The OHS recommendations the Australian Government rejected 1

According to the Communiqué of the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council on 18 May 2009, the following issues should be considered when drafting the new OHS legislation

“Application of the primary duty of care to any person conducting a business or undertaking

The panel recommends that the primary duty of care should be owed by any person conducting a business or undertaking.  The objective of this recommendation is to move away from the traditional emphasis on the employment relationship as the determiner of the primary duty, to provide greater health and safety protection for all persons involved in, or affected by, work activity.  Care needs to be taken during drafting to ensure that the scope of the duty is limited to matters of occupational health and safety and does not further extend into areas of public safety that are not related to the workplace activity. “

The first part of this is recognition of the variety of workplaces Australia now has, the number of people within worksites who are not employees and the previous issues of OHS and unpaid volunteers.  It seems to expand to matters of public liability but then, curiously, pulls back to emphasise occupational health and safety.  As Michael Tooma has noted, circumstances seem to have passed beyond the arbitrariness of the occupational categorisation. More…

Radio interview on harmonisation of OHS law Reply

Last week, I had the pleasure of being interviewed byElanor McInerney of the 3CR radio program, Stick Together.  The interview concerned the harmonisation law in Australia and my thoughts on the risks and impacts it would have on Australian business and workers.

The radio program is now available as a podcast  (My part is around the 19 minute mark.) 

Please let me know if I am totally off the beam with my applications of the OHS laws and the political issues.

I thank Elanor and the producers of Stick Together for making this available so soon after the broadcast on 17 May 2009.

Kevin Jones

New Youth@Work website Reply

The South Australian government has launched a website focusing on young people at work, not surprisingly called Youth@Work.  

South Australia has a habit of marching to a slightly different beat to the dominant Australian States on OHS.  They did not follow WorkSafe Victoria’s “Homecomings” ads and they have been well ahead of anyone in researching and explaining the relevance of wellness as an OHS issue.

Kevin JonesposterA3v6 (2)

“Homecomings” safety ads reach the US 2

As mentioned last month in SafetyAtWorkBlog, the Victoria-designed “Homecomings” advertisements are to be launched on United States television.  The Department of Labor & Industries for Washington State announced the ads on 19 May 2009.  According to the DL&I media release

“These ads are particularly effective at bringing home the importance of safety in the workplace and the effects it can have on so many people,” said Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business. “When an accident happens at work, it affects everyone – family, friends and co-workers.”

One ad is available for viewing at 

[It looks like parts needed to be re-filmed to show left-hand drive vehicles and obviously the music rights for Dido’s song couldn’t apply in the US]

Kevin Jones

Political response to new OHS laws for Australia Reply

The Australian government got what they wanted for the harmonization of OHS laws but some persistent political shenanigans.

Troy Buswell, Western Australia’s Treasurer, is making political mileage with some bluster as the only Australian State run by the Liberal Party.  Politically he could not be seen as following the lead of the Australian Labor Party but will “continue our dialogue with the council”.  He does not have much option particularly as the Federal Workplace Relations Minister, Julia Gillard reminded him that he could risk his access to federal funding by risking a breach of the inter-governmental agreement.  Expect Buswell to concede having saved face.

Joe Tripodi, the New South Wales Finance Minister, has expressed his disappointment.  Tripodi knew what was coming as the compromise options had been flagged long ago.  But from the state that has the most overtly-influenced government, he perhaps had as much face to save as Buswell in WA.  The employers groups in New South must be jumping with joy this morning as one of the most contentious and divisive elements of NSW OHS legislation will go – the union’s right to prosecute.  The process for instigating an OHS prosecution is formalized in the new model OHS legislation and still allows unions to begin prosecutions but with less direct control.

Tim Holding, the Victorian Finance Minister, is having trouble containing his excitement.

“This is a resounding endorsement of Victoria’s OHS laws, which will provide the building blocks for the new national scheme”.

Does anyone wonder why Victorians are so disliked by the other States?  Is Holding’s over-confidence an indication that the Victorian OHS law was always going to be the dominant influence on the national law and perhaps the model OHS Law review was unnecessary for change and just a case of political processes?

In the euphoria, there are some words of caution.  There has always been concern that if any States flexed their muscles and opted-out seriously then true harmonization would not exist and Australia would go back to the fuzzy days of a National OHS Framework that everyone signs up to but does not act upon.  It is likely, with the tough Federal Government approach, that this won’t occur however a spokesperson for the Business Council of Australia is quoted as saying  (page 3 of the Australian Financial Review 19 May 2009, not available online):

“If any states decide to opt out of the process, then we won’t have a fully harmonised system of OHS and that’s bad for business.”

The government’s response to the model OHS Law review is available online or as a page in this blog.

