Decency at work Reply

In 2001 the House of Lords was presented with a Dignity At Work Bill.  This seemed a great idea for unifying different elements of the workplace that can contribute to psychosocial hazards.  This would be a similar approach to using “impairment” to cover drugs, alcohol, fatigue and distraction.  However, it never progressed.

Regular readers of SafetyAtWorkBlog would note an undercurrent of humanism in many of the articles but it is heartening to see this in other articles and blogs.  Maud Purcell of Greenwich Times provides an article from early May 2009 on dignity in the workplace in a time of economic turmoil that you may find of interest and use.

Kevin Jones

More last minute lobbying but with compromise Reply

The Business Council of Australia is the latest employer group to actively lobby Australian industrial relations ministers over harmonised OHS laws on the eve of the crucial Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council (WRMC) meeting.  BCA’s CEO Kate Lahey is reported in today’s Age newspaper as saying that the rejection of OHS law reform would say to investors that the States were not interested.

The Mineral Council of Australia has stated in the same article that 

“… a uniform OHS act will enable all businesses to focus on improving health and safety outcomes…”

Outcomes can be many things but much of the commentary over the last week seems to misunderstand the aims of the government’s review.  As I tried to emphasise on an interview on 17 May 2009 on radio 3CR, it was a review of OHS law not OHS management.  Satisfactory levels of safety have already been achievable under existing OHS law.  A change of law does not equate to a change of  approach or commitment.

The chance of the OHS reforms not going through was weakened on the weekend when the New South Wales Industrial Relations Minister, Joe Tripodi,

“signalled a compromise on the absolute duty of care that requires employers to prove a workplace is safe…”

New South Wales was the crucial sticking point in national negotiations and and the minister’s compromise is likely to be that the reverse onus only applies to corporations and that individuals be exempt.

If the WRMC decides to follow the National OHS Model Law Review Panel reports, OHS Law will be streamlined for lawyers, the Courts and OHS regulators.  This will benefit those businesses that operate across State borders but it will make little difference to the vast majority of workplaces in Australia.

 The recommendations of the Reports were not that radical.  The recommendations were, as expected, a copy of the Victorian OHS Act with bits added.  In fact, some lawyers question whether the OHS Model Law Review was really necessary given the bland predictable outcomes.

Many were wishing for an OHS revolution like that achieved by Lord Robens in the 1970s.  The fact is that the review was given limited resources and limited time to reach a conclusion.  The recommendations seem to be acceptable to the government and unsurprising.

The main game in Australian politics at the moment is industrial relations.  Any OHS changes will best understood through analysis of their IR implications.

Kevin Jones

WorkHealth concerns increase 2

Victoria’s WorkHealth program is due to roll-out its next stage of worker health assessments.  However, the program has been seriously curtailed by the failure of its funding model.  According to The Age  newspaper on 18 may 2009, employer associations have begun to withdraw their support compounding the embarrassment to the Premier, John Brumby, who lauded the program in March 2008.

The Master Builders Association will not be supporting the program due to WorkHealth’s connection with WorkSafe.  The Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC) thinks likewise.  There are concerns over the privacy of worker health records and that data from health checks may affect worker’s compensation arrangements or future claims.

The VACC is also concerned that employers will be blamed for issues over which they have little control – the health of their workers.

Many of these concerns could have been addressed by locating WorkHealth in the Department of Health, where health promotion already has a strong role and presence.  It is understood that the funding of WorkHealth from workers compensation premium returns on investment caused the program to reside within the Victorian WorkCover Authority.  There has also been the suggestion that WorkHealth was a pet program of the WorkCover board.

The program aims of free health checks for all Victorian workers was admirable and still achievable but the program was poorly introduced, poorly explained, based on a flawed funding model and now seems to be, if not dead, coughing up blood.

Kevin Jones

Crisis Management – Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail 3

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail, as the old saying goes. It is the same in business as in life. The more we can plan for the uncertainties the more they are no longer uncertainties.

