OHS can be a force for social change, if anyone could be bothered 2

HesaMag should be obligatory reading for all OHS professionals, not just those in Europe. The editorial in the most recent edition (9 and not yet on line) is a great example of the value of this free magazine. It critically discusses the upcoming International Workers’ Memorial Day and its significance.

It asks for everyone to enact the commitment shown on each April 28 to every other day of the year. It says:

“Let’s not be taken in by the false sentiment on 28 April, but demand a clear and detailed accounting”

It asks why EU OHS legislation has been so slow to appear or be revised but equally, in Australia, questions should be asked about the status (failure in my opinion) of WHS harmonisaton, the lack of attention to the causes of workplace mental illness, the status of workplace bullying claims in the Fair Work Commission, the lack of attention to heavy vehicle OHS matters by the safety profession and the insidious encroachment of the perception of OHS as a failure of the individual rather than a failure in the system of work. More…

The CFMEU should make a case for union OHS representatives 2

In late March 2014, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) was fined $A1.25 million over a violent dispute at the Emporium construction site that occurred in 2012.  In its media release about the fine, the CFMEU’s state secretary, John Setka, says:

“The protest at the Myer site in 2012 was about safety.”

Yes and no.  The dispute was about the representation of workers on safety matters, which is a different thing.  Setka goes on:

“Building workers need someone on site who genuinely represents their interests, and that doesn’t happen when that person is hand-picked by the boss.”

The core issue in this dispute seems to be that the CFMEU will not accept the Health and Safety Representatives (HSR) chosen by the workforce at the Emporium site, which is being built by Grocon P/L.  The CFMEU has its own HSRs that it believes will better represent the workforce on OHS matters.

The dispute represents an ideological dispute that seems more about unionism and industrial relations than about safety, but worker safety may still be the lose.

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Senator Abetz oversteps on workplace bullying claim 3

abetz.com.au - Joe McDonald 130314Anyone dealing with occupational health and safety (OHS), or in any profession, knows to be careful with one’s words in public.  This is particularly so when one is dealing with mental health issues or claims of workplace bullying.  This week Senator Eric Abetz, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, seems to have overstepped the mark by misrepresenting some Federal Court Orders as related to workplace bullying, when the Court made no such statement.  This could simply be dismissed as political hyperbole in the heat of the moment but this was no off-the-cuff remark.  He headlined his media release on 13 March 2014 as:

“Joe McDonald found guilty of workplace bullying – yet again. Bill Shorten must now act”.

According to Safe Work Australia, an organisation within Senator Abetz’s portfolio, workplace bullying is defined in the most recent national guide as

“repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.” (page 2)

Nowhere in the Federal Court orders*  is workplace bullying, or any other bullying, mentioned and the Federal Court has not found Joe McDonald guilty of workplace bullying. The best that can be said is that Joe McDonald has a history of intimidation on construction sites and that this has created tense relations between the workforce and employers (perhaps a confused safety culture) and generated delays in construction.

Does this all matter? Yes More…

Important OHS titbits in latest Productivity Commission report Reply

Cover of infrastructure-draft-volume1Productivity and regulation is the rationale behind most of the workplace policies of the current Australian Government.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) has a role to play in both of these economic and social elements but it rarely gets considered in a positive light.  This is partly an ideological position of the conservative politicians but is also due to a lack of economic argument in favour of OHS and an inability, or an unwillingness, to identify essential regulations.

This week Australia’s Productivity Commission (PC) released a draft paper into the costs of public infrastructure projects that includes some telling OHS information even though most of the media has focused on the political angle or on the taxing of cars?!

A brief review of the draft report reveals OHS dotted throughout both volumes of the report and early on there is some support for Safety in Design in the tender development stage.   More…

New industrial relations book does service to OHS (for a change) 2

It is common for industrial relations to be written about without any mention or serious analysis of occupational health and safety (OHS). But a new textbook on Australian industrial relations includes a very good chapter of OHS that, significantly, cross-references other chapters in the book to provide a unified approach that reflects both the title and its intent. The book is called “Australian Workplace Relations” and the workplace health and safety chapter is written by Elsa Underhill.

Underhill has written on the OHS effects of precarious employment extensively and this issue is the basis of her chapter.  She sees this as major cause of many of the OHS issues, particularly the growth in psychosocial risks in modern society and provides copious amounts of Australian and international research in support. More…

Parliamentary inquiry discusses OHS but no one noticed 1

Australia’s politicians, trade unionists, businesses and media are gearing up for a tumultuous year in industrial relations with the controversial establishment of a Royal Commission into trade union corruption.  This royal commission is broad-ranging but targets the construction unions, particularly the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and thus the construction unions’ conduct with regard to allegedly using occupational health and safe as a cover or excuse for industrial action. This royal commission has a strong element of party politics and ideologies and has overshadowed other action in the Australian Parliament where OHS is being discussed.

