl. 2009;(7):15–23.

The “suitably qualified” challenge on OHS 4

A quick survey of some of the public submissions on the development of Australia’s model OHS Act illustrates the challenges facing the government after it decided not to include a requirement for only people who are “suitably qualified” in OHS to provide advice to business on workplace safety.

Organisations across the political spectrum have spoken in favour of including “suitably qualified” but “suitably qualified” is in the eye of the beholder.  Several labour and trade union organisations believe that health and safety representatives (HSRs) are “suitably qualified” or “suitable qualified” people should assist HSRs in their work.

The Queensland Council of Unions says

“The WRMC [Workplace Relations Ministers Council] committed itself to a Model Act of the highest possible standards. In order to achieve this, the appointment of suitably qualified persons based on the Queensland model should be reconsidered and the recommendations of the Review implemented.”

Queensland’s OHS legislation had a system of Workplace Health and Safety Officers who were required by every company that had over 30 employees.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions said a PCBU [person conducting a business or undertaking] should

“…employ or engage persons who are suitably qualified in relation to occupational health and safety to provide advice to the PCBU concerning the health and safety of workers of the PCBU.”

The Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union says there should be an “employer obligation to engage a suitably qualified person to assist in H&S”.

Others see “suitably qualified” as a criterion that limits who would qualify for an OHS Entry Permit and what their powers can be.  Wesfarmers Industrial Safety wrote:

“We contend that OHS Permit Holders must be competent to provide OHS advice and must provide a valid reason to justify entry, the only valid entry criteria being to assist the resolution of a reasonably suspected, specified contravention of the Health and Safety Act.   To be effective they must comply with and support site/organisational procedures to enhance site health and safety outcomes and must not intentionally and unreasonably hinder or obstruct any business/undertaking or intentionally intimidate or threaten any business/undertaking or employee.

Suitably qualified in this context must also contemplate that they must not disclose information obtained in accordance with the OHS permit for any purpose other than to assist the resolution of the suspected contravention and must not take copies of documents: if serious concerns exist the Regulator can be requested to attend the site, they will request copies of relevant documents if required.

Additionally, the OHS permit holder and any organisation they represent must be held accountable for the actions taken by the OHS Permit holder.”

There are several challenges for the Australian Government on this issue of “suitably qualified”.  Firstly, it needs to decide whether it can reverse its decision not to include a “suitably qualified” element into the legislation.  To do this it would need to acknowledge that the reasons for exclusion do not match the sensitivities of the community.  This could be embarrassing but also indicate a flexibility and capacity to respond to community concerns.

The government also needs to determine where “suitably qualified” fits.  Should and HSR be suitably qualified or should this only reflect the OHS professionals?  In both cases it puts the governmental up against the commercial training organisations and the university educators (the OHS professional associations have far less clout).

Some academics see the lack of the inclusion of “suitably qualified” as providing a lower level of workplace safety.  Many of these submissions see “suitably qualified” as existing well above the level of HSRs to the professional level.

Professor Mike Capra of the University of Queensland, and other tertiary educators made the following plea:

“We the undersigned Professors of Occupational Health and Safety strongly recommend that the words “suitably qualified”* be inserted as appropriate in the model legislation in relation to the acquisition of advice regarding the health and safety of workers.

Our recommendation is based on the continuing high cost to the community in dollar terms and human suffering in relation to both work place (sic) injury and workplace induced illness which often has long latency and serious medical consequences.

Addressing such serious issues requires properly qualified professionals. The professional practice of OHS management requires skilled professionals with a sound foundation in the physical and health sciences as well as a strong knowledge base in the core OHS areas of health, safety, ergonomics, law, hygiene and toxicology and OHS management systems.

The universities across the country are offering professional entry programs at undergraduate and post graduate levels that are developing the OHS workforce. To sustain this workforce and ensure continued reduction in the societal cost of workplace injury, illness and death there must be recognition of the professional basis of OHS practice and it is imperative that this recognition is reflected in the harmonised legislation.

* Suitably qualified to be determined, as in other professions, by the relevant professional association and industry standards.”

Mike is very committed to improving health and safety of the Australian workforce and it is clear that the moral imperative is king.  But it must also be noted that education thrives on the recognition of qualifications and a legislative requirement for suitably qualified OHS professionals would strengthen the case for the viability of tertiary OHS courses which, according to some sources, are in a perilous state.

One submission questioned the sense or practicality of having an HSR trained in safety beyond the skills of the PCBU.  Shaw Idea wrote

“….the Model Act should require PCBUs to obtain advice from suitably qualified advisers. It is inconsistent to require HSRs to be trained, but not require PCBUs to either be trained or be advised by those with competence in relevant areas. The OHS consequences of incompetent or ill-informed actions by employers are far greater than the consequences of HSR actions.”

