Below is a guest post from long time SafetyAtWorkBlog reader, Marian Macdonald.
“If you need to use that, you’ll almost certainly die,” says fall prevention expert Carl Sachs, pointing to a guardrail on the rooftop of a multi-storey Melbourne office block.
Fixed to flimsy aluminium flashing, the guardrail flies in the face of several mandatory and voluntary standards but Sachs says non-compliances are more the norm than the exception on Australia’s rooftops. The problem, he says, is that height safety equipment installers need no training or qualifications and nobody is checking that their work really is capable of saving lives.
“Australians wouldn’t accept unqualified electricians wiring our houses but, as it stands, all you need is a ute, a credit card and a cordless drill to install the safety gear that stops us falling off skyscrapers,” he says.
It’s a concern echoed by, plumbers, building surveyors, facility managers and builders.
Paul Naylor of the Master Plumbers Association of NSW, says plumbers risk deadly falls daily.
“Whilst due diligence principles can be applied and all care taken to ensure that height safety systems are adequate, without some form of regulation or certification, workers are placed at risk of serious injury everyday due to a lack of knowledge and regulation specific to fall prevention,” Mr Naylor says.
In November 2012, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government released “Getting Home Safely“, a damning report written by Lynette Briggs and Mark McCabe, into the safety culture and performance of that territory’s building and construction industry. But the Master Builders Association of the ACT has rejected several recommendations and questioned many others, yet refuses to release the evidence that it is assumed would support their position.
In February 2013, ACT’s Minister for Workplace Safety and Industrial Relations, Simon Corbell, accepted all 27 recommendations of the report, much to the surprise of some of us. Corbell said in his media release that
“It is no longer acceptable for people in the construction industry to say there are safety issues in construction sites and then do nothing about them. This report compels unions, employers and government to stand up and actively promote a culture where everyone looks out for their mates, and everyone can go home safely every day…”
“As the report highlights, this is not simply an issue for Government. Safety is an issue for every person on a construction site with principal contractors, sub-contractors, workers, unions and the Regulator all working together.
“The Government expects employers and unions to demonstrate leadership on this issue.”
Safety Leadership or Conspiracy Theory
Today the Master Builders Association of the ACT released its response to “Getting Home Safely” (the Gower review). That response indicates that not all Minister Corbell’s expectations are going to be met with the MBA. In some ways this confirms many of the concerns in the report. More…
Recently a safety professional told me he was investigating an incident on a work site and asked his first question “What do you think caused the incident?” The response was “safety culture”. Of course the next question will always be “what do you mean by safety culture?” and in most cases at this point the investigation will stall.
All workplaces have a safety culture, it is just that most are dysfunctional or immature. In many workplaces, incident causes are handballed to this poorly understood concept of which most take as the latest iteration of “an act of God” or an SEP – “someone else’s problem”.
Safety regulators need to break the use of safety culture as an excuse by developing codes of practice on how to introduce and build an effective safety culture in Australian workplaces.
Today WorkSafe Victoria launches a new return-to-work campaign which will use Paralympian Jack Swift as the “face” of the campaign. The campaign is sure to be successful but the increasing focus of safety regulators on return-to-work (RTW) may illustrate a growing trend where rehabilitation policy strategies are gaining priority over injury prevention. Yet innovative approaches to injury prevention provide the greatest potential for personal, economic and social savings.
In 2001 WorkCover NSW began its Paralympian Sponsorship Program, a program that continues. The advantage of the New South Wales program is that it features a range of incident scenarios and, most importantly, the paralympians speak about “workplace safety, injury prevention and management and their personal road to recovery, return to work.” (emphasis added) This broad, multi-category approach seems to be missing from the new Victorian campaign. More…
The Victorian Workcover Authority’s (VWA) WorkHealth program is coming to the end of its five-year life. But what is the way forward? Has the $A600 million program achieved its aims?
Aims and Results
VWA’s annual report for 2008 (page 33) stated the following aims for WorkHealth, reiterated in the WorkHealth Strategic Framework 2010-12 (page 1):
“Over the long term, the program aims to:
- cut the proportion of workers at risk of developing chronic disease by 10%
- cut workplace injuries and disease by 5%, putting downward pressure on premiums
- cut absenteeism by 10%.
