Moral conflicts in store for Australian politicians and bureaucrats 1

iStock_000016528694XSmall2014 is going to present tough challenges to Australia’s politicians and corporate leaders.  The Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program, in particular, is going to illustrate and perhaps generate ideological conflict.

The Home Insulation Program (HIP) was established quickly to address a looming economic crisis.  Politicians and business leaders wanted Australia to avoid the global recession and they needed creative solutions.  Various importance governance and safety elements appear to have been sacrificed to achieve the economic ends.  In 2014, the politicians of the time and bureaucrats will be grilled over why they made these decisions.  Various inquiries have already identified that these decisions contributed to the deaths of four young workers.  In 2014, these decision- and policy-makers will be held to account for the fatal consequences of their economic decisions.

There has long been a conflict between the pursuit of profit and the pursuit of safe working conditions.  The Royal Commission, and the surrounding debate, is likely to place this conflict squarely in the highest levels of Australia’s government and public service.  Below are some of the issues that the Australian government and business sector are likely to face in 2014. More…

Remembering why you do what you do 5

iStock_000017872280XSmallSafety professionals often pay over A$1000 upwards to attend a workplace safety conference.  Most of these conferences are overpriced and serious questions should be asked about the knowledge return-on-investment.  It seems occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals are always looking for the next big thing, the “edge” but frequently they forget that value of old information, the value of human worth, the reason for joining the OHS profession in the first place.

Recently I attended an Annual Remembrance Service that commemorated those people who have died at work.  The theme of the service was the importance of listening, particularly, to the widows and widowers, those who are still experiencing the pain of grief and, often, the injustice of OHS regulators and workers’ compensations schemes.  The service was called “Remembering and celebrating the lives of those who have died from work-related causes” and conducted by the Creative Ministries Network and Work-related Grief Support, was small, touching and not half as religious as it could have been. More…

OHS solutions promoted but not necessarily delivered 3

All professions need spokespeople or champions who can provide informative and, hopefully, authoritative commentary on topical matters within and beyond the profession.  Australia’s safety profession has never had such a spokesperson but recently the speakers’ bureau ICMI has packaged a selection of speakers who it thinks could be appropriate. The brief for Work Health Solutions focuses almost entirely on the issues of absenteeism, lost productivity, presenteeism and creating “a more enjoyable, friendly and less threatening environment” but will these speakers provide solutions to illnesses, injuries, amputations and diseases? Can these speakers provide the solutions implied in the program?

From the information on the program’s flyer, several of the speakers seem to be able to present stories about safety-gone-wrong. Theo Venter survived electrocution. Ian Johnson was seriously burned and speaks about the risks of confined spaces. Philip Smallman was a tree surgeon who became a paraplegic after a fall. Helen Fitzroy speaks of the impact of her husband’s workplace fatality.  John Tickell has spoken at several OHS conferences and has at least contributed to a book about OHS but others are tenuous. But ICMI is also promoting speakers who are primarily event hosts or Masters of Ceremonies and at least one of them generated complaints during a WorkSafe Victoria event several years ago for inappropriate comments about women. More…

SafetyAtWorkBlog named a Top Blog by LexisNexis 10

SafetyAtWorkBlog is very proud to receive a top blog award for 2013 from LexisNexis Legal Newsroom.  Each year’s list provides important reviews on influential OHS and workers compensation blogs, principally in America.  We urge readers to investigate the other winners in this list.

On SafetyAtWork Blog, LexisNexis says

“Worker safety is an issue beyond America’s borders. For an interesting and refreshing perspective on workplace safety, one can travel electronically to the “Land Down Under” to read the work of Australian editor, Kevin Jones, and his several contributors. Offering “news, commentary and opinion” on workplace safety and health, Safetyatworkblog offers multiple posts each week. While the articles are obviously directed to Australian issues, one is drawn to the fact that the arguments ring true here as well….”

Lexis Nexis says that

“These top blog sites contain some of the best writing out there on workers’ compensation and workplace issues. They provide a wealth of information for the workers’ compensation community with timely news items, practical information, expert analysis, practice tips, and helpful links to other sites. More…

OHS consultation through social media – the new (and better) way 5

For a little while employers, government and trade unions in Australia were spreading their consultative pool on occupational health and safety (OHS) matters.  Recently that triumvirate seems to have returned to a more exclusive structure.  The reason is unclear but the situation is a backward step and one that fails to take advantage of the modern consultative technologies.