SafetyAtWorkBlog will be updated regularly over the next few days as interesting and relevant opinions and comments become available.

Kevin Jones

Decency at work Reply

In 2001 the House of Lords was presented with a Dignity At Work Bill.  This seemed a great idea for unifying different elements of the workplace that can contribute to psychosocial hazards.  This would be a similar approach to using “impairment” to cover drugs, alcohol, fatigue and distraction.  However, it never progressed.

Regular readers of SafetyAtWorkBlog would note an undercurrent of humanism in many of the articles but it is heartening to see this in other articles and blogs.  Maud Purcell of Greenwich Times provides an article from early May 2009 on dignity in the workplace in a time of economic turmoil that you may find of interest and use.

Kevin Jones

More last minute lobbying but with compromise Reply

The Business Council of Australia is the latest employer group to actively lobby Australian industrial relations ministers over harmonised OHS laws on the eve of the crucial Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council (WRMC) meeting.  BCA’s CEO Kate Lahey is reported in today’s Age newspaper as saying that the rejection of OHS law reform would say to investors that the States were not interested.

The Mineral Council of Australia has stated in the same article that 

“… a uniform OHS act will enable all businesses to focus on improving health and safety outcomes…”

Outcomes can be many things but much of the commentary over the last week seems to misunderstand the aims of the government’s review.  As I tried to emphasise on an interview on 17 May 2009 on radio 3CR, it was a review of OHS law not OHS management.  Satisfactory levels of safety have already been achievable under existing OHS law.  A change of law does not equate to a change of  approach or commitment.

The chance of the OHS reforms not going through was weakened on the weekend when the New South Wales Industrial Relations Minister, Joe Tripodi,

“signalled a compromise on the absolute duty of care that requires employers to prove a workplace is safe…”

New South Wales was the crucial sticking point in national negotiations and and the minister’s compromise is likely to be that the reverse onus only applies to corporations and that individuals be exempt.

If the WRMC decides to follow the National OHS Model Law Review Panel reports, OHS Law will be streamlined for lawyers, the Courts and OHS regulators.  This will benefit those businesses that operate across State borders but it will make little difference to the vast majority of workplaces in Australia.

 The recommendations of the Reports were not that radical.  The recommendations were, as expected, a copy of the Victorian OHS Act with bits added.  In fact, some lawyers question whether the OHS Model Law Review was really necessary given the bland predictable outcomes.

Many were wishing for an OHS revolution like that achieved by Lord Robens in the 1970s.  The fact is that the review was given limited resources and limited time to reach a conclusion.  The recommendations seem to be acceptable to the government and unsurprising.

The main game in Australian politics at the moment is industrial relations.  Any OHS changes will best understood through analysis of their IR implications.

Kevin Jones

WorkHealth concerns increase 2

Victoria’s WorkHealth program is due to roll-out its next stage of worker health assessments.  However, the program has been seriously curtailed by the failure of its funding model.  According to The Age  newspaper on 18 may 2009, employer associations have begun to withdraw their support compounding the embarrassment to the Premier, John Brumby, who lauded the program in March 2008.

The Master Builders Association will not be supporting the program due to WorkHealth’s connection with WorkSafe.  The Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC) thinks likewise.  There are concerns over the privacy of worker health records and that data from health checks may affect worker’s compensation arrangements or future claims.

The VACC is also concerned that employers will be blamed for issues over which they have little control – the health of their workers.

Many of these concerns could have been addressed by locating WorkHealth in the Department of Health, where health promotion already has a strong role and presence.  It is understood that the funding of WorkHealth from workers compensation premium returns on investment caused the program to reside within the Victorian WorkCover Authority.  There has also been the suggestion that WorkHealth was a pet program of the WorkCover board.

The program aims of free health checks for all Victorian workers was admirable and still achievable but the program was poorly introduced, poorly explained, based on a flawed funding model and now seems to be, if not dead, coughing up blood.

Kevin Jones

Crisis Management – Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail 3

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail, as the old saying goes. It is the same in business as in life. The more we can plan for the uncertainties the more they are no longer uncertainties.

Some of the potential threats to a business, a Safety Leader should be aware of, include a natural disaster, terrorist attack, cyber terrorism, fire, pandemic, and equipment breakdown, loss of a key employee or process, financial downturn, or a sneeze in one part of the world that turns into a cold in another part of the world, as we are seeing in our globalized community. They can all affect not only the company we work for but the employees’ health and safety.

You name it, as we can all attest, if it has happened to one it can happen to anyone. A Safety Leader needs to put in place a plan to prevent these threats from happening; or if they do happen, a plan to prevent further harm to the organization, by way of a Business Continuity Plan.

