On November 12 2014, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) conducted its first large seminar on the certification of occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals. The seminar had an odd mix of some audience members who were suspicious, others who were enthusiastic and presenters who were a little wary. There were few who seemed to object to certification but, as the SIA admitted, the process is a long way from complete.
Justification for Certification
Certification works when it is either mandated by government, usually through legislation, or in response to a community/business/market need. Australia does not seem to have either. The SIA explained that there is a “legal requirement” for OHS certification by placing it as part of the OHS due diligence obligations of Australian businesses, that Safe Work Australia (SWA) sort-of refers to it it in its National OHS Strategy and that the “Recommendation 161″ of an unspecified international law:
“….calls for organisations to have access to “sufficient and appropriate expertise” as a basic right of all workers.”
There is no such Recommendation but there is an Occupational Health Services Convention, 1985 (No. 161)
Convention concerning Occupational Health Services (Entry into force: 17 Feb 1988) - a International Labour Organisation Convention that Australia has not ratified.
The SWA strategy repeatedly mentions the important of “health and safety capabilities” as a “national Action Area”. It specifies this action area as:
- “Everyone in a workplace has the work health and safety capabilities they require.
- Those providing work health and safety education, training and advice have the appropriate capabilities.
- Inspectors and other staff of work health and safety regulators have the work health and safety capabilities to effectively perform their role.
- Work health and safety skills development is integrated effectively into relevant education and training programs.” (page 9)
In the strategy’s chapter on Health and Safety Capabilities, SWA says:
“In a decade many existing workplace hazards will still be present and new ones will have appeared. It is particularly important that education and training enable those who provide professional or practical advice to competently deal with old and new hazards. Those who provide advice need to know when to refer the matter to others with appropriate expertise.” (page 12)
There is no mention of certification in the SWA strategy but the SWA is sympathetic to certification. More…
Later this month, Victoria is conducting its regular State election. Workplace safety has not been mentioned by any of the candidates but at least one industry association has mentioned occupational health and safety in its pre-election statement. The Australian Industry Group (AiGroup) has recommended
“The next Victorian Government should immediately commit to the harmonised OHS laws as the state remains the only jurisdiction not to do so.” (page 5)
The AiGroup does not expand on the reasons for this recommendation other than seeing OHS has part of its general call for harmonisation and that it is part of “reducing costs of doing business”. SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to fill in some of the AiGroup’s reasoning by talking, exclusively, with Mark Goodsell, in the unavailability of the author of the pre-election statement, Tim Piper. More…
The recent launch of several new chapters of the OHS Body of Knowledge (OHSBoK), associated with the Safety Institute of Australia, did not allow for questions from the audience but I was able to catch up with the coordinator of the project, Pam Pryor, and put my questions directly. (My thanks go to Pam for her honesty and time.)
One of the intentions of the OSHBoK has been to maintain currency and relevance. Was there a plan to review and revise the existing chapters? Pryor advised that there is a seven-year review schedule for all chapters. Some chapters may need reviewing earlier, particularly if there are references to specific legislation and that legislation has changed.
Is there a plan to establish an index or to improve searchability?
One of the central tenets of modern safety management is the need to establish a safety culture. However recent Australian research has cast serious doubt on whether this current belief is valid or useful.
In October 2014, the Safety Institute of Australia launched several new chapters to the Body of Knowledge (BoK) project. One of those chapters, based on a literature review and authored by David Borys, addresses organisational culture* and says that safety culture:
“… [has] limited utility for occupational health and safety (OHS) professional practice.”
“… literature has unresolved debates and definitional dilemmas.”
“…..remains a confusing and ambiguous concept in both literature and in industry, where there is little evidence of a relationship between safety culture and safety performance.”
These findings should cause all OHS professionals and company executives to re-evaluate the safety culture advice and products that they have received over the last decade. More…
There seems to be an increasing trend for the principles of occupational health and safety (OHS) to be applied to matters outside the workplace. OHS principles were created to reflect the values of society in the 1970s and 80s and, although the laws have changed to reflect economic needs, the principles remain basically the same. A major legal change has been the move away from preventing harm “at the source” to one of reasonable practicability and this can reduce the overall level of safety available to workers and others.
It is interesting to note that statements on the current Ebola outbreak argue the sense in dealing with the outbreak “at the source”. Why do we accept a reasonably practicable control measure for harm at work but expect a stronger preventative measure for public health threats? Shouldn’t we be aiming to reduce all harm “at the source” regardless of the type of harm? More…
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…
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…
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…
In developing harm reduction and prevention strategies, the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession likes to look at worst case scenarios on the understanding that dealing with an extreme event introduces mechanisms that deal with lesser events. Partly this is a legacy of Bird’s Pyramid. During this current month of attention on workplace mental health, the issue of work-related suicide is unavoidable as a worst case scenario for depression and mental ill-health. There are several new pieces of data on work-related suicides that OHS professionals need to consider as part of their own professional development and to increase their organisational and operational relevance.
Mates In Construction
In October 2014, the Mates In Construction (MIC) program released a report on “The economic cost of suicide and suicide behaviour in the NSW construction industry and the impact of MATES in Construction suicide“. Below is a summary of some of its findings, in Australian Dollars:
“The average age of each suicide fatality among construction industry workers was 36.8 years and 37.7 years in QLD [Queensland] and NSW [New South Wales], respectively.”
“The average cost of a self-harm attempt resulting in a short-term absence from work is estimated at $925 in 2010 dollars.”
“Each self-harm attempt resulting in full incapacity is estimated at $2.78 million; and, each suicide attempt resulting in a fatality is estimated at $2.14 million”
“The key cost driver for full incapacity and a fatality is lost income, equivalent to 27.3 years productive years”
“Across all categories, the burden of cost associated with self-harm and suicide is borne largely by the government: 97% or $4.80 million of the total combined cost of $4.92 million.” (all in page 3)
As 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.”