Poor editing could increase confusion on workplace bullying Reply

One of the occupational health and safety (OHS) issues that does not “travel” well across international borders is workplace bullying.  Each country usually has its own laws (if at all).  Each operates in a different culture and each has a different definition of what constitutes workplace bullying.  Those who communicate and publish information on this hazard need to be sure that an article is relevant to its readership or at least clearly indicate the article’s overseas origin.

On 28 May 2014 the Australian Financial Review (AFR) published a US article on workplace bullying that was first published in  the Washington Post in March 2014 that purports to discuss workplace bullying but, to the Australian readership, the article describes bad management  practices and poor work behaviour, NOT workplace bullying. More…

Australian company dumps triple certification as unnecessary 8

At a recent seminar an HSE Manager of a large Australian company revealed that the company has dropped its support of “triple certification” – external certification to safety, quality and environmental standards. This caused a murmur in the audience as external certification has long been seen as an unavoidable element (and cost) of operating a large business. The HSE Manager explained that the company had assessed all of the resources it provides for certification in light of the benefits it receives and determined that the company could still do well without the external certification.

Certification has been considered as a public and commercial statement of good business management.  Certification is also required as a minimum requirement to qualify for tenders for government works. But certification has also been seen as a costly and disruptive burden.  This perception has strengthened as new regulators have imposed compliance requirements that are usually satisfied through external or third-party audits.  This auditing complexity has sometimes been mentioned in the context of the “red tape” debate. 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…

Beyondblue’s latest research report is too narrow 4

Beyondblue has just released a report into the cost of mental health in the workplace prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and called “Creating a mentally healthy workplace – Return on investment analysis“. The report is interesting but of limited use for those looking for ways to make their own workplaces safer and healthier with minimal cost.  The Beyondblue  media release claims

“… that Australian businesses will receive an average return of $2.30 for every $1 they invest in effective workplace mental health strategies.

The research, which looked at the impact of employees’ mental health conditions on productivity, participation and compensation claims, also found these conditions cost Australian employers at least $10.9 billion a year.”

The first claim looks attractive but achieving such a return is unlikely unless the company includes the following:

  • “commitment from organisational leaders,
  • employee participation,
  • development and implementation of policies,
  • provision of the necessary resources, and
  • a sustainable approach.” (page iv)

The best chance for the return on investment (ROI) will likely occur in a company that has an enlightened management, “necessary resources” and a leadership that is already likely to have mental health and a safe organisational culture on its agenda.  This is a rare combination which limits the application of the PwC report findings. More…

Ministerial responsibility in finance but not in workplace safety 9

Ministerial responsibility seems to be advantageous in financial policies but irrelevant to workplace safety going by actions by Australia’s political leaders.  This week former senior (Labor) parliamentarians, Mark Arbib, Peter Garrett, Greg Combet and Kevin Rudd, will be fronting the Royal Commission into Home Insulation to explain their lack of due diligence on workplace safety matters.  This is only a week after the Federal (Liberal) Government released a Commission of Audit report that promoted ministerial responsibility.

The popular perspective is that these ministerial decision-makers will be held to account for the deaths of four young workers but this is unlikely to occur because State occupational health and safety (OHS) laws establish a direct OHS relationship between employers and employees and the senior politicians did not employ anyone who was installing home insulation.  The argument at the Royal Commission mirrors the chain of responsibility concept except that in work health and safety (WHS) legislation, government ministers are not covered by the definition of ‘officer’ and therefore have less OHS/WHS responsibility that anyone heading up a company or organisation.

Labour lawyer Michael Tooma has perhaps been the most outspoken critic of this, as he describes it, “purely cynical political” exercise. More…

Can Broken Windows Theory help OHS? 11

There are very few innovations that originate from within the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession.  Most of the change seems to come from the application of external concepts to workplace activities and approaches.  Recently a colleague was discussing how some of the current OHS initiatives mirror the “broken windows” concept which originated in criminology in the United States.  In some ways Broken Windows Theory mirrors OHS positives but it may also reflect some of the negatives or OHS dead-ends.