Some of the potential threats to a business, a Safety Leader should be aware of, include a natural disaster, terrorist attack, cyber terrorism, fire, pandemic, and equipment breakdown, loss of a key employee or process, financial downturn, or a sneeze in one part of the world that turns into a cold in another part of the world, as we are seeing in our globalized community. They can all affect not only the company we work for but the employees’ health and safety.

You name it, as we can all attest, if it has happened to one it can happen to anyone. A Safety Leader needs to put in place a plan to prevent these threats from happening; or if they do happen, a plan to prevent further harm to the organization, by way of a Business Continuity Plan.

For example, if I owned a coffee shop, that had a fire that burnt down the building that I serve coffee in, perhaps my contingency plan would be to know where I could access an Atco trailer, and have the necessary stock on hand at another location, so that I could serve coffee the very next morning. Thereby, remaining in business until a new building could be built.

It is key to have a plan for every possible scenario (such as a work-at-home policy during a health scare such as swine flu), as some companies are already pandemic planning and are putting the necessary means in place to be prepared. There are as many scenarios as there are actual risks that could affect your venture. Look at what your neighbours are doing. Try to develop a rapport with your neighbours to see how you can assist each other in a crisis. 

Some basic elements a Safety Leader needs to ensure are part of their “disaster recovery” plan start with involvement of your staff, as they are key stakeholders to the success of your enterprise. They can form a team that can inspire each other and brainstorm, plan, analyze, develop and practice your plan. Recognize that as a leader, you can’t necessarily fix everything and don’t need to do it all themselves. Involving others of your organization will assist in preparing your staff in the event that an emergency happens, and recognize the importance to be able to delegate responsibility before and during a crisis.

Overall, this is an area in which can be overseen by you and your team but it would be advisable to enlist in outside services for help. Even if it is just to consult with someone with experience in this area, and get a fresh perspective on the plan to confirm “Will it work?”

Preparing for a threat involves succession planning. You may be asking yourself of all the duties I already have how do  I include preparing for things that could happen as opposed to what is currently happening?

When you look at how risk is defined as an uncertain event or condition that, IF it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a business’ objectives.  Missed objectives are likely caused by unforeseen events and inadequate risk management. Therefore, it is crucial to the success as a leader of his or her organization and overall to be aware of the areas of risk that could impact the operation.

The most important leadership skills and characteristics to possess in order to be a successful leader during a crisis as described by Clarke Murphy, who heads the CEO Search Practice for Russell Reynolds, talks about three crucial leadership skills needed in a time of crisis: Communication, Agility, and Decisiveness. Eric Santillin added a fourth one: Inspiration.

Be willing to listen to those of your organization who are in the trenches, when they tell you of something they foresee could go wrong, Stop and listen, then ensure you ask them how they would fix it.

Secondly, recognize that managing crisis is part of the job of leadership. Leaders are sometimes the variable that makes the difference. It is during the crisis that others will look to you to see how bad it really is, and you need to have the skills to pull it all back together again when it all falls to pieces. It is important to be a strong communicator, and be able to guide employees through a crisis with reassurance. That you believe you have a strong team that can work through the crisis, and that everyone is the most important part of the team.  

Some say that a leader is born but most leaders are taught. Special training can be an enhancement to become more skilled in crisis management. Do some soul searching, most especially ask yourself, how do I handle crisis in my personal life?

This can be an indicator. Do you have a complete meltdown at missing the bus, or breaking your shoelace? Perhaps a few courses could assist you, both personally and professionally.

Possessing skills in areas such as crisis management, risk management and security management help a leader further his or her career development by being able to be adaptable and enabling the owner of the company to know they can rely on you at the end of the day. Confident, that you will not abandon the ship when left at the helm. It is my belief that these skills effectively separate a leader from the competition during a job search.

