New research on OHS business case 1

cover of business-case-for-safe-healthy-productive-workSafe Work Australia recently released its second research paper related to developing or communicating a business case for occupational health and safety (OHS).  The paper has been authored by Sharron O’Neill and is called “The Business Case for Safe, Healthy and Productive Work – Implications for resource allocation: Procurement, Contracting and infrastructure decisions“.  O’Neill’s paper clearly challenges the dominant thinking of OHS and costs.

O’Neill states that the quality of previous analyses of OHS business costs have been “fundamentally poor”, partly because

“Rather than strategically examining the cost-benefit to business of work health and safety, the typical ‘silo’-driven analysis produces a narrow focus on a very different concept; the cost-benefit to business of health and safety interventions. This has obscured much of the potential for improving  organisational productivity and operational decision-making.” (page 4, link added)

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Will workers be safer through an expansion of Comcare? 4

At a recent breakfast seminar, Steve Bell of Herbert Smith Freehills mentioned that a Bill is with the Australian Senate that will open up the Comcare scheme to Australian businesses through the removal of the national competition test.  This move has been flagged for some time with several lawyers expressing reservations.  Bell mentioned this to the audience of OHS professionals as the law changes could present a substantial change to their operational knowledge base. The Bill is part of a larger debate on OHS.

In a July 2014 article, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) warned that:

“The proposed changes to Comcare will not only throw state and territory-based workers’ compensation schemes into fiscal chaos, but will also see injured workers left out in the cold,” ALA National President Geraldine Collins said.

“If this legislation is passed, employers may move their workers into the Comcare scheme, thus leaving huge holes of unfunded liability in state schemes which is likely to result in state-based premiums soaring.”

“Opening up the Comcare scheme will be disastrous for workers. Comcare has no meaningful access to common law damages for injuries caused by the negligence of an employer. The scheme is burdensome, paternalistic, and bureaucratic for workers and employers.  Its design means premiums have to go up unless benefits are slashed ,” Ms Collins said.

“Comcare also has no meaningful workplace health and safety regime.  Work environments will develop where lives are lost and permanently damaged with little oversight and enforcement of workplace health and safety.  It is a fundamentally flawed minimalist scheme.  Migration en masse will strike at the heart of the financial stability of state schemes, which are mostly running fairly,” Ms Collins said.”

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The SIA identifies four big issues for it in 2015 8

The Safety Institute of Australia‘s (SIA) CEO David Clarke revealed his four big issues for the SIA at a recent breakfast function in Melbourne.

Policy Agenda

Clarke stated that he had instigated the creation of a National Policy Agenda for the SIA – a first for the over 60-year-old registered charity.  Clarke emphasised that the SIA needed to understand the language of government, employers and unions as it relates to safety.  The significance of the agenda was reinforced by Clarke who said that without such a strategy, the SIA would struggle for relevance.

Certification

Another priority was the certification of the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession in Australia.  Clarke admitted that this was a controversial move but sees the establishment of a “licence to operate” as vital to increasing the status of the profession. More…

WorkSafe Victoria’s Len Neist addresses safety profession breakfast Reply

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), in its Australian partners and as a firm, has been prominent in occupational health and safety (OHS) matters, even though the organisation is “on the nose” with much of the trade union movement. This week HSF conducted a breakfast for the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) in Melbourne, the first in a couple of years after an alleged falling out with the SIA.  The presentations did not sparkle as some have in previous years.

The most anticipated presentation was from Len Neist, an executive director of WorkSafe Victoria.  Neist outlined the aims of the organisation but much of this was familiar.  He reiterated the obligations on WorkSafe from the various legislation and pledged to focus on prevention.

Neist is not beyond executive jargon (“risk tolerability framework” ?) and stated one of his aims was to “incentivise compliance and improvement”.  One can argue that compliance should require no encouragement only enforcement.  Why provide incentives to businesses for what is their legislative and moral duty? More…

Safety Asia Summit 2015 Reply

Safety Summit Asia-KL-9th12Mar2015I have been invited to speak at the Safety Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur in March 2015. My presentation will focus on safety communications.  My blurb in the conference program lists the following points:

  • “Ways of Seeing” – the importance of John Berger’s work
  •  The importance of language in the reframing of Safety
  • Writing about safety as a professional development tool
  • Safety leadership and classical literature
  • Embracing the importance of stories

I am in the midst of finalising my presentation and would welcome any input or stories from SafetyAtWorkBlog readers to assist me.  Use the link below to contact me directly.

Kevin Jones

Abolition of Construction Code is a return to the past on OHS 3

The new Andrews Government in Victoria has followed through on its election pledge to abolish the Construction Compliance Code Unit (CCCU) of the Department of Treasury and Finance. It announced this in a peculiar manner within a media release on whooping cough, a process that Senator Abetz went to town on. But Premier Andrews’ decision raises the question of, if the Code is gone, what replaces it? The simply answer is nothing.

A spokesperson for the Premier advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that

“The Andrews Labor Government has delivered on its election commitment to scrap the Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry and its monitoring body the Construction Code Compliance Unit (CCCU).

Contractors bidding for Victorian Government work and applying for pre-qualification on construction registers will still need to meet safety and industrial relations management criteria. Contractors must also have occupational health and safety policies and procedures to meet legislative and regulatory requirements.”

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Victoria’s WorkSafe to be reviewed 2

New Labor Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, has announced a review into the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA) and the Transport Accident Commission (TAC). No terms of reference for the inquiry are being released other than the brief mention in the media release of :

“…identify opportunities to optimise the effectiveness, efficiency and value of these organisations to the Victorian community.”

This inquiry has been mooted for some time but the lack of detail is curious, as could be the choice for the inquiry’s head.  There is no doubt that James MacKenzie has great knowledge about the workings of VWA and TAC as he was CEO of the TAC from 1994-97 and the Chairman of both TAC and WorkSafe Victoria from 2000-07.  Mackenzie was on the Board until around 2010 and was thanked profusely by VWA’s Elana Rubin in the 2011 Annual Report:

“On behalf of WorkSafe I would particularly like to acknowledge James MacKenzie’s work in the governance and management of personal injury schemes in Victoria. James served on the Board for over a decade, of which six years he was Chair.  During that time he led the transformation of WorkSafe.” (page 4)

Although MacKenzie seems to have had no direct role in the area for the last four years or so, his direct experience could also be considered an impediment, particularly if he “led the transformation of WorkSafe”. More…

Productivity Commission looks at workplace bullying – not really 1

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…

New book challenges current OHS trends Reply

Quinlan coverProfessor 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…