The dichotomy of OHS 3

There are two potentially conflicting approaches to changing the occupational health and safety performance of managers and workers – cultural change or individual inducements. In some ways this reflects a societal dichotomy between the group and the individual, the big picture and the small, employers and workers, white-collar and blue collar, blame the system or blame the worker, and other combinations.

A colleague brought an article by Ross Gittins to this blog’s attention in which Gittins, an economics journalist, criticises key performance indicators and suggests looking at “intrinsic motivations”, based on the work of Jana Gallus. It seems we should be looking at awards rather than rewards. Gallus’s work provides a useful counterpoint or entry point to a recent book called Risky Rewards, written by Andrew Hopkins and Sarah Maslen. More…

OHS media could increase its influence, if it wanted to 2

The decline of newspapers and other mainstream media is well-established (an excellent recent analysis of this has been undertaken by Ross Gittins), as is the increase in the influence of online or digital media.  The information sources for occupational health and safety (OHS) have undergone a similar change, often due to the same technological and economic factors affecting the mainstream.  But OHS has ALWAYS been a niche issue in communications and the media and it will continue to be so except that the niche can increase in size and the new media technologies could increase OHS’ influence in managerial and business decision processes, if someone accepts the challenge.

CCH OHS Cover 1996It is important to look at a major fault in communication strategies related to OHS.  The mainstream media never covered workplace safety issues to the extent possible. OHS was almost always covered by the industrial relations reporter, if the newspaper had one.  The tripartite nature of industrial relations (IR) negotiations – government, business, unions – provided the main sources for OHS content and OHS was always communicated in or with the IR context.  Rarely was OHS seen to merit its own story.

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Mixed messages on OHS and productivity Reply

There is a clear link between the modern take on occupational health and safety (which includes psychosocial health) and productivity. However, there are seriously mixed messages coming from the Productivity Commission (PC) in its current inquiry into Australia’s Workplace Relations Framework.

In Senate Estimates on 3 June 2014 (draft Hansard), the Chair of the Productivity Commission, Peter Harris, and Assistant Commissioner, Ralph Lattimore, briefly discussed OHS.  Harris acknowledged that some of the submissions to the current inquiry discussed OHS matters (page 65) but Lattimore stated:

“….we did say that we would quarantine the inquiry away from workforce health and safety issues unless they were directly related to, say, enterprise bargaining or some feature of the relationship between employers and employees. We were aware of the large amount of regulation in that area, and we were not planning to revisit that.”

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Is OHS an invisible science? Reply

On 1 June 2015 Australia’s Radio National broadcast a discussion about the future of work, in support of a Vivid Festival conference. Listening to the discussion through the prism of occupational health and safety (OHS) is an interesting experience as work/life balance is promoted as empowering the individual but, as we know in OHS, individuals often sacrifice their safety for income or deadlines or project demands, contrary to their legislative obligations. The workplace flexibility that many people seek allows the individual to manage the workload and develop or design the working environment. In other terms they establish an unregulated workplace. So what influence will OHS have in these new and emerging workplace configurations? Probably very little.

ABC’s Natasha Mitchell spoke with the curator of the conference Jess Scully. The context seems to be workplace flexibility, primarily, in the creative industries but not exclusively. Mitchell says that this increased flexibility can be seen in an increase in short-term contracts, job insecurity and “inadequate conditions” to which can be added unsafe work environments. More…

Factual reporting and the OHS Body of Knowledge 5

Pam Pryor,  Registrar, Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board, responds to some issues raised in a recent blog article.

The Safety Institute of Australia and the Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board welcomes informed, constructive comment on their activities and on OHS in general.

The paper Reflection on the SIA Ltd professional project and the Body of Knowledge (Pearse, McCosker & Paul, 2015) makes a number of assertions which must be addressed to ensure readers have an accurate understanding of the issues and the discussion. This article addresses just one of these assertions: The OHS Body of Knowledge promotes a narrow technical view of OHS.

While commenting that the reason for the existence of the OHS Body of Knowledge is unclear Pearse et al., also note that there is no industry-wide agreement on the educational requirements to practice as an OHS professional; that there is no unified body of knowledge for OHS; and the evidence base in relatively low and underdeveloped. All comments with which we would agree and also clear reasons for the development of an OHS Body of Knowledge and the discussions which have arisen, and will continue to occur, on what should comprise the OHS Body of Knowledge for Generalist OHS Professionals. More…

Research raises serious questions on SIA’s certification push 32

One of the most contentious issues in Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) profession at the moment is the move by the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA)to certify the profession. In the February 2015 issue of the Journal of Health Safety and Environment, Warwick Pearse, Laura McCosker and Gunther Paul researched the SIA’s “professional project” and found it seriously wanting.