The OHS training industry has done themselves a disservice for decades by not having a formal OHS management course for safety or business managers.  There is a big difference between training an HSR to manage upward to the employer and training a manager to manage the safety of a workforce.  Leaving executive training to the tertiary sector has exposed a large vocational hole in business management of workplace safety.

It must also be stated that the editor of SafetyAtWorkBlog also made a submission to the Australian Government in which “suitably qualified” was discussed.  Below is the relevant section:

“Many safety professionals are concerned that “suitably qualified” has been omitted for the proposed legislation.  I think the reason given for its omission is poor but I do not support those who advocate the inclusion of the concept.  The push has been particularly strong from Victoria and through a couple of OHS professional associations.  No evidence has been made publicly available for the need for such a concept.  It is something Victoria has had and it is loathe (sic) to relinquish. Good OHS advice is available from good OHS advisers and caveat emptor should apply on OHS advice as with any other.

The “suitably qualified” advocates like to compare themselves to other professions like medicine yet it is recommended even from within the medical profession that second opinions be sought.  The safety profession does not advocate this very sensible suggestion.”

Kevin Jones

Coincidence or unique perspective? Reply

Since the end of the end of the public comment phase on Australia’s national model OHS laws, Safe Work Australia has been daily uploading submissions to their website.  Within the last lot of uploads was a block of around 100 submissions, all of which are marked confidential and have, apparently, been submitted by individuals.

One confidential submitter shares his name with a person who has been associated with some peculiar industrial relations behaviour.  In August 2009, during a heated industrial dispute concerning work on the West Gate Bridge, a trade unionist pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and to carrying a piece of pipe without lawful excuse, according to one media report.

A person with the same name is also listed in an order issued by the Federal Court of Australia in March 2009 that places restrictions on several people in relation to the West Gate Bridge project and the premises of contractor John Holland.

It is not possible to determine if this is a coincidence because the submission is confidential and submissions do not include contact details.  But if it is the same person, it is a shame that the OHS submission is not publicly available because a person who may have been involved in an intense industrial dispute and who may have been legally restrained would surely provide an interesting perspective on the relationship between OHS and industrial relations.

It is relatively easy to determine the politics of organisations that make submissions but when lodged by individuals political perspectives or professional connections cannot be determined, even when the submission is not confidential.  That such a large number of confidential submissions have been lodged is curious but due to due process, it is likely to remain so.

Kevin Jones

Fixing what is broken 1

WorkCover in South Australia has released a discussion paper for public comment on 9 November 2009.  The paper is called “Consultation on a new framework for employer incentives” and poses the following questions:

  • Do you think there should be any financial incentives for employers in relation to workers rehabilitation and compensation?
  • What do you think about the proposed design principles?
  • Do you have any specific ideas for employer incentives that encourage return to work?

cover Employer incentivesThis discussion paper is part of the review process by the WorkCover Corporation and should be supported.  Public comments close on 18 December 2009.

The paper itself has some points of considerable interest.  The existing incentive scheme is called a Bonus/Penalty Scheme which has existed for almost 20 years.  PricewaterhouseCoopers undertook a review and below are the findings, according to WorkCover:

“WorkCover has been working with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) to gain a better understanding of the effectiveness of the Bonus/Penalty Scheme in South Australia.  Only very weak links were found between the Bonus/Penalty rate and claim outcomes.  No evidence was found to suggest that the Bonus/Penalty Scheme has delivered better health and safety outcomes for workers in South Australia.”

That last sentence seems to be a phenomenally honest statement about a scheme that has existed since 1990, been so persistent and continues to be so popular with employers.  Such forthrightness from a government authority about one of its own programs is rare.

At some point in the past there may have been some logic in the scheme as similar elements existed under the WorkCare scheme in Victoria many years ago.  But since the preventative arm, Safe Work SA, split from WorkCover around 2005, the incentive scheme has not sat comfortably with the government’s RTW focus.

The discussion paper goes on to state:

“WorkCover has not seen much evidence that the Bonus/Penalty Scheme has either reduced injury rates or made workplaces safer.  If anything it appears to have had some adverse side-effects, such as encouraging stakeholders to focus excessively on claim costs, the claim costs ‘window’ and coding, instead of return to work.”

Regardless of pointing out the difference between “no evidence” and “much evidence”, WorkCover’s comments illustrate a reality that OHS and RTW professionals have been wrestling with for years, companies have been encouraged to focus on financial cost of Return-To-Work rather than on the injured worker.

