On 28 April 2013, New Zealand lawyer, Hazel Armstrong, published a 48-page book on how workplace fatalities and the management of the NZ rail industry has been related to politics and economics.
This is an ideological position more than anything else and the evidence is thin in much of this short book but there is considerable power in the description of the manipulation of occupational health and safety regulations and oversight during the political privatisation of the NZ rail sector. Many countries have privatised previously nationalised, or government-owned, enterprises usually on the argument of productivity and efficiency increases. Armstrong argues that these arguments were used to justify breaking the trade union dominance of the rail industry. More…
Yesterday Australia opened its National Workers Memorial in Canberra. The Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, spoke at the ceremony with, largely, an edited and reduced version of the speech he presented in Brisbane earlier last week. The Canberra speech dropped all the ANZAC Day references and spoke about the importance of remembering.
“By erecting this monument, we tie the lives and memories and families of thousands of Australians to this place. We stand here in this place as a mark of respect from a civilised community as an expression of failure and regret. That’s what all memorials are, and this one is no different. This is a symbol of the mourning for those lost too early from our tribe Australia.” More…
The memorial has been coordinated by the National Capital Authority who has established a website for this memorial. The website will have live coverage of the inauguration ceremony at 11.00am AEST. More…
Shorten states an occupational health and safety principle:
“…we know [workplace deaths] are preventable. They are not accidents.
Let me repeat this: by far most deaths and serious injuries are predictable safety failures.
It’s not a systems’ failure or risk assessment failure, or hazard identification failure…and all those other handsome words without tears.
It is the failure that springs as a readymade monster from the knowing tolerance of small daily hazards at the daily tasks.” (emphasis added)
Even given the qualifications in the highlighted statement above Shorten believes workplace incidents are safety failures that occur due to a “knowing tolerance” of hazards. The risk is not in the hazards themselves but in our tolerance of these hazards. More…
Occupational health and safety has many examples of addressing small or short-term issues rather than facing the difficult and hard, but more sustainable, control measures. I was reminded of this by a recent media statement from the United States Chemical Safety Board (CSB) in relation to fatigue management.
In 2007 the CSB recommended that, following the Texas City refinery fire,
The progress of API and USW in developing the 2010 ANSI-approved Recommended Practice 755 (RP755) has been reviewed by the CSB staff and they have found the following disturbing problems:
“The document was not the result of an effective consensus process, and therefore does not constitute a tool that multiple stakeholders in the industry can “own.” It was not balanced in terms of stakeholder interests and perspectives, and did not sufficiently incorporate or take into account the input of experts from other industry sectors that have addressed fatigue risks. More…
Several years ago, a WorkSafe Victorian executive saw “reasonably practicable” as a major legal advantage in safety regulation. It is of legal benefit, but does it make workplaces safer? Does it make it easier to manage workplace safety? In this time of economic austerity and the pursuit of red tape reductions, can the “reasonably practicable” elements of Australia safety law be an impediment to safety management?
Employers have always seen legislative compliance as the equivalent of being safe. This position seems sensible because if the safety police of the OHS regulator leave you alone after a site visit and say you are compliant, your workplace must be safe. The safety experts have visited and found nothing wrong, it is logical to then assume safety.
Here’s a radical thought – compliance ≠ safety. Never has and never will.
This will be a shock for many businesses, and even a shock for many OHS regulators, because so much workplace safety strategy is based a flawed logic that “if I comply with workplace safety laws, I am safe”. Regardless of OHS laws, there is a moral social duty to look after the safety and welfare of one’s workers and oneself. When values become codified in law, the law becomes the value, and the moral duty becomes historical.
Politicians are sufficiently media-savvy to release policies and information to gain the maximum exposure in the media cycle. For some reason, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, missed the opportunity to have his changes on workplace bullying in the newspapers for 12 February 2013. The news cycle is also being dominated by the resignation of Pope Benedict. However Shorten’s response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying deserves detailed analysis.
Shorten is bringing the investigation of workplace bullying cases under the Fair Work Commission. There are likely to be complex consequences of this decision, a decision that is clearly the Minister’s as the Parliamentary Inquiry made no clear recommendation on the location of the “new national service”.
“The Committee did not receive evidence on where such a service ["a single, national service to provide advice to employers and workers alike on how to prevent, and respond to workplace bullying" 5.51, page 136] should be located. It might be best situated within an existing government agency or department such as Safe Work Australia, the Fair Work Ombudsman or the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. It may also be considered appropriate for the service to be an independent body that is funded by the Commonwealth. Consequently, the Committee does not have a clear recommendation as to where the new national service may sit.” (Section 5.58, page 138)
Clearly Shorten’s announcement could easily have been “Minister rejects independent body on workplace bullying”. The Minister should be asked about his reasons for not establishing an independent body into this important issue. More…
It stopped at 2.32 pm of an ordinary day. One string of events ended abruptly at the pinch point of a groaning conveyor belt when his arm was ripped off. Do you think of Swiss cheese models of risk alignment? Of complexity or failure to learn? Of the Moura coal mine disaster, the Longford oil and gas plant disaster, the Baker report and the BP Texas City refinery fatalities, of 29 miners killed in the desolate and terrorising Pike River coal mine, NZ, 2010? Do you think of precariousness lurking at work, of leadership, of productivity?
For me this was the 5th arm I was personally aware of disappearing violently at work, generating years of withdrawal and solitude unrecorded in any OHS statistics. In that time I had also observed hundreds of missing or useless machine guards. Such a well known and easy hazard to fix. What exactly is the problem, what does it indicate about OHS generally, and what may go some way towards practical improvements? More…
In Australia and the United Kingdom, workplace health and safety compliance has been considered a prominent element of allegations of business “Red Tape“. On 21 January 2013, Victoria’s Treasurer, Kim Wells, announced new guidelines into red tape in that State’s government authorities and regulators. Wells’ media release states:
“Stage one of the reform will focus on the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA), VicRoads, Environment Protection Authority, Consumer Affairs Victoria and the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.” [emphasis added]
Wells also says that the Red Tape Commissioner, John Lloyd, will administer the system which runs like this:
“Ministers will issue statements of expectations to key regulators which will require them to outline by 1 July 2013 how they intend to reduce red tape. Our aim is to see regulators reduce the cost of high-impact or high- More…