These goals aim to drive productivity and reduce health expenditure that is associated with chronic disease.”
None of VWA’s annual reports since 2008 have included any mention of these benchmarks. More…
Occupational health and safety (OHS) regulatory agencies have existed for decades, originally with an enforcement role but increasingly aimed to prevention and education. It is fair to say the “2nd generation” of OHS regulators in Australia appeared in the 1980s. It is also fair to expect to be able to readily access the corporate memory and prosecutorial activity of the regulators, particularly since the growth in the Internet. Very recently WorkSafe Victoria reviewed its online database of OHS prosecutions excising prosecution summaries prior to 2012. This decision is a major weakening of the “state of knowledge” about workplace safety in this State, a decision that some have described as outrageous. How can one learn from mistakes if those mistakes are not made available?
SafetyAtWorkBlog has questioned the veracity of occupational health and safety statements by Victoria’s Assistant Treasurer, Gordon Rich-Phillips, previously. Early in January 2013, Minister Rich-Phillips stated that:
“Victoria’s workplaces had the safest year on record in 2012…”
Victorian businesses, workers and policy-makers would benefit enormously if the government were to focus on achieving independent accurate data of workplace injury, illness and business costs instead of cherry picking statistics for political gain. More…
In Australia and the United Kingdom, workplace health and safety compliance has been considered a prominent element of allegations of business “Red Tape“. On 21 January 2013, Victoria’s Treasurer, Kim Wells, announced new guidelines into red tape in that State’s government authorities and regulators. Wells’ media release states:
“Stage one of the reform will focus on the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA), VicRoads, Environment Protection Authority, Consumer Affairs Victoria and the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.” [emphasis added]
Wells also says that the Red Tape Commissioner, John Lloyd, will administer the system which runs like this:
“Ministers will issue statements of expectations to key regulators which will require them to outline by 1 July 2013 how they intend to reduce red tape. Our aim is to see regulators reduce the cost of high-impact or high- More…
Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying has released its report that includes 23 recommendations and a dissenting report from the Coalition (conservative) committee members.
The first recommendation that most will look forward is the latest workplace bullying definition. The committee suggests:
“repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety”.
This is no great shake from most of the previous definitions but illustrates further the isolation of Victoria from nationally harmonised work health and safety laws as WorkSafe Victoria’s preferred definition is
“… persistent and repeated negative behaviour directed at an employee that creates a risk to health and safety.”
Regardless of which definition is “better”, Victoria will be further out-of-sync.
The Committee also recommends the Government
“develop a national advisory service that provides practical and operational advice on what does and does not constitute workplace bullying..”
This is sorely needed and will relieve State OHS regulators of the pressure and the resources. No timeline is mentioned but it is likely that the Federal Government will move to establish such a service quickly, as the recommendation is not surprising.
However, the opposition political mantra for any government initiative is how it will be funded. More…
Recently SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to spend some time with the Director of the Victorian Government’s Construction Compliance Code Unit (CCCU), Nigel Hadgkiss. The CCCU and Hadgkiss have been in the Victorian media recently in terms of the CCCU investigation of industrial relations matters in several Grocon construction projects and some discussions with LendLease but an often overlooked, yet significant, element of the Construction Compliance Code is the occupational health and safety obligations. The CCCU has been working on early drafts of a Health and Safety Management Plan (HSMP) with which all those operating under the Code will need to comply.
Many of the questions SafetyAtWorkBlog posed stemmed from a presentation Hadgkiss made at a breakfast seminar on which SafetyAtWorkBlog previously wrote. That article is recommended for background and context.
Nigel Hadgkiss advised that since 1 July 2012 71 companies and associated companies have “signed up” to the Compliance Code with a full awareness that OHS is a key element of compliance.
OHS obligations of unsuccessful tenderers
The Code requires companies tendering for Victorian Government construction work to follow specific OHS obligations, whether they are the successful tenderers or not. In some ways this seem unfair.
Hadgkiss believes that the tenderers to government contracts are well aware of the safety obligations from the outset. From that point they are contractually bound whether they are successful or not.