As part of WorkCover’s analysis of the existing incentive scheme, it undertook a literature review on experience ratings systems and found the following

“There were some noteworthy findings about experience rating systems, for example:

  • there is no clear consensus that they have reduced injury rates or made workplaces safer;
  • they have created perverse motivations, for example to suppress claims, dispute the coding of claims, or only focus on reducing claims within the ‘experience window’;
  • they may reduce claim numbers but not average claim costs, and average claim severity tends to increase – this is further evidence that the reporting of small claims is sometimes ‘suppressed’; and
  • there is no obvious link between experience rating bonuses/penalties and an employer’s commitment to safety and return to work.”

The Productivity Commission in 2004 (as discussed in Alan Clayton’s workers compensation review for the Tasmanian Government) recommended experience ratings for large employers as a contributor to the full funding of workers compensation schemes. ( p.44)  It is strongly suggested that those wanting to comment on this South Australian WorkCover paper should closely look at the recent changes to workers’ compensation made by the Tasmanian Government.

But it is not all gloom and doom as WorkCover SA has set the parameters for the next scheme.  In the discussion paper, they list 11 proposed design principles for consideration:

  • Focus on return to work
  • Be affordable and sustainable
  • Have a direct and substantial effect
  • Target the right employers
  • Tailor to specific employer groups
  • Loss matters
  • Be simple to explain and run
  • Use a mix of solutions
  • Capitalise on the tools and resources we already have
  • Be transparent
  • Use an evidence-based approach

In anticipation of the Federal Government’s plans to harmonise workers compensation once OHS is out of the way, such discussion papers, reviews and, more importantly, the public submissions, may provide some clues to how Australia workers compensation and RTW programs may look in ten years time.

Kevin Jones

How to make positive training programs attractive to OHS professionals 2

Yesterday’s article on positive training programs and behaviour-based safety (BBS) has generated a great deal of interest and attention.

The article’s title should maybe have specified the “OHS context”.   Like with Return-To-Work, OHS professionals need BBS and positive training to be explained to their understanding so they see how it fits with their own safety management systems.    They need to have their own “light-bulb moment on the relevance of the training not be convinced of the need by a sales person.

HR professionals may be more receptive to positive training concepts because they are more familiar with the psych babble but OHS still has engineering as the basis for the profession.   Only in the last 10 years have OHS professionals accepted (not universally) the legitimacy of psychosocial hazards and that, primarily, because the OHS regulators released guidance on the hazards.

Don’t try to apply leadership and training to OHS through HR because the jargon confuses.  Introduce yourself to some OHS people and listen to them talk of their profession.  Research the attitudes of the OHS people directly.  Do not rely on external research surveys as it is more important for you to understand OHS people than for a survey to report “47% of OHS professionals think resilience training programs are twaddle”.

Once you have listened, go personally to other OHS professionals and practitioners with training programs that can be readily integrated into safety management systems.  Don’t expect your potential clients to exert effort to understand you, it’s your job to understand them.

And don’t expect a quick decision.  Good OHS professionals will ask their colleagues and peers what they think of your programs and concepts before getting back to you.  They may even approach their OHS associations for an opinion.

iStockphotos evangelist

Past approaches to OHS professionals on BBS and similar training have been embarrassing.  One notable BBS advocate from the US spoke around five years ago to about 400 OHS people in Australia.  At morning tea time around half left the (expensive) seminar convinced that BBS was a crock.  That advocate is still highly regarded in the US but Australians just didn’t “get it”.

Slapping up a couple of pictures of the Sydney Opera House in a presentation, or  walking the room like an evangelist, does more harm than good.  Come prepared and prepared to listen and the OHS professional may “get it”…..even just a little bit.

Kevin Jones

Where is the evidence of OHS misuse for IR purposes? 1

The mainstream press has dipped into some of the submissions to the Australian Government on its harmonisation of OHS laws.  Kirsty Needham reports on the submissions in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Needham reports on basically the submissions of the Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Australian Council of Trade Unions – the ideological opposites on safety regulation.  She quotes ACCI’s David Gregory:

“There is no doubt that health and safety has been used as an industrial relations issue on plenty of occasions … we want to put reasonable boundaries around those entitlements.”

cover V01Summary_PressFinalThis position is always attached as a myth by the unions but it is an accepted fact in the minds of employers, OHS professionals and many workers.  The Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry in 2003 found that

“in the building and construction industry throughout Australia, there is…..widespread use of occupational health and safety as an industrial tool.”