“Companies now want candidates who have already had experiences going through a massive change program. That is no longer a nice to have. That is a must have,” says John Ellis, Managing Director of Boyden UK.

Especially in our globalized community where more and more, we are affected by the events that happen. But in a crisis, companies need leaders accomplished in reducing cost, conserving resources, and managing day-to-day. But ultimately have the ability to protect the most valuable asset their employees.

Crisis Management- Pamela Cowan, Director, Safety Developments

A vision for the OHS profession Reply

WorkSafe Victoria is very involved with moves to improve the professionalism of OHS practitioners in Australia.  There is no doubt that improvements are required but the role of a state-based regulator in a non-regulatory system is curious. Surely such changes should be run from a national perspective

Safety professionals often look at the prominence, influence and market share of professional organisations for the doctors or the accountants.  In Australia, at the moment, the health care profession’s accreditation/registration process is having a new structure introduced.  After a long review process the Australian Health Workforce Ministerial Council identified these areas for change

  • Accreditation standards will be developed by the independent accrediting body or the accreditation committee of the board where an external body has not been assigned the function.
  • The accrediting body or committee will recommend to the board, in a transparent manner, the courses and training programs it has accredited and that it considers to have met the requirements for registration.
  • Ministers today agreed there will be both general and specialist registers available for the professions, including medicine and dentistry, where ministers agree that there is to be specialist registration. Practitioners can be on one or both of these registers, depending on whether their specialist qualification has been recognised under the national scheme.

This third point is an excellent one and so easily applied to the safety profession and the practitioners. “Specialist” and “generalist” seems to reflect the composition of the safety industry in Australia.  There are those on the shopfloor or offices who deal with hazards on a daily basis.  There are those who research and write about safety.  And there are those who are a bit of both.  The two category system of accreditation seems simple and practical and readily understood by those outside of the profession.

  • Both categories will attract experts in various fields but the categories themselves don’t relate to specific areas of expertise. The Ministerial Council has agreed that there will be a requirement that, for annual renewal of registration, a registrant must demonstrate that they have participated in a continuing professional development program as approved by their national board.
  • Assistance will be provided to members of the public who need help to make a complaint.
  • The Ministerial Council agreed that national boards will be required to register students in the health profession
  • …boards will be appointed by the Ministerial Council with vacancies to be advertised. At least half, but not more than two thirds, of the members must be practitioners and at least two must be persons appointed as community members.
  • There will be a new “Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency”

 These points deal with matters sorely lacking from many areas of the safety profession – independence, transparency, skills maintenance, a clear and independent complaints procedure, diverse representation and a formal regulatory agency.

To this SafetyAtWorkBlog would add the concept of a Safety Industry Ombudsman for it is always necessary to have someone watching the “watchmen”.

Currently the Australian safety profession is part way through a mish-mash of a process of professionalisation.  Surely it would be better to follow the most contemporary of processes being implemented by health care and others.  Such a process would take some time and require support from the various disciplines of safety and the government.  More importantly, it may require “vision” but during this time of substantial change in OHS legislation and regulatory structure, it is surely the right time to bring in long-term structural change to a profession that would benefit business and the public very well indeed.

Kevin Jones

How many Australians work from home? 1

SafetyAtWorkBlog is mostly produced from a home office.  This is principally because the type of work undertaken can be done in a domestic setting.  There are thousands of small – and micro-businesses in a similar situation.   Thousands of people choose to run their businesses from home.

 This has often been overlooked in the teleworking movement over the last decade or so. “Working from home” has more often than not been considered an addition to working in an office.  The home workplace is seen as a back-up to a principal place of work.

In early may 2009, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released statistics on working from home, both as a main and second job.  The media statement emphasises those who take work home and does have one paragraph on home-based businesses.