In some ways OHS in Australia seems to be moribund. Professional associations do not seem to be growing even in a time of regulatory change.  Trade union membership numbers seem to have bottomed out without much diminution of their political influence. It may be time to look at a new consultative approach that builds ownership of workplace safety on the back of the awareness marketing by the OHS regulators.  However to do so may mean that the tripartite structure be dissolved over time and that the policy development expectations of government on OHS matters be substantially revised. More…

NZ Coroner describes quad bike safety dispute as a “Mexican stand-off” Reply

Dave Robertson of Quadbar.com has provided this article on a recent finding and recommendations of a New Zealand Coroner.

A New Zealand coroner, Brandt Shortland, recently handed down his findings on five farm-based quad bike deaths (Mendoza, McInnes, Ferguson, Cornelius and Van Der Pasch) that happened within six weeks of each other.  Australian agricultural newspaper The Weekly Times reported,

“Mr Shortland [Coroner], who was a keynote speaker at a Farmsafe Australia symposium in Canberra last week, said all five deaths would have been prevented if the vehicles had Crush Protection Devices (CPD) installed”

In Coroner Shortland’s findings he found that quad bikes are best described as “error intolerant” and in the quad bike manufacturers’ view “a quad bike require a rider to make good decisions”.  One NZ media report reports the Coroner as advocating continuing rider training but that

“… training and education cannot teach common sense or good judgement.”

Shortland supports the wearing of helmets while riding quad bikes and a taskforce review into roll-over protection structures (ROPS) which increases the significance of the current Australian review.  The Coroner acknowledged the tension between safety advocates and quad bike manufacturers describing it as a “Mexican standoff”. More…

Canberra gets its first Industrial Magistrate for OHS matters Reply

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has named Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker as its first industrial magistrate. The establishment of an industrial court in the ACT stems from the government accepting the recommendations of the Getting Home Safely report which in turn was a response to a spike in workplace fatalities in 2012.

Walker is unknown outside of the ACT but the best introduction to her is probably through a long interview she gave in February 2012 to ABC radio in Canberra.  Occupational health and safety specifically was not on Walker’s radar at the time of the interview but it may be useful to note her comments on sentencing and how this should reflect, or consider, community expectations.  Walker also discusses the importance of the preventive and educative role that penalties can have. How this perspective applies under the recent Work Health and Safety laws will be worth watching.

Kevin Jones

Safety leadership and the red tape drag 3

Red Tape scribbleDuring a recent seminar I produced the doodle on the right, which depicts what I think the speaker was talking about.  Safety is a goal that can be best achieved through improving a company’s leadership qualities.  However all companies seem to be restricted by red tape, however one defines that. Can this journey be improved?

Decrease the baggage

It may be possible to reduce or minimise the red tape baggage.  Most Western governments are attempting this through inquiries and reviews but this is assuming that it is government bureaucracy that has created this baggage.  In Australia over the last fifty years Governments have allowed business great flexibility in how it achieves OHS compliance and safe workplaces (definitely not the same thing) by reducing the prescriptive basis of OHS laws.  It may have been reasonable to expect that the loss of prescriptive safety would decrease paperwork but over the same time there has been increasing calls for less red tape from government.   More…

Safety in the C Suite doesn’t always run smoothly Reply

It is rare for workplace safety to gain a half-page in the daily press in Australia but this occurred recently in The Australian.  The newspaper’s industrial editor, Ewin Hannan, built an article, “Tunnel Vision on Safety“, around the following quote from a leaked memo from 2010 then head of human resources, industrial relations and safety for John Holland, Stephen Sasse, in relation to the management of the Airport Link project:

“‘‘In my seven years with John Holland, I have never seen any project or management team that was so cavalier about the company’s OHS (occupational health and safety) system, principles and values and I have grave doubts about the management’s team’s capability in safety.’”

This is a remarkable statement but Sasse has been outspoken on safety issues in the general construction sector before. In 2011 a change in the senior management of Leighton Holdings, the parent company of John Holland, created doubt about Sasse’s future and Sasse left the organisation in October 2011.  The latter articles also indicate Sasse’s relationship with the union movement which may be part of the reason the unions are repeating their calls for an inquiry into John Holland and its licence with Comcare.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has several articles about these industrial relations tensions from 2009. More…

Attitudinal survey has promise but the restriction of data stifles discussion 2

The “Australia’s Behaviour Concerns” (ABC) survey has received a good deal of press in Australia this week as it provides so many options for each State’s media to report on concerns identified by the survey’s respondents.  Of the thirty-eight concerns identified, three involve occupational health and safety (OHS) directly:

  • Work Harassment
  • Discrimination and Bullying
  • Unsafe Work Practices.

One of the significant issues with such surveys and findings is that these measure perceptions of safety and not the reality.  Community concerns may be high but may mostly reflect topical events, campaigns and advertising so in terms of verifying marketing and OHS awareness campaigns, the survey may be most useful.   More…