The Australian Government has announced an inquiry into workplace relations through the Productivity Commission (PC). The most obvious occupational health and safety (OHS) element of this inquiry relates to workplace bullying which is discussed in the fourth of five issues papers released in January 2015. However the purposeful separation of workplace bullying actions through the Fair Work Commission (FWC) from actions in other sectors, such as OHS regulators, limits the potential impact of the inquiry on this issue.
The PC issues paper acknowledges the lack of the anticipated avalanche of anti-bullying applications and accepts that the structure of the FWC process may be partially responsible. This lack of applications, an issue discussed elsewhere in SafetyAtWorkBlog, deserves further research and analysis. The FWC structure only allows applications from workers currently employed in the workplace about which they are complaining. It can be argued that the inability of the FWC to award financial compensation is an equal deterrent. If this is the case (and, as far as can be determined, this aspect has not been investigated) the motivation of anti-bullying applicants to FWC and OHS regulators may involve natural justice AND compensation. The role of money in bullying complaints and applications has been a taboo subject in the past but deserves some analysis, even though it may be very uncomfortable. More…
Professor Michael Quinlan has a new book that focuses on lessons from recent mining disasters but, as with the best of occupational health and safety (OHS) books, it challenges orthodoxies. Some OHS consultants and experts have built careers on these orthodoxies, trends and fads, and will feel uncomfortable with the evidence put forward by Quinlan in “Ten Pathways to Death and Disaster – Learning from Fatal Incidents in Mines and Other High Hazard Workplaces“. The honesty and humanity in this book makes it an essential part of any OHS professional’s library.
Quinlan establishes an important tenet from the very start:
“… knowledge is not created in a social vacuum.” (page xi)
This simple dictum is vital to an understanding of the true causal factors on OHS decision-making. People die from OHS failures. Politicians create laws and situations that can encourage failures, increase risk and can provide a veneer of respect for heartlessness and exploitation. Business owners may feel pressured to place production before safety. Some OHS writers and advocates stop, often unconsciously, at the point where their theory or market research would fail scrutiny. Some apply critical thought only “as far as is reasonably practicable” to continue a business activity that is short-term or to sell their consultancy package to gullible or naive corporate executives.
Quinlan writes of the “political economy of safety”:
“The political economy perspective argues that safety, including workplace disasters, can only be understood in the context of the distribution of wealth and power within societies, and dominant social policy paradigms that privilege markets and profit, production or economic growth over safety.” (page 24, emphasis added)
To many readers this may sound like socialism in its mention of wealth distribution and power but such a perspective is valid even though it may be unfashionable. Such a broad perspective allows for a critical assessment of other OHS research approaches such as, for instance, the culture advocates. More…
SafetyAtWorkBlog believes that the following research project may be of interest to readers.
A research team from the Faculty of Business & Law at Deakin University, led by Drs. Elsa Underhill & Melissa Parris, are conducting a research project to:
- Develop a better understanding of how health, safety and well-being outcomes differ between types of workers (ie. permanents, casuals & labour hire) within the same workplace; and
- Develop an understanding of how employment status impacts on work/life balance.
Their findings are intended to better inform HRM and WHS practitioners on the development of evidence based strategies and policies to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of all employees.
They are seeking organisations which will allow them to survey their employees including, where appropriate, labour hire workers placed with organisation. Responses will be anonymous and respondents will have the chance to win 1 of 10 mini Ipads. Participating organisations will receive a report specific to their organisation, as well as the full project report.
Is your organisation interested in participating? If so, please contact Elsa.Underhill@deakin.edu.au for further information.
Just over six months ago the (conservative) Victorian Government announced that it was dropping the WorkSafe brand (pictured right). This made little sense at the time as the WorkSafe brand was so established that it became accepted shorthand for the OHS inspectorate. On 23 January 2015, less than two months after the election of a new (Labor) Victorian Government, the brand has been resurrected. It seems that this indicates an ideological change.
The benefits of dropping the brand were stated on the Victorian Workcover Authority’s (VWA) website (pictured above) as better reflecting all areas of the VWA’s business but the decision was widely interpreted as a diminution of attention to harm and injury prevention. Such a strategic shift echoed the increased perception of organisational heartlessness by some community sectors. More…
On 16 January 2015 the Australian newspaper (paywall) reported on a Fair Work Commission (FWC) decision involving an unfair dismissal claim by a worker who, as a result of a random drug test, was found to have methylamphetamine in her system “at levels four times above the minimum detection level”. The company, Downer EDI Mining, sacked the worker, Leah Cunningham, as she presented a hazard to her work colleagues. The newspaper article was called “CFMEU slammed for drugs defence” and the FWC decision is Tara Leah Cunningham v Downer EDI Mining Pty Limited (U2014/1457) (14 January 2015).