“People who were owner managers in their main job were much more likely to use their own home for their main location of work (27% of the 1.9 million owner managers) than employees(1.4% of the 8.2 million employees*). Women who were owner managers in their main job were more likely to use their own home for their main location of work than male owner managers (45% compared with 18%)”

The media statement went on :

“Around one in every 12 employed persons (764,700 persons or 8%) worked more hours at home than any other single location in their main or second job.  Of these people:

  • The majority (83%) were aged 35 years or older
  • 55% were women
  • 39% were in families that had children aged under 15 years old
  • The main reason for working from home was ‘wanting an office at home/no overheads/no rent’ (37%), followed by ‘operating a farm’ (21%) and ‘flexible working arrangements’ (15%)
  • 31% worked 35 hours or more at home in all jobs”

The OHS profession has never really been able to cope with a workplace that is also a domestic residence.  To help, OHS professionals advise to have a dedicated home office so that the workplace has a defined area.  This allows OHS obligations to fit the concept.

Working from a kitchen table with a dog, a hungry child and three baskets of washing to hang out, is not what the legislation anticipated but it can be the reality.

Another reality is that many media and professional people can work out of their car or local cafes almost 100% of their time.  How does the advice from an OHS professional match those scenarios?  Legislation based on the assumption of a fixed work location or site might not meet these particular working environments.

Another thing that is always annoying is the assumption that it is office workers who work from home, so the tasks are necessarily technologically based.  Any OHS advice should apply to the issue of working from home in a broad sense and not just to specific work tasks.

As many professions become portable, OHS laws and legislation need to accommodate the flexibility.  If not more so, so do company policies, job descriptions, claims assessments, workplace safety assessments and others.

Kevin Jones

Working longer means staying healthy longer Reply

It is rare for anything of great relevance to occupational health and safety to come from the annual budget statement of the Australian government.  There is nothing directly relevant from the statement issued earlier this week except for the lifting of the retirement age to 67 in 2023.

Compulsory retirement age does not mean that people stop working.  If that was the case, farming and the Courts would be very different organisations.  The retirement age has more to do with financial independence or the pension eligibility than anything else but the government’s decision has focused the media and commentators on the fact that people will be working beyond traditional retirement age.

The announcement this week also supported the reality that has been increasing for many people for over a year now that the level of retirement income has plummeted because of the global economic recession.  People have a growing financial need to work, not simply a desire.

This will change the way that worker health will be managed by companies and by the individual.  Watch for even more interest in “the best companies to work for” campaigns.  In fact it should not be long before someone starts marketing on the theme of “is your health up to working into your seventies?”

This morning a package of interesting statistics were presented to a breakfast seminar held by Douglas Workplace & Litigation Lawyers.  One of the regular speakers, Ira Galushkin, provided the following Australian statistics

  • High risk employees (5+ Risks) are at work but not productive 32.7% of the time compared to low risk employees (0-2 Risks) who are not productive 14.5% of the time.
  • The productivity difference between health and unhealthy employees is therefore 18.2% or 45 days per annum.
  • High risk employees average 5.1 hours/month absence versus 2.4 hours/month for low risk employees.  This amounts to 32.4 hours (over 4 days) days per annum.
  • Healthy employees average 1-2 sick days per annum versus 18 days for those in the lowest health and wellbeing category.
  • The unhealthiest employees are productive for only about 49 hours out of each month compared to around 140 hours/month for the most healthy.
  • Poor health can account for an average 5% loss in productivity across the entire Australian workforce with the unhealthiest group reporting a 13% drop in productivity. About half [of] this is related to chronic conditions such as headaches, hay fever and neck/back pain,whilst half can be accounted for by lifestyle factors such as inactivity, smoking, obesity etc

All of this information shows the importance of workers maintaining their own fitness in order to live longer, but also to be able to present a case, if necessary, about their own productivity levels and how they have been saving their employer big dollars.

If we need to be able to work till older than previously, we will want to stay in a job we enjoy and that values us.  Some longterm health planning may be required by all of us.

Kevin Jones

Workplace bullying possibly increasing 3

A United States report draws a parallel between increasingly difficult economic situations and an increase in workplace bullying.   This video report is lightweight but is a recent airing of the issue with a different approach.

