The issue of “control” in Australian OHS law continues to be discussed as industry associations bristle against the introduction of Work Health and Safety laws, frequently on flawed or dubious costings.
Australian safety laws have been moving from the prescriptive tradition for decades. This has been due to various reasons including new workplace hazards that cannot be controlled in defined ways, diminished enforcement resources and confused roles in OHS regulators, the change in labour force dominance from blue- to white-collar occupations but, most of all, repeated demands from business associations for increased flexibility and autonomy on managing workplace safety.
Certainly the degree of control has varied from State to State with New South Wales being considered as having the most business-unfriendly OHS laws but most States are now running under a different set of OHS rules and criticizing the current laws by referring to now-repealed OHS laws in the most extreme State of New South Wales, as Ken Phillips does in today’s The Australian newspaper, is almost sophistry. More…
Articles and reports about decent work, dignity at work and mental health issues are increasingly appearing on my desktop. Perhaps this is an indication of a convergence of perspectives in to a better understanding on the human imperative in the modern workplace. It may be a realisation of where and how work fits in the human condition.
The pastoral letter looks at the need for dignity in relation to casual work. It says
“…casual work offers flexibility to balance work and family commitments, to undertake study or to supplement the income of a spouse. But for a growing number of people, it has become an impediment to achieving a healthy and fulfilling life. For many in insecure work, ‘flexibility’ represents a backward step rather than a path to improved wages and conditions.”
The Australian business sector rarely talks about casualisation directly but the concept is present every time there is a discussion on workplace flexibility, business’ preferred term. More…
The Australian Financial Review (AFR) reported on 14 June 2011 (not freely available online) that Senator Jacinta Collins has publicly stated that an International Labour Organisation (ILO) occupational health and safety convention will be signed by the current Government in conjunction with other conventions on maritime labour, asbestos and part-time work. The announcement that “Australia will ratify four ILO Conventions this year” was made at the recent International Labour Conference.
Most of the AFR article focussed on the labour relations impacts of the conventions but RMIT’s Professor of Law, Breen Creighton noted that
“Ratifying a convention has no effect in Australian law unless the Australian parliaments legislate to give effect to the international obligations.”
In the March 2011 online edition of the Occupational & Environmental Medicine journal, Australian researchers have analysed data concerning “the psychosocial quality of work”. According to an accompanying media release (not available online yet) they found that
“The impact on mental health of a badly paid, poorly supported, or short term job can be as harmful as no job at all…” More…
Coming out of recession or, at least, a global financial crisis seems to mean that the creation of jobs is the only driver of economic growth. Governments around the world seem obsessed with employment creation but rarely is the quality of the employment ever considered.
The drive for jobs at the cost of other employment conditions such as safety was illustrated on 11 March 2011 in an article in The Australian newspaper. New South Wales’ election is only a short while away and, as it is widely considered to be an easy win for the conservative Liberal Party, government policies are already being discussed.
“Industrial relations spokesman Greg Pearce, a former partner at Freehills, said he was aware that concerns about the workplace safety system had emerged in the legal profession.
But the Coalition’s main goal was to minimise uncertainty to encourage job creation.”
The push for jobs is also indicative of short-term political thinking. More…
On 27 May 2010, a worker at the Foxconn factory in died from overwork, according to a statement released on 4 June 2010 by SACOM. This coincides with a statement by Hon Hai Precision Industry on 6 June 2002, Hon Hai owns the Foxconn facility in Shenzhen.
The SACOM statement reports:
“Yan Li, 27, is the latest victim of Foxconn, the manufacturer of iPads and other high-tech items that has experienced a recent rash of worker suicides. He collapsed and died from exhaustion on 27 May after having worked continuously for 34 hours. His wife said Yan had been on the night shift for a month and in that time had worked overtime every night…”
There is clearly something structurally wrong with the working hours basis of the Foxconn factory. Foxconn is a contractor or supplier of high-tech devices to major Western corporations who claim to have stringent oversight regimes.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) (not available online except for iPad users) reports the 4 June Hon Hai statement in which wage increases are announced with the intention of improving worker health or, in Western terms, work-life balance. More…
At the recent Safety In Action Conference in Melbourne, Sia Evans was scheduled to speak about integrating safety into Lean/Six Sigma. The management processes were known to me but I had not associated them with OHS management so her blending of the two was intriguing.
I arranged an interview with Sia a couple of weeks prior to her presentation having met her briefly some time before. As we were having coffee on a balcony in sunny Melbourne we discussed a broad range of issues including the cultural impacts that Sia’s approach had achieved for her employer, Computershare.
She also showed how occupational health and safety can be improved in a workplace by not talking about occupational health and safety. Sia’s training programs instilled the importance of safety in employees without some of the baggage that OHS training feels obliged to include.
The interview has been edited into a podcast that can be accessed below.
Please let us know of any issues or thoughts the interview may have raised and I will ask Sia to respond.
The New York Times reported on 17 May 2010 that psychologists have started considering the causes of workplace stress. About time!
The report says that
“Employees are unhappy about the design of their jobs, the health of their organizations and the quality of their managers..”
and that unhappy workers have a high risk of heart attacks and depression.
The article is principally an interview with the author of a new personnel management book that identifies that performance reviews are a generator of unhappiness and stress. This concept has been circulating for some time and goes part way to making workplaces safer.
Job design, mentioned above, can be broadened to include how people are managed. Personnel management and human resources (HR) are a crucial element of any business but the NYT article indicates a growing realisation that the foundations of this management, how jobs are designed, have generated some of the hazards that HR is now tasked to control. More…
The last sixty years’ of research into the effects of hours of work, shiftwork, associated workload, fatigue and affects on social life and families has produced many findings, but no general detailed agreements. There are interesting debates about who and what to research, what methods to use, what to measure and how to interpret results. In the meantime workers and managers continue to work in difficult circumstances that research suggests has an impact on hormone secretion patterns, and, for example, on cardiac health, gastrointestinal health and breast cancer.
Here are a number of specific statements about hours of work, fatigue and fitness for work. Total agreement on these statements can’t be achieved but they would generally be supported. More…
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 Australianmedia 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…