Finally some valuable and practical details on occupational health and safety programs 2

Earlier this month SafetyAtWorkBlog was critical of a (still yet to be released) guidebook on “Integrated approaches to worker health, safety and well-being”.  Specifically the case study information in the guidebook needed more depth and it was suggested that

“ This weakness could be compensated for through a strong campaign where the companies in the case studies speak about their experiences first-hand.”

The Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA) has redeemed itself slightly with a presentation by one of the case studies’ safety managers during the authority’s annual OHS week.  Murray Keen of ConnectEast provided a detailed list of the combination of safety and health programs the company has applied over the last few years.  Keen claims that these programs have contributed to the company having

  • no workers compensation claims since december 2009;
  • a much lower than average attrition rate in its call centre;
  • annual absenteeism of 4.6 days per person compared to a national average of between 8.75 and 9.2 days; and
  • only 4 first aid incidents for the 2013-14 financial year – no Lost Time Injury or Medical Treatment Injury.

Keen also told the audience that the company has granted him a year-on-year increase to his safety budget and when asked about the cost of the programs introduced he said that one workers compensation claim almost covered the cost of the safety program.

This level of detail is what the guidebook was lacking as it provided the information that many safety managers would need to make a case to their executives for support and resources. More…

One hour of OHS discussion on New Zealand radio Reply

On 17 August 2014, RadioLiveNZ‘s Mark Sainsbury devoted an hour to discussing workplace health and safety.  Given New Zealand has undergone a remarkable change on its occupational health and safety (OHS) strategy since the Pike River disaster, with the restructuring of its regulations and regulator into WorkSafeNZ, the various interviews are worth listening to.

This series of interviews are structured assuming that the audience has no prior knowledge of OHS.  The first interview was with a representative of the Accident Compensation Commission, Dr Geraint Emrys.

Dr Emrys lists fishing, forestry, and farming and agriculture as the industries of most concern.  This list is not surprising considering the industrial profile of New Zealand but it is curious that mining was not mentioned, even in passing, given the prominence of Pike River.

Emrys is asked about the opportunity to build an overall safety culture for New Zealand.  Emrys says that overall campaigns are possible More…

Where is the evidence for new moves on drug and alcohol testing? 11

On 1 July 2014, the Victorian Government introduce a mandatory drug and alcohol testing regime for the sections of the construction industry.  According to the government’s media release:

“New requirements for tighter screening of drug and alcohol use at construction workplaces across Victoria will commence from 1 July, helping to ensure a safer and more secure environment for workers.”

This decision has been made on the basis of “widespread reports of workers being intoxicated, and of drug distribution and abuse” but the rest of the media release reveals other reasons for these changes including political pressure on its Labor Party and trade union opponents in the months before a close State election. Premier Denis Napthine has indicated that the move is also about cracking down on “outlaw motorcycle gangs dealing drugs on the sites”.

But are reports of potential criminality on building site enough to introduce a drug and alcohol testing regime? It is worth looking at some of the existing research on drug and alcohol use (or its absence) in Australian and Victorian work sites.

More…

Safe Work Method Statements – their role, their use and their curse 6

Paul Breslin caused a stir in Australia’s OHS sector in 2013 with his costing of one element of managing high risk workplaces, the Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS).  In 2014, an update of Breslin’s research was published in The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Health, Safety and Environment (only available through subscription), in which he states that

“Industry stakeholders claim that the SWMS Process is no longer manageable and that this document process has failed the industry and has basically outlived its usefulness” and

Recent “criticism has centred on the fact that SWMSs, which were intended to be easy to use documents, have often become so large and complex that they are impractical to use”.

(The latter statement was supported by speakers at a recent (poorly attended) Safety In Construction Conference in Melbourne, Australia.)

Some general industry criticism has been aimed at occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators such as the various WorkSafes and the Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner for accepting bloated and super-generic SWMSs but an equal amount of criticism could be laid at the feet of clients who often request a SWMS when, in fact they are seeking a construction or work methodology.  This is lazy management but also indicative of ignoring the need to have OHS professionals in the contract assessment process from the conceptual stage of a tender process. More…

The nonsense of Victoria’s non-harmonisation 3

[Guest post from Ross Macfarlane]

A rhetorical question: if you were an OHS advisor for, say, a Victorian construction company, would you prefer to rely on a regulatory guidance document issued in 2012, under legislation which is not in force in the State, or one which is well over 20 years old, and issued under another piece of legislation which is not in force in this State?

It is received wisdom in OHS professional circles that the continuing failure of Victoria and Western Australia to implement harmonised work health and safety laws is a triumph of politics over policy – a victim of lobbying by special interest groups, mostly of a conservative persuasion. It is a fact that the goal of nationally harmonised laws was established during John Howard’s Prime Ministership, but it is also a fact that the national model laws were adopted by the Council of Australian Government (COAG) in July 2008 (with a target date for adoption of 1 January 2012,) in a narrow window of time when Labor governments were in power in the Commonwealth and every Australian State and Territory.

