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…

Politics before safety in South Australia 8

Occupational health and safety (OHS) eyebrows were raised in Australia recently as a State Government suspended the application of three construction-related codes of practice, principally, on the basis that compliance will cost too much.  The decision by South Australia’s Minister for Industrial Relations, John Rau, following a report by the Small Business Commissioner, Mike Sinkunas, illustrates several issues:

  • the SA government is overly influenced by the Housing Industry Association (HIA),
  • small business is being misinformed on how workplace safety works,
  • the application of “reasonably practicable” has been ignored, and
  • the unions and safety profession do not know how to respond.

More…

Australian media fishes for bad news on NBN Co and asbestos and misses the good news 2

Prior to the 2013 election, the Australian media, particular the News Limited newspapers, went to town  on the  previous (Labor) government over its handling of the National Broadband Network (NBN) strategy.  The media sniffed a political vulnerability as it had in the Home Insulation Program and other economic stimulus packages, such as the Building the Education Revolution, even though the economic program is seen by some as a very successful strategy.

The NBN has several OHS contexts but asbestos is the most prominent.  NBN needed to install its fibre-optic cables through the established and old infrastructure of a major competitor and partially government-owned telecommunication company, Telstra.  Many of Telstra’s old pits were constructed using asbestos.

On 5 November 2013 The Australian newspaper published its latest article on NBN and asbestos but the content of its own article shows how much hyperbole the newspaper has employed in this long campaign and that NBN Co seems to be managing its asbestos safety well. More…

Fair Work Commission girds its loins for workplace bullying complaints Reply

Official statistics on workplace bullying in Australia are notoriously unreliable.  The Productivity Commission estimated the cost of workplace bullying with a huge margin of variation, between A$6 billion and A$36 billion annually.  WorkSafe Victoria has indicated in the past that the number of interventions on workplace bullying is way below the number of workplace bullying complaints.  On 29 October 2103, in a long discussion on workplace bullying the Australian Capital Territory’s Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher stated:

“According to reports from the Commissioner for Public Administration, reports of bullying and harassment have totalled 68 cases in 2010-11, 71 in 2011-12, and 118 cases in the financial year that has just passed, 2012-13. Proven cases of bullying have numbered four, eight 11 and 19 respectively. This amounts to complaints being made by 0.5 per cent of staff, and substantiated in relation to 0.08 per cent of staff.” (Hansard, page P3930, emphasis added)

These latest statistics, in conjunction with those previously reported, indicate that the perception of workplace bullying is much higher than the reality in Australia.   More…

Truth, justice and the safe way 7

Many years ago the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) won a WorkSafe Victoria award for a colouring in book.  From memory the book depicted construction work so that children could understand what their parents do while the kids are at school.  Since that time many companies have produced safety calendars from children’s drawings and train companies have created safety jingles and animated videos about decapitation.  On 28 October WorkSafeACT launched a comic book about Hazardman.

Dr Rob Long rips the campaign to shreds in a blog article,concluding with

“It is amazing that the Regulator can impose this indoctrination campaign on the school system and now we learn that Safe Work Australia is going to roll it out throughout Australia. Fantastic, what a wonderful way to prepare our children and inoculate them against the realities of risk.” More…

SafeWorkSA’s fatality ticker is a good initiative but other metrics could add punch 2

As part of annual safety week activities, South Australia’s Minister for Industrial Relations, John Rau, launched a workplace fatalities counter (on the right of the webpage).  Rau said in a media release that

“As Safe Work Week begins in South Australia, we are reminded of the nine workers who have not returned home from work this year…..  In a similar way to the reporting of the road toll, providing this information is a reminder to us all that we must make every effort to ensure this number does not rise.”

The comparison with the road toll is an admirable aim and one that  some have advocated for but there are other potential metrics that may have had more impact. More…

Sex, work, liability and safety 1

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…