“The types of inappropriate conduct which exist throughout the building and construction industry include….the use by a union of occupational, health and safety (OH&S) issues as an industrial tool, intermingled with legitimate OH&S issues;”

“Occupational health and safety is often misused by unions as an industrial tool.  This trivialises safety, and deflects attention away from real problems.  Unions have a legitimate interest in the safety of their members.  This should not be altered.  However, the scope for misuse of safety must be reduced and if possible eliminated.”

“Misuse of non-existent occupational health and safety issues for industrial purposes is rife in the building and construction industry.  Genuine occupational health and safety hazards are also rife.”

A major source of evidence for the repeated statement of fact is mentioned in the final report from February 2003 was an “OH&S case study (Tas).”.  SafetyAtWorkBlog is trying to obtain more details on this.

One example of the evidence that is readily available relates again to the Royal Commission.  The Commission undertook an investigation into industrial disputes a the construction site of The Age newspaper in Tullamarine.  The Commission reports

“the evidence from Mr Judson [Wayne Judson is a Director of Probuild] will be that during the negotiation of the project agreement (which was a period where any industrial action between Probuild and the unions would have been unprotected) there were many occasions when safety walks and OH&S issues were used as a device by the unions to pressure Probuild and Fairfax to agree to the project agreement and nominated shop stewards.

The potential misuse of OH&S raised, not of course for the first time in this Commission, is a very serious matter. To misuse OH&S debases the currency of safety. ‘Crying Wolf’ often enough on enough sites creates the risk that no one knows whether a safety claim is about something real and important or whether it is simply a means of supporting the latest industrial demand.”

Some of Commissioner Cole’s comments on the debasement of safety are sound but the “evidence” is from the builder and may not constitute the reality, only opinion in a submission to an investigative body.  The Commissioner carefully labels the issue “a potential misuse”.

SafetyAtWorkBlog would say that the fact of misuse of OHS issues for industrial purposes may be an example of the establishment of a fact through “crying wolf”, to use the Commissioner’s term.  The frequent statement of a belief does not establish a fact.

Also, to some extent, the construction industry hogs the OHS limelight in much of the tripartite consultation.  This is because of the industrially charged nature of construction in Australia and the fact that construction sites are usually highly visible to public.  The construction industry is an important economic driver but perhaps this prominence is masking some of the other OHS issues that the Government needs to consider.

As the Australian Government proceeds in its harmonisation of OHS laws and as it reads the hundreds of public submissions, there should be a red flag on each mention of the misuse of OHS for industrial purposes so that assertions are not misread as facts.

Kevin Jones

Behavioural-based safety put into context 6

Yesterday Associate Professor Tony LaMontagne spoke at the monthly networking meeting of the Central Safety Group in Australia.  His presentation was based around his research into job stress and its relationship with mental health.

LaMontagne was talking about the dominant position in personnel management where negative thoughts generate a negative working environment, one of stress, dissatisfaction and lower productivity.  SafetyAtWorkBlog asked whether this was the basis for many of the positive attitudinal programs, or behaviour-based safety programs, that are frequently spruiked to the modern corporations.

He said that this was the case and that such programs can have a positive affect on people’s attitudes to work.  But LaMontagne then expressed one of those ideas that can only come from outside an audience’s general field of expertise.  He said that the limitations of such programs are that they focus on the individual in isolation from their work.  He wondered how successful such a program will be in the long-term if a worker returns from a “happiness class” to a persistently large workload or excessive hours.  The benefits of the positive training are likely to be short-lived.

This presented the suggestion that positive training programs, those professing resilience, leadership, coping skills and a range of other psychological synonyms, may be the modern equivalent of “blaming the worker”.  The big risk of this approach to safety is that it ignores the relationship of the worker with the surrounding work environment and management resources and policies.  Even the worker who is furthest from head office does not work in isolation.

It is unclear what the positive training programs aim to achieve.  Teaching coping skills provides the worker with ways of coping with work pressures, but what if those pressures are unfair or unreasonable?  What if those pressures included bullying, harassment, excessive workloads?  Will the employer be meeting their OHS obligations for a safe and healthy working environment by having workers who can cope with these hazards rather than addressing those hazards themselves?

Professor LaMontagne reminded the OHS professionals in attendance yesterday that the aim of OHS is to eliminate the hazards and not to accommodate them.  He asked whether an OHS professional would be doing their job properly if they only handed out earplugs and headphones rather than try to make the workplace quieter?

Recently SafetyAtWorkBlog received an email about a new stress management program that involves “performance enhancement, changing the way people view corporate team dynamics”.  Evidence was requested on the measurable success of the program.  No evidence on the program was available but one selling point was that the company had lots of clients.  This type of stress management sales approach came to mind when listening to Professor Montagne.