The Australian, a newspaper with no love for the trade union movement and the CFMEU in particular, focussed on the apparent absurdity of a trade union, that places such a high priority on workplace safety, contesting the dismissal of a worker who presented a hazard to herself and others at work. The newspaper quotes Commissioner Ian Cambridge:
““It was highly regrettable to observe during the hearing that an organisation, which apparently conducts campaigns which strongly advocate safety in the workplace, could contemplate a proposition which, in effect, would countenance a person driving a 580-tonne truck whilst having methylamphetamine in their body at a level four times the reportable cut-off figure,” he said in his decision this week.
“Any realistic and responsible pursuit of the case on behalf of the applicant should have been confined to the development of evidentiary support for the applicant’s explanation for the presence of the methylamphetamine. Indeed, much greater energy and focus should have been devoted to such an evidentiary position rather than any attempt to defend the indefensible.”
Whether one believes that the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption is a political witch-hunt or a genuine attempt to clean up a corrupt industry sector, the Royal Commission seems to have revealed an abuse and exploitation of occupational health and safety (OHS) – an exploitation that has received next to no attention. The release of the Commission’s interim report allows for a quick analysis of this situation.
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was a particular target of the Commission in relation to a “slush fund” established by her then-boyfriend, Bruce Wilson, commonly referred to as the “AWU affair“. The “slush fund”, known as the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association, was developed, according to Gillard
“… to support the re-election of union officials who would campaign for workplace reforms including better occupational health and safety.” (Interim Report, Vol 1, page 99)
Any new book by Andrew Hopkins is a cause for excitement. The latest book co-written with Associate Professor Jan Hayes* focusses, primarily, on two pipeline disasters in the United States but has sufficient information and thoughts for those OHS professionals outside this sector and jurisdiction.
“Nightmare Pipeline Failures: Fantasy planning, black swans and integrity management” is a typically slim volume written in Plain English that benefits from the broad knowledge of its authors. Readers of Hopkins’ early books will get all of the cross-references. In some ways, this book can be seen as almost a case-study of Hopkins’ work on mindfulness and high-reliability organisation, as the themes of management perspectives, activity and decision-making occur repeatedly in this book. More…
The Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, called a “snap” election for the end of January 2015. On 11 January 2015, Newman tweeted:
“Queenslanders injured at work are covered by Australia’s strongest workers’ compensation scheme.”
This is a further example of political newspeak as what does a “strong” workers’ compensation scheme look like? Newman’s tweet included an image that provides some clarity to his claim.
Last year SafetyAtWorkBlog reported its failure at gaining the release of the Victorian Government’s full cost analysis of the introduction of the national Work Health and Safety laws. In November 2014 the Victorian Government changed from conservative Liberal to traditionally more worker-friendly Labor Party. So I submitted another request, with the same result, the report was
“…prepared for the purpose of submission for consideration by Cabinet in 2012…”
It seems we will have to wait another 28 years, apparently, to see the full estimated costs of Victoria introducing occupational health and safety laws that most other States have already introduced. It is worth remembering that one State, South Australia, provided dramatically different cost estimates and the Productivity Commission estimated cost savings for some companies:
“…multi-state businesses are likely to see compliance costs fall and safety outcomes improve, generating total possible net cost savings of $480 million per year [under the new Work Health and Safety laws]” (Chapter 8, page 153)
The previous Liberal Government pledged never to introduce the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. The new Labor Government failed to mention these laws in its 2014 election/policy platform so their intentions on WHS laws are unclear. However, it is widely believed that Victoria has lost its claim to be at the leading edge of OHS/WHS legislation in this country. If such status is important to the Labour Government, as it has been to the Australian Labor Party in the past, it is hard not to see it harmonising its OHS laws to those of the other States even if through quiet diplomacy rather than a noisy legislative change.
Today Australia’s Employment Minister, Senator Eric Abetz, released a statement concerning a change to the renewal of Comcare licences in the spirit of reducing business red tape but there are two mentions of workplace safety that are curious.
In the statement entitled “Comcare self-insurance licence change“, Senator Abetz has welcomed:
“…a reform that will see businesses save more than $1 million a year which can be reinvested in Work Health and Safety and jobs.”
“This reform will reduce the regulatory burden, remove the cost of licence extensions in years two and four, and push back the costs of audit until year eight as well as ensure safer workplaces.”
The argument on reducing OHS red tape is that the cost savings can be reinvested into occupational health and safety measures but there seems to be no independent evidence to support this belief. More…