On 6 February 2014 the Education and Employment References Committee of the Australian Senate continued its inquiry into the Government’s approach to re-establishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) through the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013.  One of the terms of reference for this inquiry is

“whether the provisions of the bills relating to occupational health and safety in the building and construction industry are adequate to protect the health and safety of employees and contractors in the industry”.

On February 6 the inquiry had some heated discussion on OHS and the construction industry that deserves a closer look. More…

Construction association sees red tape instead of safety 2

Further to yesterday’s article about the Model Health and Safety Management Plan (MHSMP) being required by the Construction Compliance Code Unit (CCCU) in the Victorian Government, SafetyAtWorkBlog was provided with a copy of the submission of the Victorian Construction Safety Alliance* (VCSA).  Tony Marino, the Chair of the VCSA, has granted permission for the covering letter to be quoted.

The covering letter to the submission made four major points:

  • “Overall the requirements of the Model Health and Safety Management Plan (MHSMP) and Implementation Guidelines are excessive and require significant amount of reporting duplication, i.e. red­ tape. VCSA was of the opinion government agencies wanted to reduce red-tape.
  • VCSA Suggest the CCCU has a MOU with other relevant agencies to receive safety data produced and sought by the Implementation Guidelines. More…

Opaque response on construction industry safety code 1

Model-Health-and-Safety-Management-Plan (2)Victoria’s Construction Compliance Code Unit in the Department of Treasury and Finance has just completed its public comments stage for its model Health and Safety Management Plan (HSMP).  The comments period was extended by a month after initially ending after only one month‘s public consultation on 6 January 2014.  New South Wales and Queensland have mirrored the Victorian construction compliance code so the significance of this OHS submission stage should not be underestimated however the submission process and unusual secrecy is not building the faith and trust in the HSMP that the process needs for it to succeed.

The regular process for submissions to government inquires is for those submissions to be made publicly available, with the permission of the writer.  The CCCU seems to have no plans to follow this protocol which is an enormous shame as the submissions would have provided a window into both the understanding of OHS in the Victorian construction sector, an understanding of the OHS role of the CCCU and an insight into how the CCCU is generally perceived by the Victorian community.

SafetyAtWorkBlog put the following (we think reasonable) questions to the CCCU last week in preparation for the end of the commentary phase:

  • Could you please estimate the number of submissions the CCU has received on the model Health and Safety Management Plan (HSMP) to date? More…

Proposed drug testing – a political tool 6

On 6 February 2014 the Victorian Premier. Denis Napthine, announced the intention to

“…require construction companies to implement comprehensive drug and alcohol screening measures to ensure the safety of workers to be eligible to tender for Victorian Government construction contracts.”

This is to be part of the occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations of companies under the Implementation Guidelines to the Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry.  Understandably the construction union, particularly, is angry and feels as if it is being singled out.  Both organisations have chosen their words very carefully. Premier Napthine is quoted as saying:

“Reports of illicit drug use and distribution on Victorian construction sites are widespread.”

The CFMEU‘s Victorian Secretary John Setka has stated that

“There is no epidemic of drug taking on construction sites…. Our Health and Safety representatives who look out for workers’ health and safety are not reporting a problem.”

It is unlikely there is an epidemic of drug use but the Premier is talking of drugs AND alcohol.   More…

New book provides fresh context to OHS 1

SafetyAtWorkBlog regularly receives excellent review books from the New York publishing company, BaywoodPublishing.  The latest is entitled Safety or Profit? – International Studies in Governance, Change and the Work Environment.   I have yet to get beyond the introduction to the chapters by Australian academics on precarious workers (Quinlan) and the decriminalisation of OHS (Johnstone) but the introduction is fascinating.

The most fascinating is its discussion of Lord Robens’ Report of the Inquiry into Health and Safety at Work from 1973. The editors, Theo Nichols and David Walters, question the “major advance” many claimed for the Robens report by comparing it reviews 40 years earlier.  Nichols and Walters quote the conservatism that led to Robens seeing criminal law as being “largely irrelevant”, and legal sanctions being “counter to our philosophy”.  However, they do admit that Robens was prophetic on the growth of self-regulation and the duties of care.

Nichols and Walters also remind us that the Robens-inspired Health and Safety At Work Act of 1974 did not recommend the creation of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) representatives.

More…