The OHS recommendations the Australian Government rejected 1

According to the Communiqué of the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council on 18 May 2009, the following issues should be considered when drafting the new OHS legislation

“Application of the primary duty of care to any person conducting a business or undertaking

The panel recommends that the primary duty of care should be owed by any person conducting a business or undertaking.  The objective of this recommendation is to move away from the traditional emphasis on the employment relationship as the determiner of the primary duty, to provide greater health and safety protection for all persons involved in, or affected by, work activity.  Care needs to be taken during drafting to ensure that the scope of the duty is limited to matters of occupational health and safety and does not further extend into areas of public safety that are not related to the workplace activity. “

The first part of this is recognition of the variety of workplaces Australia now has, the number of people within worksites who are not employees and the previous issues of OHS and unpaid volunteers.  It seems to expand to matters of public liability but then, curiously, pulls back to emphasise occupational health and safety.  As Michael Tooma has noted, circumstances seem to have passed beyond the arbitrariness of the occupational categorisation. More…

Radio interview on harmonisation of OHS law Reply

Last week, I had the pleasure of being interviewed byElanor McInerney of the 3CR radio program, Stick Together.  The interview concerned the harmonisation law in Australia and my thoughts on the risks and impacts it would have on Australian business and workers.

The radio program is now available as a podcast  (My part is around the 19 minute mark.) 

Please let me know if I am totally off the beam with my applications of the OHS laws and the political issues.

I thank Elanor and the producers of Stick Together for making this available so soon after the broadcast on 17 May 2009.

Kevin Jones

New Youth@Work website Reply

The South Australian government has launched a website focusing on young people at work, not surprisingly called Youth@Work.  

South Australia has a habit of marching to a slightly different beat to the dominant Australian States on OHS.  They did not follow WorkSafe Victoria’s “Homecomings” ads and they have been well ahead of anyone in researching and explaining the relevance of wellness as an OHS issue.

Kevin JonesposterA3v6 (2)

“Homecomings” safety ads reach the US 2

As mentioned last month in SafetyAtWorkBlog, the Victoria-designed “Homecomings” advertisements are to be launched on United States television.  The Department of Labor & Industries for Washington State announced the ads on 19 May 2009.  According to the DL&I media release

“These ads are particularly effective at bringing home the importance of safety in the workplace and the effects it can have on so many people,” said Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business. “When an accident happens at work, it affects everyone – family, friends and co-workers.”

One ad is available for viewing at http://www.lni.wa.gov/main/worksafe/ 

[It looks like parts needed to be re-filmed to show left-hand drive vehicles and obviously the music rights for Dido's song couldn't apply in the US]

Kevin Jones

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