Queensland workers’ compensation reforms – is the good news really that good? 1

Queensland’s Premier, Anna Bligh, and Attorney-General, Cameron Dick have issued a curious media statement concerning their reform of the State’s workers’ compensation system.

The reform is intended “to ensure stability and certainty into the future” and “ensure that the Queensland average premium rate, while increasing, will remain the lowest of any state or territory.”

The Premier is saying the right message but the reality may be a little different.   More…

Safety professionals must understand RTW in order to avoid unnecessary costs 5

The rationale for the Australian government’s evangelism of harmonisation is the reduction of “red-tape” on the logic, or assumption, that business costs will also be reduced.  Dr Mary Wyatt, according to a report on ABC News Online, says that cost reductions may be possible be reducing over-servicing of injured workers.

Dr Wyatt says:

“We have an increasing focus on the medicine, and we have lots of scans that tell us there are things wrong with our bodies, and then when those scans are done it’s often labelled as a serious problem, and then the worker gets worried and we often go off on a tangent..” More…

Insider’s perspective on workers’ compensation harmony process 1

Dr Mary Wyatt is an expert on the return-to-work sector in Australia.  She was one of several expert speakers at the harmonisation conference in Melbourne at the end of March 2010.  Her presentation is available online.

Dr Wyatt spoke from a national perspective and has said:

“The data we have tells us compensation system (sic) are not producing good results. Employees with a compensable condition have poorer outcomes than those who have the same condition in a non compensation situation. For example, those who have surgery have four times the odds of a poor outcome when the condition is compensable.” More…

Minister says public service safety performance is lamentable Reply

“….I would ….suggest that government (as employer and dutyholder, and as policy maker) can, and should, be an exemplar of OHS best practice.  By taking the lead in the systematic management of occupational health and safety, government can influence the behaviour of individuals and firms upon whom duties are imposed by the OHS legislation.”

In 2004, Chris Maxwell QC wrote the above words in his review of the OHS legislation in Victoria. According to a report in the Australian Financial Review (only available by subscription or hard copy) on 6 April 2010, the Minister for WorkCover, Tim Holding, seems to share some of Maxwell’s view.   Holding is reported to have said in a speech that

“The truth is that the performance of workplace safety in the Victorian public service continues to be lamentable More…

Employees’ OHS responsibility and working beyond the maximum hours 3

One of the most powerful motivators for behavioural change in workplaces is the legislative obligation on employees to not put themselves at risk of injury nor to act in such a way as to place others at risk.

Reported in the Australian media on 31 March 2010, Fair Work Australia has ruled that employees in the fruit-picking industry may volunteer for work beyond the standard 38-hour week without receiving penalty rates or overtime.  The union movement is understandably concerned about how this financially disadvantages workers and how this ruling may spread beyond the fruit-picking industry.

The ruling allows fruit-pickers to choose to work beyond their regular shifts.  Will they be able to work safely?  Will they not be fatigued?  Will they have sufficient daylight to undertake the tasks safely?  Will there be sufficient downtime for workers to recover from a long work day and be fit for work?  Could the workers’ choice to undertake additional fruit-picking tasks be a breach of their OHS obligations to look after their own safety, health and welfare?

The employees may choose to ignore their own occupational health for the sake of additional dollars but should they then be eligible for workers’ compensation if the effects of those longer hours are found to have contributed to an injury or illness? More…

The first workers’ compensation harmonisation meeting a sham: unions 7

“The conference inside is a bit of a sham” claimed Brian Boyd, Victorian Trades Hall Secretary at the first meeting into the harmonisation of Australia’s workers compensation laws.

“It’s really another hidden agenda about trying to harmonise workers comp after we fully know already, they’ve messed up harmonisation of OHS.”

More…

OHS awards consider work/life balance but not vice versa 1

On 15 March 2010, the Australian Government congratulated the winners of, and participants in, the 2009–10 National Work–Life Balance Awards.

According to a media release from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations:

“The Awards…. recognise family friendly practices like flexible working hours, options for working from home, paid parental leave, job sharing, onsite carer’s facilities and study assistance.”
Teleworking and flexible working hours are both directly relevant to occupational health safety but also through the OHS elements of work/life balance.  But the National Work-Life Balance Awards Team told SafetyAtWorkBlog that
“No direct OHS performance indicators were included in the judging criteria for the 2009-10 National Work-LIfe Balance Awards.” More…

Prominent OHS lawyer to facilitate workers’ compensation reform discussions 2

SafetyAtWorkBlog has been able to confirm the rumour that Barry Sherriff, a prominent Australian OHS Lawyer who recently joined Norton Rose, has been contracted to facilitate a series of exclusive forums on the reform of Australia’s workers’ compensation system.

Sherriff was one of the triumvirate who investigated a model OHS law for the Australian Government and should fulfill his contracted role for Safe Work Australia (SWA) admirably. More…

LTIFRs (sort of) gone from Australia Post Reply

The Communications Division of the CEPU has been in negotiations with Australia Post for some time to establish a pathway to better industrial relations.  On 18 March 2010 a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between the two parties, committing both to progress.

Of direct OHS interest is the following paragraph in the media statement about the MOU:

“As a gesture of good faith the MOU contains commitments from all parties that will apply immediately:

  • Australia Post will host a summit in April between senior executives including the Managing Director and senior CEPU representatives on the future challenges facing the business, the unions and their members; and
  • The removal of Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate’s in bonus targets for managers.”

Whether OHS will be discussed at the summit is unknown but the removal of LTIFR is of significance to OHS professionals.

More…

Harmonisation of Australia’s workers’ compensation system begins 5

SafetyAtWorkBlog has learnt that the national harmonisation process for workers’ compensation has formally begun with one of the first meetings being scheduled in Melbourne at the end of March 2010 and organised by Safe Work Australia.  The two-day meeting is invitation only and invitations have been sent to relevant stakeholders – insurers, rehabilitation, providers, unions…… The meeting is almost an introduction to the reform process but could provide a clear indication of the tensions and challenges for this program in the future.

Workers compensation issues in South Australia have been receiving considerable coverage in SafetyAtWorkBlog over the last few weeks.  The bigger picture in the complaints that the Australian Government has committed to a program of national harmonisation of workers’ compensation schemes, currently administered separate by each State.  This process is a bigger challenge than harmonising workplace safety laws and may be bigger than the reintroduction of a more worker-friendly industrial relations system.

The ABC News bulletin (video available) in Melbourne on 17 March 2010 ran a lead story about doctors’ reluctance to treat injured workers More…