I don’t wish in this article to dwell on the politics surrounding of the adoption, rejection or modification of the harmonised laws. Key ideological differences such as the magnitude of penalties and union right of entry are I believe of less consequence than the failure to adopt the common structure and common approach to regulation. Hence I want to focus on some of the anomalies and contradictions that have arisen in Victoria as a result of the laws not being adopted in this State. More…

Disseminating OHS information should not be optional 4

Cover of VWA publishing_prosecution_outcomes 2005WorkSafe Victoria has been reviewing a series of enforcement and prosecution policies for some time.  One of these policies set for re-issue relates specifically to the publication of prosecutorial information through its website and media releases and, although the “new” policy is not yet available, it may be worth remembering the previous policy, last revised in 2005.

Media Releases

WorkSafe Victoria’s “Supplementary Enforcement and Prosecution Policy on Publishing Prosecution Outcomes and Other Enforcement Information and Data” (no longer available on-line) says  that

“WorkSafe will release media statements and authorised representatives will grant media interviews, as appropriate, to the print, electronic, and/or broadcast media.” (original emphasis)

The reason behind this mode of dissemination, and others, is outlined elsewhere in the policy: More…

The CFMEU should make a case for union OHS representatives 2

In late March 2014, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) was fined $A1.25 million over a violent dispute at the Emporium construction site that occurred in 2012.  In its media release about the fine, the CFMEU’s state secretary, John Setka, says:

“The protest at the Myer site in 2012 was about safety.”

Yes and no.  The dispute was about the representation of workers on safety matters, which is a different thing.  Setka goes on:

“Building workers need someone on site who genuinely represents their interests, and that doesn’t happen when that person is hand-picked by the boss.”

The core issue in this dispute seems to be that the CFMEU will not accept the Health and Safety Representatives (HSR) chosen by the workforce at the Emporium site, which is being built by Grocon P/L.  The CFMEU has its own HSRs that it believes will better represent the workforce on OHS matters.

The dispute represents an ideological dispute that seems more about unionism and industrial relations than about safety, but worker safety may still be the lose.

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Curious decisions on WorkSafe Victoria may have long-term consequences 3

Several weeks ago there was a stir in the OHS sector in Victoria, Australia.  WorkSafe was to disappear.  Quickly the WorkSafe executives clarified that the organisation would continue to exist but that the trading name of “WorkSafe” would go.  Unions and others were suspicious as such a decision was unexpected, even by WorkSafe it appears, and it occurred at a time of organisational restructuring.  Dropping the WorkSafe “brand” is a mistake but it will still disappear from Victoria.

WorkSafe became a trading name of the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA) several decades ago.  There were two parts to the VWA – workers compensation, WorkCare and workplace safety, WorkSafe.  The simplicity of the branding is obvious and cleverly differentiated the two arms of VWA and the two very different philosophies and ideologies.  Victoria had been given a political hammering over the operation of its workers compensation scheme but WorkSafe became one of the strongest brands in the State.  Recognition was extremely high, so high that Tasmania changed the name of its Workplace Standards to WorkSafe, Northern Territory has WorkSafeNT,  and the new approach to OHS in New Zealand has created a regulator called WorkSafe NZ.  So why change?

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New Zealand trumps Australia on workplace bullying advice 3

Cover of workplace-bullying NZWorkSafe NZ has released “best practice guidelines” on workplace bullying.  Best practice is a nonsense term but this guide is a major step above similar guides in Australia, in particular.

Definitions

Guides always begin with definitions and the definition New Zealand has applied is the same as that in the recently released Australian workplace bullying guide but with a couple of odd semantic differences.  These variations should not have any effect on organisational changes required to prevent bullying but the variations are curious. Australia describes “unreasonable behaviour” the actions that generate the bullying as:

“…  behaviour that a reasonable person, having considered the circumstances, would see as unreasonable, including behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.”

New Zealand’s definition is:

“…. actions that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would see as unreasonable. It includes victimising,  humiliating, intimidating or threatening a person.”

Is there a difference between actions and behaviours?   More…

Proposed drug testing – a political tool 6

On 6 February 2014 the Victorian Premier. Denis Napthine, announced the intention to

“…require construction companies to implement comprehensive drug and alcohol screening measures to ensure the safety of workers to be eligible to tender for Victorian Government construction contracts.”

This is to be part of the occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations of companies under the Implementation Guidelines to the Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry.  Understandably the construction union, particularly, is angry and feels as if it is being singled out.  Both organisations have chosen their words very carefully. Premier Napthine is quoted as saying:

“Reports of illicit drug use and distribution on Victorian construction sites are widespread.”

The CFMEU‘s Victorian Secretary John Setka has stated that

“There is no epidemic of drug taking on construction sites…. Our Health and Safety representatives who look out for workers’ health and safety are not reporting a problem.”

It is unlikely there is an epidemic of drug use but the Premier is talking of drugs AND alcohol.   More…