Australia’s Construction Code and the Home Insulation Royal Commission Reply

On 17 April 2014, Senator Eric Abetz, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, released the Building and Construction Industry (Fair and Lawful Building Sites) Code 2014 and supporting guidelines.  This Code is, fundamentally, an industrial relations Code however there is an occupational health and safety (OHS) element that needs to be noted, particularly when considered against the background of the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program.

Section 6.2.1 of the Code’s Guidelines says:

“Improving the industry’s WHS&R [Work Health Safety and Rehabilitation] performance requires positive measures that aim for prevention rather than correcting things when they go wrong. This initiative is directed at making WHS&R management an integral part of the organisational culture of companies and enterprises.”

The aims of this section are laudable – “positive” actions, “integrated, pre-emptive instead of reactive – but there are also hints that role of safety in this Code has not been fully thought out.

Things

The use of the term “things” is of concern.  This term is vague and should never be used when a more accurate word is available, particularly in a government-issued guidance document. The use of “things” could be a mistake  but the drafting of this Construction Code, and the political prominence of the Code, should not allow such mistakes.  If it is not a mistake the lack of clarity is a worry, especially when a Royal Commission is being held (Home Insulation Program – HIP) that indicates a lack of understanding and attention to OHS in the planning phase of a building-related program.

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OHS needs more comedies like Safety First 3

a54c5e_887371bdbda842de8bfb875829197d4f‘s latest comedy show, Safety First, is a dig at the absurdity of some of the training and concepts behind occupational health and safety.  Safety First, showing as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, does not ridicule OHS as a concept but focuses on the idiotic, semi-informed trainers who talk about safety whilst also, often, talking shit.  The humour is effective and occasionally generates discomfort for its proximity to reality. More…

Coroner calls for fresh approach to OHS in small business 3

Ever since the UK Government reduced the occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations on small business, there have been concerns that a similar strategy could occur in Australia.  Of all the States in Australia, Victoria is the most likely to mirror the UK actions, particularly as its WorkSafe organisation continues with its restructuring and (ridiculous) rebranding, and Victoria’s conservative government continues to see OHS as a red tape issue for small business.  However a recent finding by the Queensland Coroner should be considered very seriously when thinking of OHS in small business.

In 2011 Adam Douglas Forster

” … came close to the rotating ball mill, then accidently (sic) became ensnared by the protruding bolts and was dragged underneath the ball mill which continued to rotate, thereby causing his fatal injuries.”

The inquest found

“There were no guards, barriers or other apparatus restricting access by any persons to the ball mill.” and

Forster “did not know how to turn the ball mill on or off”. More…

One man’s frustration with OHS illustrates larger safety dysfunctions 1

Terry Reis has written a terrific article about how occupational health and safety (OHS) requirements can impede his work as a fauna ecologist.  Instead of whingeing about green or red tape, Terry has provided examples of the annoyance which allows me to build an article in response.  This article is in no way a rebuttal as I agree with most of Terry’s grievances, but there can be reasons behind some of the grievances that are likely to be unrelated to OHS or illustrate poor OHS decisions.

Some of the issues Terry raises include:

  • Inductions
  • PPE
  • Working Alone
  • OHS arguments
  • Drug and Alcohol Testing
  • Permits

Inductions

Terry mentions the irrelevance of many OHS inductions and his article seems to indicate a dysfunctional induction program.  The intention of inductions is to outline the safety rules of a workplace or task but most are boring, condescending or include information that is unrelated to the task. The reality of many inductions is that they are a mechanism to have workers sign up and indicate they have understood all of their safety obligations on a site so that there is a clearer line of responsibility in the event of an incident.   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…

Are you ready for the revised AS1657 on walkways, ladders and platforms? Reply

A guest post by Carl Sachs

Walkwaywas0121-03141MBThe revised Australian Standard AS1657 for fixed ladders, platforms and walkways released in October 2013 plugs some serious holes. Guard rails made of rubber, for example, are now explicitly unacceptable.

While absurd, rubber guard rails technically complied with the 21-year-old AS1657 and the example shows just how sorely an update was needed.

Four big changes to AS1657

The biggest changes to AS1657 concern selection, labelling, guardrail testing and the design of fixed ladders. 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…

Serious questions raised about the effectiveness of OHS enforcement strategies 2

Richard Johnstone is always worth reading as he writes perceptively about occupational health and safety (OHS) and its enforcement.  The new book from Baywood PublishingSafety or Profit” provides a chapter by Johnstone that argues:

“…that despite the rhetoric of stronger enforcement and more robust prosecution, the dominant ideology of work health and safety enforcement – ambivalence about whether work health and safety offenses are “really criminal” and viewing prosecution as a “last resort” in the enforcement armory – still dominates the approach of Australian work health and safety regulators.” (page 113)

The importance of Johnstone’s chapter is that he reminds us that much of the current OHS debate is circular and limited and fails to question the soft enforcement strategy that has existed since the Robens Committee recommendations in the 1970s. More…

Incident investigation findings should be shared 13

Accident reportMany people, and OHS professionals, complain about the lack of research in Australia into occupational health and safety issues.  Research is occurring but often this is inaccessible to companies, professionals and decision-makers due to unjustifiable costs for the articles and journals.  Yet there is OHS research, of a type, that can be done by any company should they choose to do so – incident investigation.

Individual investigation reports may only address one set of circumstances, those that led to an incident or, rarely but importantly, a near miss or a systems breach, but together these reports may identify a systemic problem or illustrate broader safer deficiencies in an industry sector. 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…