For example, if I owned a coffee shop, that had a fire that burnt down the building that I serve coffee in, perhaps my contingency plan would be to know where I could access an Atco trailer, and have the necessary stock on hand at another location, so that I could serve coffee the very next morning. Thereby, remaining in business until a new building could be built.

It is key to have a plan for every possible scenario (such as a work-at-home policy during a health scare such as swine flu), as some companies are already pandemic planning and are putting the necessary means in place to be prepared. There are as many scenarios as there are actual risks that could affect your venture. Look at what your neighbours are doing. Try to develop a rapport with your neighbours to see how you can assist each other in a crisis. 

Some basic elements a Safety Leader needs to ensure are part of their “disaster recovery” plan start with involvement of your staff, as they are key stakeholders to the success of your enterprise. They can form a team that can inspire each other and brainstorm, plan, analyze, develop and practice your plan. Recognize that as a leader, you can’t necessarily fix everything and don’t need to do it all themselves. Involving others of your organization will assist in preparing your staff in the event that an emergency happens, and recognize the importance to be able to delegate responsibility before and during a crisis.

Overall, this is an area in which can be overseen by you and your team but it would be advisable to enlist in outside services for help. Even if it is just to consult with someone with experience in this area, and get a fresh perspective on the plan to confirm “Will it work?”

Preparing for a threat involves succession planning. You may be asking yourself of all the duties I already have how do  I include preparing for things that could happen as opposed to what is currently happening?

When you look at how risk is defined as an uncertain event or condition that, IF it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a business’ objectives.  Missed objectives are likely caused by unforeseen events and inadequate risk management. Therefore, it is crucial to the success as a leader of his or her organization and overall to be aware of the areas of risk that could impact the operation.

The most important leadership skills and characteristics to possess in order to be a successful leader during a crisis as described by Clarke Murphy, who heads the CEO Search Practice for Russell Reynolds, talks about three crucial leadership skills needed in a time of crisis: Communication, Agility, and Decisiveness. Eric Santillin added a fourth one: Inspiration.

Be willing to listen to those of your organization who are in the trenches, when they tell you of something they foresee could go wrong, Stop and listen, then ensure you ask them how they would fix it.

Secondly, recognize that managing crisis is part of the job of leadership. Leaders are sometimes the variable that makes the difference. It is during the crisis that others will look to you to see how bad it really is, and you need to have the skills to pull it all back together again when it all falls to pieces. It is important to be a strong communicator, and be able to guide employees through a crisis with reassurance. That you believe you have a strong team that can work through the crisis, and that everyone is the most important part of the team.  

Some say that a leader is born but most leaders are taught. Special training can be an enhancement to become more skilled in crisis management. Do some soul searching, most especially ask yourself, how do I handle crisis in my personal life?

This can be an indicator. Do you have a complete meltdown at missing the bus, or breaking your shoelace? Perhaps a few courses could assist you, both personally and professionally.

Possessing skills in areas such as crisis management, risk management and security management help a leader further his or her career development by being able to be adaptable and enabling the owner of the company to know they can rely on you at the end of the day. Confident, that you will not abandon the ship when left at the helm. It is my belief that these skills effectively separate a leader from the competition during a job search.

“Companies now want candidates who have already had experiences going through a massive change program. That is no longer a nice to have. That is a must have,” says John Ellis, Managing Director of Boyden UK.

Especially in our globalized community where more and more, we are affected by the events that happen. But in a crisis, companies need leaders accomplished in reducing cost, conserving resources, and managing day-to-day. But ultimately have the ability to protect the most valuable asset their employees.

Crisis Management- Pamela Cowan, Director, Safety Developments

Peculiar OHS lobbying continues Reply

Just as earlier this week the union movement devoted resources to pressure the government over OHS laws at the Workplace Relations Ministers Council (WRMC) on 18 May 2009,  a major employer group has released a media statement.

In politics, approval for change is often achieved by having all the stakeholders dislike you ……. equally.  If no one group is happier than another, the wheels of government can keep turning without conflict.

OHS lobbyists are largely jumping the gun on the 18 May meeting.  The Ministers are well aware of the attention OHS law reform is being given as they experienced something similar prior to the April WRMC meeting.  

The Federal government has made no comment on the Model OHS Law Review reports since the final report was handed in on31 January 2009.  No one knows exactly what the government response will be and whatever it is there will be plenty of time to address specific concerns with the government when a specific position is given.

Perhaps the media statements are intended to reassure the union and employer groups’ member that their represntatives have not forgotten about OHS.  The real test of their worth will come next Tuesday when we will see whether these groups will stick with their own interests or the broader interest of all businesses, workers and the community.

Kevin Jones