Testing for drug and alcohol effects in workplaces sounds sensible but what do you do when there is no evidence that it improves worker safety or reduces risk? Apparently ignore the evidence, create industrial tension and impose unnecessary costs on industry.
The Australian national government and the Victorian (State) government have both pledged to introduce drug and alcohol testing for the construction sector. The Victorian Government also promised to introduce drug and alcohol testing for parliamentarians but everyone expects a backdown on that election pledge.
Recently two researchers in Adelaide, Ken Pidd and Anne Roche published a research paper in Accident Analysis & Prevention asking “how effective is drug testing as a workplace safety strategy?“. The abstract states:
“…the evidence base for the effectiveness of testing in improving workplace safety is at best tenuous.”
The Age newspaper has published a feature article entitled “Workplace resilience: It’s all a great big con“. Although it does not mention occupational health and safety (OHS) specifically, it is applying the OHS principle of addressing the causes of workplace injury and ill-health. It says that workplace resilience and similar training courses and strategies:
“… can’t overcome the structural realities and power imbalances that characterise the employment relationship. “Workplace resilience” might help us bear up to stress, but it won’t solve its underlying causes. And the causes of workplace unhappiness don’t necessarily reside in the individual and their own ability to “be resilient” or “relax” – they are part of the economic structures within which we work.”
A short discussion* in Tasmania’s Parliament on 16 September 2015 is illustrative of the use of language to answer a question, just not necessarily the question asked. This type of political language has existed for centuries and will continue to do so but it contributes to people’s confusion about occupational health and safety (OHS) and the regulators’ role in enforcing OHS laws and should be called to account.
The question was asked by Independent Kerry Finch to Attorney-General Dr Vanessa Goodwin.
“Is the Government concerned about the rundown in staff for the WorkSafe program? Is the Government aware that there are only a reported 19 field inspectors, when it requires between 27 and 30 for the program to work efficiently? Does the Government plan to recruit more field inspectors for WorkSafe?”
After writing a recent article about the relevance of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws to sporting clubs, I attended a sports medicine seminar to access a different perspective on workplace safety.
Having never played sports outside the obligatory high school activities, which in my high school also included snooker?!, the world of locker rooms and team sports is foreign. But earlier this week I learnt that where OHS professionals talk about productivity, sportspeople speak of performance, and where factories address line speed, sports physicians talk of load management. I also learnt that professional sportspeople are exempt from workers’ compensation. More…
There is no doubt that football fields are the workplaces of professional football players and their support staff. So they are covered by occupational health and safety (OHS) and/or work health and safety (WHS) laws but what does this mean in relation to OHS regulators, and the sportspeople’s employers? Recently Eric Windholz looked at this particular issue.
Windholz recently published “Professional Sport, Work Health and Safety Law and Reluctant Regulators” in which he states:
“The application of WHS law to professional sport is almost absent from practitioner and academic discourse. An examination of the websites of Australia’s WHS and sport regulators reveals none contains WHS guidance directed to professional sports.” (page 1, references are included in the paper)
The example he uses to show this apparent lack of interest, even by the Victorian OHS regulator, WorkSafe Victoria, is the Essendon Football Club supplements saga. Windholz writes
“Had these events occurred in the construction, manufacturing or transport industry, for example, it is difficult to imagine WHS regulators not intervening. Yet, WorkSafe Victoria initially was reluctant to investigate choosing to defer to ‘more appropriate bodies’. It only commenced an investigation when compelled by a request from a member of the public.” (page 2)
2015 has been a big year for public attention on the exploitation of workers. In May, the Four Corners program revealed the exploitation of, largely, migrant or illegal workers in the food processing and vegetable growing sectors. In the last month, 7Eleven workers have featured, also after a Four Corners investigation in conjunction with Fairfax Media. In both cases, workplace safety has been mentioned but not featured.
In September 2015, the Victorian (Labor) Government released the terms of reference (ToR) for its inquiry into labour hire and insecure work and occupational health and safety (OHS) gains a mention. The final report is due by July 2016. It is now up to the OHS profession and its advocates to emphasis OHS’ important role in the industrial relations of vulnerable workers. More…
Earlier this year Victorian MP and Minister for Small Business, Adem Somyurek, was accused of bullying his Chief of Staff, Dimity Paul. This week, Somyurek resigned from his Cabinet position but not without a press conference in which he stated that the issue was political payback and that his resignation is no admission of guilt.
As you can see from this very brief summary, party politics has infested this instance of workplace bullying, and to such an extent that the important and solid investigation report into the incident is being missed. The reports are publicly available and deserve to be carefully considered rather than relying on some of the current media coverage. More…
Over two months ago, SafetyAtWorkBlog sought basic and innocuous information from the office of Victoria’s Industrial Relations Minister, Robin Scott (pictured right at the Workers Memorial in April), about the MacKenzie review in to WorkSafe Victoria that was announced in February 2015. No response was received until 28 July.
A spokesperson for the Minister advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that all details of the review are Cabinet-in-Confidence and therefore cannot be released until Cabinet has discussed the review. An update will be available when that occurs.
It seems odd that information, such as an inquiry’s terms of reference, should be so hush-hush. More…
Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews is involved in a, currently minor, political drama after he decided to stand down his Small Business Minister, Adem Somyurek, after allegations of workplace bullying. The drama is in its early days but some of the decisions and media comments are worthy of analysis, particularly as Premier Andrews seems to be avoiding using the term, workplace bullying.
The facts seem to be that the Minister’s Chief of Staff, Dimity Paul, complained to the Premier about Somyurek’s “intimidating, aggressive and threatening” behaviour. The Premier stood the Minister down after a formal complaint was made to the Department of Premier and Cabinet which has generated an investigation.
This allegation has a lot of political connections as described in an article in The Age newspaper written by Farrah Tomazin, but there is little doubt that the allegation comes under the definition of workplace bullying as there have been mentions of a “pattern of behaviour” by the Minister. Tomazin wrote
“The alleged misconduct …. is said to have taken place over the past few months, and relates to a number of employees in his ministerial office…”
Several years ago, WorkSafe Victoria published “Dairy Safety: A Practical Guide“* A decade on Dairy Australia has published its career guidance “Stepping Stones” which seems to imply that not all employers and workers have a legislative responsibility to work safely and without harming others.
It is a legislative truism that “safety is everyone’s responsibility” and Dairy Australia advises that
“All farm businesses have an obligation under law to provide a safe and healthy workplace for their employees, contractors, family, visitors and members of the public. Farm businesses who don’t act to fulfil health and safety responsibilities face significant fines and penalties.”
However according to Stepping Stones only some dairy roles have an overt occupational health and safety obligation. More…