OHS issues from over the horizon 1

seaOn 18 March 2015, the Melbourne office of Herbert Smith Freehills conducted a breakfast seminar that doubled as a launch for the latest edition of the CCH Wolters Kluwer book Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide (reviewed recently).  The seminar had three of the book’s authors talking about emerging occupational health and safety (OHS) and work health and safety (WHS) issues for Australia.  These included

  • The growth of WHS/OHS “Assurance Programs”
  • The potential implications for the safety management from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Free Trade Agreements.
  • The OHS trend in the European Union for “Supply Chain Safety“.

The first two of these topics are discussed below. More…

OHS professionals should be more politically active 6

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is inextricably linked to everyday life and everyday politics but it is treated as somehow separate, even by those who are experts in OHS.  This is not the case with industrial relations which is much more grounded in the political realities.

Industrial relations has been pushed by the trade union movement that has always seen workers’ rights as a social issue.  The OHS profession and its associations have been content, largely, to live within the factory fence.  Until recently OHS laws related solely to the workplace and OHS professionals had the luxury of a clear demarcation for its operations.

But new OHS laws acknowledge the responsibility for the effects of work on those other than workers, and those who are neighbours to workplaces.  Australian OHS professionals have been slow to embrace the social role that has been foisted on them.  There seems no excuse for this.

Recently, a hearing of an Australia Senate Committee spoke with the CEO of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, Peter Tighe.  The discussion illustrated some of the social, political and economic risks of this long-known workplace hazard. More…

Abolition of Construction Code is a return to the past on OHS 2

The new Andrews Government in Victoria has followed through on its election pledge to abolish the Construction Compliance Code Unit (CCCU) of the Department of Treasury and Finance. It announced this in a peculiar manner within a media release on whooping cough, a process that Senator Abetz went to town on. But Premier Andrews’ decision raises the question of, if the Code is gone, what replaces it? The simply answer is nothing.

A spokesperson for the Premier advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that

“The Andrews Labor Government has delivered on its election commitment to scrap the Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry and its monitoring body the Construction Code Compliance Unit (CCCU).

Contractors bidding for Victorian Government work and applying for pre-qualification on construction registers will still need to meet safety and industrial relations management criteria. Contractors must also have occupational health and safety policies and procedures to meet legislative and regulatory requirements.”

More…

Impairment argument fails to convince Fair Work Commission over unfair dismissal 16

On 16 January 2015 the Australian newspaper (paywall) reported on a Fair Work Commission (FWC) decision involving an unfair dismissal claim by a worker who, as a result of a random drug test, was found to have methylamphetamine in her system “at levels four times above the minimum detection level”.  The company, Downer EDI Mining, sacked the worker, Leah Cunningham, as she presented a hazard to her work colleagues. The newspaper article was called “CFMEU slammed for drugs defence” and the FWC decision is Tara Leah Cunningham v Downer EDI Mining Pty Limited (U2014/1457) (14 January 2015).

The Australian, a newspaper with no love for the trade union movement and the CFMEU in particular, focussed on the apparent absurdity of a trade union, that places such a high priority on workplace safety,  contesting the dismissal of a worker who presented a hazard to herself and others at work.  The newspaper quotes Commissioner Ian Cambridge:

““It was highly regrettable to observe during the hearing that an organisation, which apparently conducts campaigns which strongly advocate safety in the workplace, could contemplate a proposition which, in effect, would countenance a person driving a 580-tonne truck whilst having methylamphetamine in their body at a level four times the reportable cut-off figure,” he said in his decision this week.

“Any realistic and responsible pursuit of the case on behalf of the applicant should have been confined to the development of evidentiary support for the applicant’s explanation for the presence of the methylamphetamine. Indeed, much greater energy and focus should have been devoted to such an evidentiary position rather than any attempt to defend the indefensible.”