The paper “Reflection on the SIA Ltd professional project and the Body of Knowledge” states that the project

“…has the potential to promote a narrow technical view of OHS rather than a wider view which encompasses societal relations of power and politics.”

“The use of the BoK [Body of Knowledge] as a key element in the professional project has the potential to represent OHS as a unified system of knowledge — which it is not.” [link added]

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ACTU Congress’ draft OHS policies deserve serious analysis 2

Pages from draft-2015-actu-congress-policies-2015-consolidatedThe Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) commences its 2015 Congress this week.  Each year around 800 trade union delegates meet to discuss changes to policies and to develop or refine strategies. This year the ACTU released its draft policies publicly prior to the Congress.  These policies have a long and strong historical and industrial relations context.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) is an important part of these policies and should spark discussions in the union movement and the OHS profession.

Early in the document, the ACTU states its “bargaining agenda” in which is included

“better work, life and family balance.” (page 7)

Curiously, the ACTU has chosen “better” rather than “safe”.  Better is a more inclusive term but harder to define.  Better for whom?  Better could be better paid or more secure or safer.

Trade unionists often see OHS as being monitored and enforced through the mechanism of the Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) and would argue that OHS is throughout all the draft policies due to the HSR role but there are more workplaces in Australia without HSRs than with and it is worth considering the policies as independent from the HSR structure, if that is possible.. More…

Don’t mention workplace bullying 1

Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews is involved in a, currently minor, political drama after he decided to stand down his Small Business Minister, Adem Somyurek, after allegations of workplace bullying. The drama is in its early days but some of the decisions and media comments are worthy of analysis, particularly as Premier Andrews seems to be avoiding using the term, workplace bullying.

The facts seem to be that the  Minister’s Chief of Staff, Dimity Paul, complained to the Premier about Somyurek’s “intimidating, aggressive and threatening” behaviour. The Premier stood the Minister down after a formal complaint was made to the Department of Premier and Cabinet which has generated an investigation.

This allegation has a lot of political connections as described in an article in The Age newspaper written by Farrah Tomazin, but there is little doubt that the allegation comes under the definition of workplace bullying as there have been mentions of a “pattern of behaviour” by the Minister. Tomazin wrote

“The alleged misconduct …. is said to have taken place over the past few months, and relates to a number of employees in his ministerial office…”

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Everyone wants a quick fix – OHS is no different 2

One of the professional disciplines that has had the biggest impact on occupational health and safety (OHS) management in Australia has been sociology but that influence seems to be waning as it fails to compete with the managerial imperative of short-termism and the quick fix.

This demand for a quick fix is partly a result of the increased sensitivity to reputational damage of both the organisation and the executive. This can be seen by the increasing attention to apparent solutions to safety problems of the individual worker, for instance, resilience training which is primarily about the individual toughening up.  Neuroplasticity has entered OHS by saying that the individual can reconfigure their brain to, somehow, work more safely. Of course, the ultimate short-term solution to most workplace problems has existed for years  – sack the worker.

All of this denies the organisational influence on workers, managers and executives because organisational change is hard and it takes time, both are challenges that do not fit with modern expectations of business.

One of the clearest examples of the inability or unwillingness of executives to improve OHS through organisational change is the management of workplace bullyingMore…

Inconsistency on OHS roles in dairy careers guide 2

Cover of WSV966__Dairy_Safety_webSeveral years ago, WorkSafe Victoria published “Dairy Safety: A Practical Guide“* A decade on Dairy Australia has published its career guidance “Stepping Stones” which seems to imply that not all employers and workers have a legislative responsibility to work safely and without harming others.

It is a legislative truism that “safety is everyone’s responsibility” and Dairy Australia advises that

“All farm businesses have an obligation under law to provide a safe and healthy workplace for their employees, contractors, family, visitors and members of the public. Farm businesses who don’t act to fulfil health and safety responsibilities face significant fines and penalties.”

Cover of Stepping Stones - DairyHowever according to Stepping Stones only some dairy roles have an overt occupational health and safety obligation.  More…