When preparing to improve the safety performance of one’s company consider the whole of the company’s operations and see what OHS achievements may be possible.  Think long-term for structural and organisational change and resist the solutions that have the advantage of being visible to one’s senior executives but short on long-term benefits.

And be cautious of the type of approaches one may receive along the lines of programs that can change

“…high performance habits so employees can operate at 100% engagement and take their achievement to the next level while achieving a healthier culture in the workplace”.

Kevin Jones

Note: Kevin Jones is a life member of the Central Safety Group.  The CSG is just finalising its website (http://www.centralsafetygroup.com/)where information of forthcoming meetings will be available.

Australia’s employers’ thoughts on OHS law 2

The public submission period for commenting on the Australia’s OHS model laws has closed and the submissions are gradually being made available on the Safe Work Australia website.

At the time of writing there are around 15 submissions listed and Safe Work Australia has indicated that there are many more that are being sifted through at the moment.

Each submission had the option for the comments to be confidential.  Confidential submitters told SafetyAtWorkBlog that one reason for confidentiality was so that their comments did not reflect on their current employer.  This is understandable but also adds an allure to the submission.  It will be interesting to note which of the large associations apply confidentiality to their submissions.

One employer association who is “loud and proud” of their submission is the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  The ACCI submission is currently available only from its website.  Below is what the ACCI’s Director of Workplace Policy, David Gregory,  says in a media statement that accompanied the release of the submission

“…[Gregory ] has rejected union claims that business groups are pushing for changes that would reduce health and safety rights for workers.

ACCI also urged Australia’s governments to work towards a truly uniform national OHS system with respect to the approach by OHS inspectors, regulators and the courts.”

“Employers want a model Act that delivers both improved workplace safety outcomes and an effective legislative framework that will encourage employers and workers to be proactive and collaborative in improving the safety of their workplaces.  Unnecessary prescription will ultimately serve only to distract and discourage both employers and employees from delivering safer workplaces.  ACCI has provided some positive suggestions in its submission that should be adopted to improve the operation of the Act.”

ACCI has strongly backed the reinstatement of a definition of ‘due diligence’ in the model Act, as the absence of a definition will mean that company officers will be unclear about their duty and how compliance may be achieved.

Employers have also identified a number of aspects of the model OHS Act which are open to potential misuse such as union right of entry, persons assisting health and safety representatives, and procedures for establishing multi-employer workgroups, which require redrafting to ensure that they are fair and balanced and do not undermine the safety objectives of the Act.

ACCI in its submission advocates that the maximum penalty for a corporation under the Act should be set at the current Australian maximum of $1.65 million, arguing that the proposed $3 million maximum will simply fuel a litigious and compliance-based approach to OHS.

Gregory’s first point addresses ideology more than anything else.  The trade union movement will always be suspicious and uncomfortable with any organisation that is willing to put productivity before safety.  The introduction of  the ACCI submission makes it clear that the focus of the submission is not on improving safety but on improving the management of safety, two very different OHS approaches.

Queensland labour history coverRecently a new book from Federation Press, “Work and Strife in Paradise“,  a history of labour in Queensland illustrated how industrial harmony existed in that state for decades prior to the introduction of Robens-style legislation.  For a long time unions and employer groups knew where they stood ideologically and therefore could anticipate responses and could negotiate from stable philosophical platforms.  The industrial relations changes from the 1960s onwards complicated negotiations which did have some impact on OHS in that State.

[For the first time, to SafetyAtWorkBlog’s knowledge, a chapter is included in a labour relations book on research into employer associations.]

One would have to expect a definition of “due diligence” to be included in the upcoming OHS Act is the employers are in favour of this.  The consensus in many OHS seminars is that such a definition is required.

The concerns over union rights is a hoary chestnut that has not been seen as a problem in Victoria where many of the suggested legislative features have originated.

The issue of penalties is a little hollow.  Many corporate executives are covered by Directors’ & Officers’ Liability insurance as much as is possible.  And fines do not generate litigation. The neglect of obligations and duties lead to prosecution and then penalties.

The ACCI submission states more clearly that

“…OHS breaches should generally be subject to civil rather than criminal penalties. Such an approach should be taken for the entire model OHS Act and not just selectively applied to aspects such as breaches in relation to union right of entry.”

It would interesting to know what ACCI’s position is on non-financial penalty options.

The impression obtained from the ACCI statement and submission is that they were principally intended for the audience of the ACCI membership.  ACCI has a seat at the Safe Work Australia Council discussion table through its representative Annette Bellamy.  It is suggested that it is here where the conservative and capitalist arguments on OHS laws will be put.

Kevin Jones