There is a constant tension between occupational health and safety (OHS) and workers compensation. OHS is intended to prevent harm and workers compensation is available for when harm cannot be, or has not been, prevented. In Australia, these two elements of safety are administered by different organisations under different legislation but it is a distinction that baffles many. The recent discussion about a sex-related workers compensation claim illustrates this bafflement to some degree.
This time last year Comcare filed an appeal over a Federal Court decision regarding
“A Commonwealth employee is seeking workers’ compensation for injuries sustained after a light fitting was pulled from the wall of a motel during sex, on a business trip.”
(A good summary of most of the legal proceedings is provided by Herbert Geer.)
The case has received wide media attention mostly for the salacious matter of the case, and some political attention, but the purpose of the appeal, according to Comcare, was
“… to seek a High Court ruling on the boundaries between private More…
A diagram of safe posture at modern workstations has become iconic but it has also become a symbol of ergonomic misunderstanding. There are assumptions behind the angular figure about the way modern workers work, the equipment used and the tasks undertaken.
Too often images, such as the one included here, are taken out of context. The image is used as a shortcut to what is considered the “correct” way to sit. The context, the risk assessments, the tasks undertaken, the location of the workstation – basically all of the OHS information included in the workplace safety guides is ignored. People think “the picture has a tick of approval, so why read when the picture says enough”?
This week Steelcase, a one hundred year old company that originally constructed waste paper baskets, launched its Gesture chair. The marketing of this chair is based on the discovery (?) of nine new postures in the workplace:
The investigation into workplace deaths associated with Australia’s Home Insulation Program (HIP) was refreshed yesterday with the publication of some of the terms of reference for a new Government inquiry into the program. The HIP deaths is an enormously politically charged issue in Australia and the politics, and associated media attention, could derail an inquiry that has the potential to provide important occupational health and safety, risk management and governance issues.
Greg Hunt, Environment Minister is quoted as saying that
“The Government is committed to a full inquiry into Kevin Rudd’s home insulation scheme that was linked to the tragic loss of four young lives,….”
According to the Courier-Mail newspaper on 27 October 2013 there will be ten elements in the terms of reference but only four are mentioned:
- The process and basis of government decisions while establishing the program, including risk assessment and risk management;
- Whether the death of the four men could have been avoided;
- What if any advice or undertakings given by the government to the industry were inaccurate or deficient, and;
- What steps the government should have taken to avoid the tragedies.
These four seem reasonable aims but this information has been leaked, the full terms of reference have not been released and a person to head the inquiry is yet to be announced.
Safety Culture is an issue that has turned up in disaster investigations, training programs intended to change attitudes, benchmarking exercises and reviews into workplace fatalities, overpriced and evangelical corporate products and as pitiful excuses for mistakes. Yet it still remains poorly understood and poorly defined as shown by a recent article in ISHN magazine.
The magazine asked “safety and health exerts” on their opinions about Safety Culture. Below is a sample of the comments:
Safety culture has turned into a marketing ploy.
Safety culture is part of common language and pops up all over the place – and as in beauty it’s in the eye of the beholder. More…
St John Ambulance made a bold statement on the cover of The Age newspaper on 22 October 2013:
“87% of businesses are not FIRST AID READY. This puts your employees, customers and business at risk.”
This statement repeats some of the inaccuracies that SafetyAtWorkBlog pointed out in March 2013. More…
Today the Victorian Coroner has released the findings into the 2007 Kerang rail disaster and other level crossing fatalities. SafetyAtWorkBlog has written about issues related to level crossings those articles may help when reading the many media articles that the inquest findings will generate.
Already family members of the Kerang victims have expressed their dissatisfaction with the findings. More…
Defining safety culture is still a tricky proposition. Definitions can vary from what Global Safety Index quotes:
‘the product of individual and group values, attitudes and beliefs, competencies and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organisation’s health and safety management’.
to the, arguably more functional, definition of
‘the way you work when nobody’s looking”.
Safety culture comprises a mix of personal values, corporate values, laws, norms, expectations, hopes, respect, dignity, care, amongst others. By assessing and linking these elements it should be possible to map or pictorialise a company’s safety culture.
Several years ago at a Comcare conference in Canberra, one speaker outlined leadership and safety culture of some sections of the public service in web, spider or radar graphs (example above). The image stuck with me, particularly after additional sets of data allowed for animation to show the evolution of culture and leadership in relation to specific interventions. The importance of being able to provide a visual image of safety culture should not be understated. More…
In early September 2013 I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on the issue of working at heights. The “crisis summit” was reported on recently by Marian Macdonald. The videos of this panel are now available through the WAHA YouTube channel and all the separate videos are worth viewing. The video in which I first advocate for a focus on safety is embedded below.
The questions from the floor are included in the last video of the panel discussion. If the issue of working at heights seems dry it is worth looking at the video from the 4.30 minute mark. Several members of the audience take the Workcover NSW representative to task.
As the 1 January 2014 implementation date for new workplace bullying processes approaches there is an increasing amount of legal, HR, and safety seminars, and newsletters and alerts being produced. Most reiterate the amendments to Australia’s Fair Work Act but occasionally there is additional information.
In a recent seminar, it was suggested that the draft Code of Practice for the Prevention and Management of Workplace Bullying, developed by Safe Work Australia, is to be released as a guidance note rather than a Code of Practice (see below). More…
Recently Queensland’s Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has been asserting that a review of union right-of-entry provisions is needed because unions have been using occupational health and safety (OHS) issues as an excuse for industrial relations (IR) action. Such assertions have been made for decades in Australia to the extent they have become fact. Below is an article looking at one of the sources of the Attorney-General’s assertions.
In a media statement dated 5 October 2013, Bleijie stated:
“For too long, we have seen construction unions using safety as an industrial weapon in this State… Quite frankly, their abuses of the current right of entry provisions are designed to bully contractors until they get their way. Sites are being hijacked and workers held to ransom.
“I have personally heard of stories from hard working Queenslanders who have been locked out of their workplace because of militant union activity.
“Earlier this year, a major contractor lost 42 days of work due to illegal strike activity in the first year of their enterprise agreement. This practice will end.”
Some of this statement was quoted in a Sunday Mail article on 6 October 2013 following the minister’s speech at an awards ceremony with the Master Builders. Like most political media statements there is a large amount of hyperbole but this article’s focus will be on the OHS elements of the statement. More…