Ostensibly Broken Windows Theory discusses how attention to small improvements may generate cultural change.  However the improvements introduced seem to have different levels of success depending on the context in which they are applied.  For instance in OHS, a construction site may mandate that protective gloves are worn for all manual activity but if there is a variable level of manual handling risk, the wearing of gloves will be an accepted practice in one area but haphazard in another.  The intention of a mandated safety requirement is to change the risk and safety culture of a workplace but the different levels of risk mean that the requirement can be seen as “common sense” in one area but unnecessary “red tape” in another.

The criminological application of the theory reached its peak in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s. More…

New OHS TV ad from Singapore Reply

Singapore’s Workplace Safety and Health Council, part of the Ministry of Manpower has released a new television advertisement that provides a refreshing change by focusing on the lifestyle restrictions that work-related injuries can impose.  The slogan – “How you work is how you live” – personalises workplace injuries.  The only criticism is that there should have been a longer version that would allow the contexts of the injuries and the related inconvenience to be understood, instead of the fast-cutting.

The ad can be viewed HERE.

Kevin Jones

Royal Commission and risk registers Reply

Most of the Australian media is waiting for the former politicians to appear at the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program later this month but the Commission has not been quiet in its many public hearings recently.  One of the hearings heard evidence that is particularly significant and relates to risk registers.

According to an April 8 2014 article in The Australian newspaper, one of the few national media covering the Commission, a consultant from Minter Ellison Consulting at the time, Margaret Coaldrake, failed to include workplace safety in a risk register being prepared for the home insulation program (HIP).  This article is not specifically about Coaldrake’s actions, and the fact that a Royal Commission has been established into the insulation scheme is testament to the broad variety of matters that have contributed to the failure of the HIP scheme and the deaths of workers.

It is common for risk registers to be written with occupational health and safety (OHS) as a late inclusion or, as in the case above, omitted.  This is often because risk management is focused on the very priorities Coaldrake mentioned – reputational and financial damage.  In plain English, a project should not be embarrassing to the client, in the case of HIP, the Australian Government, and it should be completed without exceeding the budget and, hopefully, well within the budget allocated.

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Well-being programs have their place 10

Many Australian newspapers include articles about workplace health in their job ad or professionals sections.  On May 3 2014 the Weekend Australia included an article called “Working harder for health“.  The article touches on most of the usual elements of such articles

  • individual responsibility;
  • increased productivity;
  • medical screenings; and
  • vaccinations and fruit bowls.

But (finally) the interviewee acknowledges the importance of looking beyond corporate well-being programs to  larger organisational issues. More…

“It’s easier but it isn’t easy” – OHS leadership tips from IOSH Reply

The Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) recently uploaded a swag of videos to YouTube, ostensibly, to promote its upcoming conference.  One video asks if it is harder or easier to inspire leadership on OHS matters.  Most speakers believe it is easier because:

  • there is a stronger social expectation of higher safety standards,
  • managing people is more inclusive,
  • technology allows more effective communication,
  • leaders are coaches,
  • people have a greater awareness of how to be safe.

Some believe it is harder because:

  • it is more difficult to have faith in corporate leaders,
  • companies have a more complex structure of accountability and responsibility,
  • there is greater cynicism of corporate leaders due to the GFC in 2007.

One speaker at IOSH’s upcoming conference says “It’s easier but it isn’t easy” acknowledging past improvements and future challenges.

The IOSH videos are promoting the conference but there is food for thought in all of them.  Conferences in Australia have tried similar teaser ads (some including the author) for conferences but not to the extent that IOSH has through YouTube.  As safety conferences seem to be fading in both length and influence in Australia, such videos will become rarer but, as with rarity, the content may become more valuable.

Kevin Jones