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Trade Union Royal Commission affects OHS credibility 3

Whether one believes that the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption is a political witch-hunt or a genuine attempt to clean up a corrupt industry sector, the Royal Commission seems to have revealed an abuse and exploitation of occupational health and safety (OHS) – an exploitation that has received next to no attention. The release of the Commission’s interim report allows for a quick analysis of this situation.

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was a particular target of the Commission in relation to a “slush fund” established by her then-boyfriend, Bruce Wilson, commonly referred to as the “AWU affair“.  The “slush fund”, known as the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association, was developed, according to Gillard

“… to support the re-election of union officials who would campaign for workplace reforms including better occupational health and safety.” (Interim Report, Vol 1, page 99)

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Media tips for Australian OHS professionals 1

The occupational health and safety (OHS) profession in Australia has suffered from the lack of a public voice.  This is partly due to ineffective and disorganised professional associations but more it is due to fear – fear of embarrassment, fear of ridicule, fear of failure….  This is peculiar because a fundamental element of OHS is communication.  Below is some information from an Australian journalism textbook that may help reduce some of that fear.

Code of Ethics

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (ie. the journalists’ “union” in Australia) publishes a Code of Ethics. (Similar organisations round the world have equivalent documents and obligations)  This is vital information for any journalist but also important for those who want to engage with the media, perhaps through interviews.  For instance, on the use of sources, the Code says

“Aim to attribute information to its source.  Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source’s motives and any alternative attributable source.  Where confidences are accepted,  respect them in all circumstances.”

More…

Workplace Safety finally gets a mention in the Victorian election campaign (sort of) 4

On 25 November 2014 the Federal Minister for Employment, Eric Abetz, attacked the Victorian Labor Party over its pledge to revoke the Construction Compliance Code which, primarily, deals with industrial relations but also has some occupational health and safety (OHS) requirements.

Abetz states that

“the Victorian Shadow Industrial Relations Minister [Natalie Hutchins] falsely claimed that the Code would not improve workplace safety, despite the numerous improved safety standards that it contains.”

The claim, apparently in the Herald-Sun newspaper, cannot be verified except through a reference in a news.com.au article. The original quote seems unavailable.

It is curious that this OHS criticism has come from a Federal Parliamentarian instead of from Victoria’s own Industrial Relations Minister and Attorney-General, Robert Clark. Clark echoed Abetz’s statement yesterday but where Senator Abetz mentions the possible OHS ramifications of the Opposition’s Leader Daniel Andrews’ tearing up (page 16 of the ALP 2014 Platform) of the Construction Compliance Code, Robert Clark hardly mentions the workplace safety context. More…

Shadow IR Minister addresses trade union OHS conference 4

O'Connor photoAs 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.”

More…

Safe Work Australia month begins with an online gamble Reply

The annual Safe Work Australia month starts today.  The promotion of this month has fluctuated wildly over the last decade.  Sometimes there are physical launches with interesting speakers, sometimes balloons and merchandise, other times the national OHS authority has left most of the activity to the States.  In 2014, Safe Work Australia has jumped into internet videos, online presentations and webinars each day of the month of October (the full schedule is available HERE).  This initiative is to be supported but it has not been tried before in Australia and its success is not guaranteed.

As expected the first couple of videos are polite launches of the strategy with statements from Ministers and CEOs.  The potential for valuable content is after the initial launch but this value is debatable.  It is unclear who the target audience is.  If the seminar series is for OHS newbies, a restatement of legislative OHS obligations is of little interest to experienced safety managers and professionals.  More…

Short radio interview on the cost of workplace mental health 3

I was interviewed this evening on the cost of mental stress by Your Rights at Night on Radio Adelaide. The podcast is now available HERE.


I have listened back to this interview this morning and have some advice for other OHS professionals who may find themselves in a similar situation.

Insist on seeing the interview questions prior to the interview.  I asked for this but the questions weren’t available.  Colleagues have advised me to refuse the interview if this occurs again as there is a risk of being trapped in a discussion that is very different from what was expected.

If the questions aren’t available, ask for the core theme of the interview so that topic parameters are established earl in the process. More…