The angle taken in the story is that of a “pink elephant” that women are just as likely to bully their workmates as men are.  Some of the speakers in the video try to relate female bullying to issues of female empowerment but bullying is more often a reflection of personal nastiness than a social movement.

Bullying received increased focus when workplace culture emerged but rather than a gender issue, our increasing intolerance for bullying is coming from a broader cultural movement than just through the workplace.

The video report originated through research undertaken by the Workplace Bullying Institute, an organisation that has existed for sometime and has very recently upgraded its website.

Kevin Jones

Big fine for go-kart death 3

The AAP and others are reporting a big fine over the death of Lydia Carter whilst driving a go-kart at a work function held in Port Melbourne in 2006.  The significance of the $A1.4 million fine is that the company, AAA Auscarts Imports Pty Ltd,  is not a large or multinational corporation.

Ms Carter was wearing a seat belt that did not fit properly and safety barriers on the track had been incorrectly installed.  

Judge Duncan Allen said 

“There is no doubt in my mind that (Auscarts) not only was fully aware of the risk, but was fully aware of the ways to reduce them” 

“The company showed a gross disregard concerning the safety of employees and the public.”

For OHS professionals this case, which ended today (12 May 2009) in the Victorian County Court, will generate a fair degree of attention because of the fine’s size.  However, from the information currently available, the case seems one of the go-kart company having a work environment that was unsafe for customers, the company being aware of this and not doing enough to fix it.

SafetyAtWorkBlog is also looking  into how Ms Carter’s death has changed her employer’s organisation, what effect it had on her colleagues, what policy changes have been made, amongst other matters.

The judgement will also be made available as soon as possible.

Kevin Jones

What a good safety management system looks like 2

I’m a big fan of minimising the rehashing of OH&S guides. In my WorkSafe Victoria days (the latter ones when I was doing guidance material editing) I did what I could to encourage adoption of other people’s good work.

cover indg275[1]And just today I found an example of a British Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guide on what a sexy SMS looks like that I think is about as good as it gets; particularly in the context of giving an OH&S newbie an excellent sense of what it means to deal with OH&S in a systematic way.

Loved the focus on critical questions to ask about key elements of an SMS; as opposed to a common bad habit of doing the thing I call a “knowledge dump” – asking every question you can think of that has any sort of relationship to the topic at hand.

Loved the way the guide related smart SMS evaluation to real-world business decisions. I gotta say (obviously with the benefit of hindsight) that governments are pretty hopeless at “relating” to business in guidance material. It’s a waste of white space to keep telling a reader why it’s awful to hurt workers. It’s a waste because the reader wouldn’t be a reader if they weren’t concerned about that.

The HSE guide takes the approach of comparing SMS decisions to day-to-day business decisions. Take for example these questions from the guide: “How much are you spending on health and safety and are you getting value for money? How much money are you losing by not managing health and safety?”  These are just a couple of examples of business-savvy questions in the guide. They show the author knows full well that crappy OH&S  management costs big bucks and they cut straight to the chase on questions about costs and losses. But, cleverly, the author leaves it at that, and includes other business related questions. A good move.

I’ve found (and I have to say I was surprised to find this out) that my clients – almost all small businesses – are not “consumed” by profitability. They want their businesses to work, they want to be able to pay their bills, but I’ve found that there is lots of angst about hurting workers. (Hmm…rather than go on anymore about this topic of small business motivators for safety, I think I’ll leave it for a separate post.) Back to the guide.

What is a real stand-out in the guide is the minimal use of the lazy adjectives like “suitable” and “appropriate”. We in OH&S-World use those mostly useless adjectives way too much in guidance material. The author of the guide avoids them like the plague. Grab yourself a free copy from ttp://tinyurl.com/obwzrg .

Col Finnie
col@finiohs.com
www.finiohs.com