Part of the core duties of any occupational health and safety (OHS) regulator is the production of data. Recently Safe Work Australia (SWA) released its “Key Work Health and Safety Statistics” for 2015 and given the amount of media attention on workplace mental health, one would expect mental health to be one of the key statistics. It’s not.
In fact mental health is referenced only once in the document on page 28. The table states that for the decade of 2000-2001 to 2010-2011
“mental disorders…did not display a clear overall trend of increase or decrease”.
This is significant in the context of workplace mental health reporting. Is the reported increase in workplace mental health a myth? Safe Work Australia’s statistics seems to support this. More…
On housing affordability this week, Australia’s Treasurer, Joe Hockey, suggested a solution would be to get a “good job”. This occurred a month or so after the publication of a terrific book (that Hockey obviously has yet to read) called “Job Quality in Australia“, edited by Angela Knox and Chris Warhurst for Federation Press. The editors write about the importance of job quality which “…affects attitudes, behaviour and outcomes at the individual, organisational and national level” (page 1) and job quality’s political context:
“While the current Abbott government is primarily concerned with improving Australia’s macro-economic position, such a position is unlikely to be achieved and sustained without a policy agenda focusing on job quality.” (page 2)
Significantly for this blog’s readership, the book has a chapter, written by Michael Quinlan and Philip Bohle, on the impact of organisation on workplace health, safety and wellbeing. More…
There is a clear link between the modern take on occupational health and safety (which includes psychosocial health) and productivity. However, there are seriously mixed messages coming from the Productivity Commission (PC) in its current inquiry into Australia’s Workplace Relations Framework.
In Senate Estimates on 3 June 2014 (draft Hansard), the Chair of the Productivity Commission, Peter Harris, and Assistant Commissioner, Ralph Lattimore, briefly discussed OHS. Harris acknowledged that some of the submissions to the current inquiry discussed OHS matters (page 65) but Lattimore stated:
“….we did say that we would quarantine the inquiry away from workforce health and safety issues unless they were directly related to, say, enterprise bargaining or some feature of the relationship between employers and employees. We were aware of the large amount of regulation in that area, and we were not planning to revisit that.”
The Cancer Council of Western Australia has released a report (not yet available online)that states:
“The number of occupationally caused cancers compensated each year equates to less than eight per cent of the expected number.” (Executive Summary)
This is an extraordinary statistic but consistent with the history of occupational health and safety (OHS) statistics where the core data originates from compensation figures rather than incident figures. Cancer has always been a challenge in this area as it can manifest years after exposure or not at all. But this report also provides important data, and a challenge, for OHS professionals and business owners as
“Occupational exposures to carcinogens are estimated to cause over 5,000 new cases of cancer in Australia each year.” (Executive Summary)
The report has an excellent discussion on why such statistics are estimates and the unreliability of previous data in Australia and overseas but there is only a short, but important, discussion about risk and hazard controls – the principle focus for OHS professionals. More…
Over the last few months some in Australia’s trade union movement have renewed calls for the introduction of industrial manslaughter laws in various jurisdictions. The issue has appeared both on television and online.
Curiously the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) seems to have dropped the “industrial manslaughter” terminology it has used in the past. In a 28 April 2015 media release, the ACTU stated:
““Strengthening OHS laws to make negligent companies and individual directors liable sends a clear message to employers that they must ensure people are safe at work.”
“Current laws need to be strengthened so that companies and company directors are liable for our safety at work.”
It seems that the charge has been left to the South Australian Greens Parliamentarian, Tammy Franks, who has proposed amendments to the SA Work Health and Safety laws in Parliament on 6 May. But what does Franks expect to achieve with this Bill? Will it reduce harm or is it a heartfelt cry of frustration? More…
The recent article into the review of SafeWorkSA caught the attention of the Your Rights at Night radio program and led to an interview on 9 April 2015. The podcast of that interview is now available online.
Interviews are odd experiences, particularly when they are over the phone. Although there is a reason someone wants to talk with you, you usually do not know the questions beforehand.
For the interview above, I was in the bedroom, away from noises, with printed blog articles, media releases and OHS statistics across the pillows. I thought the spread of information was important to have at hand to make sure the information I provided was accurate but one can still get caught out when the pace of the interview has settled. The last question asked in the interview could have been answered better. Neither of the reviews announced have a fixed end date, regardless of what I said, in fact you can hear the shuffling of papers while I looked for the SA government’s media release. Oh well.
How different can occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators be? A review into WorkSafe Victoria was announced in February 2015 but the review into its equivalent in South Australia, SafeWorkSA, is more progressed and has released a public discussion paper entitled “Transforming Work Health and Safety Performance“. Its suggestions should be noted by James Mackenzie the reviewer of WorkSafe Victoria.
Maybe not surprising to many, the future is a reworking of the past. More…
Safe Work Australia recently released its second research paper related to developing or communicating a business case for occupational health and safety (OHS). The paper has been authored by Sharron O’Neill and is called “The Business Case for Safe, Healthy and Productive Work – Implications for resource allocation: Procurement, Contracting and infrastructure decisions“. O’Neill’s paper clearly challenges the dominant thinking of OHS and costs.
O’Neill states that the quality of previous analyses of OHS business costs have been “fundamentally poor”, partly because
“Rather than strategically examining the cost-benefit to business of work health and safety, the typical ‘silo’-driven analysis produces a narrow focus on a very different concept; the cost-benefit to business of health and safety interventions. This has obscured much of the potential for improving organisational productivity and operational decision-making.” (page 4, link added)
At a recent breakfast seminar, Steve Bell of Herbert Smith Freehills mentioned that a Bill is with the Australian Senate that will open up the Comcare scheme to Australian businesses through the removal of the national competition test. This move has been flagged for some time with several lawyers expressing reservations. Bell mentioned this to the audience of OHS professionals as the law changes could present a substantial change to their operational knowledge base. The Bill is part of a larger debate on OHS.
In a July 2014 article, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) warned that:
“The proposed changes to Comcare will not only throw state and territory-based workers’ compensation schemes into fiscal chaos, but will also see injured workers left out in the cold,” ALA National President Geraldine Collins said.
“If this legislation is passed, employers may move their workers into the Comcare scheme, thus leaving huge holes of unfunded liability in state schemes which is likely to result in state-based premiums soaring.”
“Opening up the Comcare scheme will be disastrous for workers. Comcare has no meaningful access to common law damages for injuries caused by the negligence of an employer. The scheme is burdensome, paternalistic, and bureaucratic for workers and employers. Its design means premiums have to go up unless benefits are slashed ,” Ms Collins said.
“Comcare also has no meaningful workplace health and safety regime. Work environments will develop where lives are lost and permanently damaged with little oversight and enforcement of workplace health and safety. It is a fundamentally flawed minimalist scheme. Migration en masse will strike at the heart of the financial stability of state schemes, which are mostly running fairly,” Ms Collins said.”
The Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, called a “snap” election for the end of January 2015. On 11 January 2015, Newman tweeted:
“Queenslanders injured at work are covered by Australia’s strongest workers’ compensation scheme.”
This is a further example of political newspeak as what does a “strong” workers’ compensation scheme look like? Newman’s tweet included an image that provides some clarity to his claim.