The CFMEU should make a case for union OHS representatives 2

In late March 2014, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) was fined $A1.25 million over a violent dispute at the Emporium construction site that occurred in 2012.  In its media release about the fine, the CFMEU’s state secretary, John Setka, says:

“The protest at the Myer site in 2012 was about safety.”

Yes and no.  The dispute was about the representation of workers on safety matters, which is a different thing.  Setka goes on:

“Building workers need someone on site who genuinely represents their interests, and that doesn’t happen when that person is hand-picked by the boss.”

The core issue in this dispute seems to be that the CFMEU will not accept the Health and Safety Representatives (HSR) chosen by the workforce at the Emporium site, which is being built by Grocon P/L.  The CFMEU has its own HSRs that it believes will better represent the workforce on OHS matters.

The dispute represents an ideological dispute that seems more about unionism and industrial relations than about safety, but worker safety may still be the lose.

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Curious decisions on WorkSafe Victoria may have long-term consequences 4

Several weeks ago there was a stir in the OHS sector in Victoria, Australia.  WorkSafe was to disappear.  Quickly the WorkSafe executives clarified that the organisation would continue to exist but that the trading name of “WorkSafe” would go.  Unions and others were suspicious as such a decision was unexpected, even by WorkSafe it appears, and it occurred at a time of organisational restructuring.  Dropping the WorkSafe “brand” is a mistake but it will still disappear from Victoria.

WorkSafe became a trading name of the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA) several decades ago.  There were two parts to the VWA – workers compensation, WorkCare and workplace safety, WorkSafe.  The simplicity of the branding is obvious and cleverly differentiated the two arms of VWA and the two very different philosophies and ideologies.  Victoria had been given a political hammering over the operation of its workers compensation scheme but WorkSafe became one of the strongest brands in the State.  Recognition was extremely high, so high that Tasmania changed the name of its Workplace Standards to WorkSafe, Northern Territory has WorkSafeNT,  and the new approach to OHS in New Zealand has created a regulator called WorkSafe NZ.  So why change? More…

CEO survey shows odd attitude to OHS Reply

Cover of AiGroup CEO Survey 2014One has to be very careful with surveys, particularly those involving business confidence or surveys of an organisation’s membership base.  These are surveys of perceptions which may not correlate with reality and may be an excuse to lobby government or set an agenda rather than determining a societal truth.  A recent example of this type of survey was produced by the Australian Industry Group entitled “Burden of Government Regulation“.  The AiGroup’s media release accompanying the report states that

“Over 83% of employers surveyed listed regulation related to industrial relations and occupational health and safety as a significant regulatory burden in 2014.”

One of the major problems with this statement and similar ones throughout the report is the lumping together of industrial relations (IR) and occupational health and safety (OHS). CEOs may perceive these issues as sufficiently compatible to be inseparable but OHS and IR issues are managed in different ways, are regulated by different government agencies and operate from different moral bases. The problem is exacerbated when reading the report itself because the 83% figure also includes workers compensation and employment costs (page 6), elements not mentioned in the media release. The problem is exacerbated when reading the report itself because the 83% figure also includes workers compensation and employment costs (page 6).

The report also seems to describe OHS consultation as consuming

“non-productive time with little practical value”!!

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Lessons from Royal Commission into Home Insulation Program – Part 1 Reply

Australia’s Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (HIP) demands the attention of all occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals, primarily, because a job creation and economic stimulus program was so poorly planned at the highest level of government, that it seems to have established a culture that led to workplace deaths. However the Royal Commission is already revealing information that shows how OHS is misunderstood by decision-makers, a situation that still persists in many jurisdictions and will only change by watching the Royal Commission carefully and analysing this information through the perspective of workplace safety.

State of Knowledge

The Royal Commission has been investigating when the workplace deaths in New Zealand from using metal staples with foil insulation were known by the Australian Government.  In OHS-speak, it is trying to determine the state of knowledge on this workplace hazard in the decision-making process.  The deaths of four young Australian workers prove that the state of knowledge was inadequate however it is well established that Australia and New Zealand operate independently and that, although there are legislative similarities, it is rare for a death in one country to generate regulatory change in another.  (One could look to the quad bike safety issues for an additional example.)  The recent legislative changes in New Zealand may indicate that they listen to Australia more than vice versa. More…

OHS needs more comedies like Safety First 3

a54c5e_887371bdbda842de8bfb875829197d4f‘s latest comedy show, Safety First, is a dig at the absurdity of some of the training and concepts behind occupational health and safety.  Safety First, showing as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, does not ridicule OHS as a concept but focuses on the idiotic, semi-informed trainers who talk about safety whilst also, often, talking shit.  The humour is effective and occasionally generates discomfort for its proximity to reality. More…

GlencoreXstrata’s annual report shows more than 26 deaths 4

Last week the Australian Financial Review (AFR) brought some focus on occupational health and safety (OHS) by reporting on the most recent annual report from GlencoreXstrata in its article “Mining’s not war, why 26 deaths?” (subscription required). The article is enlightening but as important is that a business newspaper has analysed an annual report in a workplace safety context.  Curiously, although OHS is often mentioned as part of its sustainability and risk management program, safety is not seen as a financial key performance indicator, and it should be.

AFR’s Matthew Stevens wrote:

“Everybody in mining talks about ‘zero harm’ being the ultimate ambition of their health and safety programs. But talking safe and living safe are two very different things.”

GlencoreXstrata’s 2013 annual report is worth a look to both verify the AFR’s quotes but also to see the corporate context in which fatality statements are stated.  The crux of the AFR article is this statement from the Chairman’s introduction:

“It is with deep sadness that I must report the loss of 26 lives at our combined operations during 2013. Any fatality is totally unacceptable and one of the Board’s main objectives is to bring about lasting improvements to our safety culture.” (page 76)

(A curious sidenote is that the interim Chairman is Dr Anthony Howard, formally of BP and brought to prominence by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.) More…

Senator Abetz oversteps on workplace bullying claim 3

abetz.com.au - Joe McDonald 130314Anyone dealing with occupational health and safety (OHS), or in any profession, knows to be careful with one’s words in public.  This is particularly so when one is dealing with mental health issues or claims of workplace bullying.  This week Senator Eric Abetz, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, seems to have overstepped the mark by misrepresenting some Federal Court Orders as related to workplace bullying, when the Court made no such statement.  This could simply be dismissed as political hyperbole in the heat of the moment but this was no off-the-cuff remark.  He headlined his media release on 13 March 2014 as:

“Joe McDonald found guilty of workplace bullying – yet again. Bill Shorten must now act”.

According to Safe Work Australia, an organisation within Senator Abetz’s portfolio, workplace bullying is defined in the most recent national guide as

“repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.” (page 2)

Nowhere in the Federal Court orders*  is workplace bullying, or any other bullying, mentioned and the Federal Court has not found Joe McDonald guilty of workplace bullying. The best that can be said is that Joe McDonald has a history of intimidation on construction sites and that this has created tense relations between the workforce and employers (perhaps a confused safety culture) and generated delays in construction.

Does this all matter? Yes More…

Important OHS titbits in latest Productivity Commission report Reply

Cover of infrastructure-draft-volume1Productivity and regulation is the rationale behind most of the workplace policies of the current Australian Government.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) has a role to play in both of these economic and social elements but it rarely gets considered in a positive light.  This is partly an ideological position of the conservative politicians but is also due to a lack of economic argument in favour of OHS and an inability, or an unwillingness, to identify essential regulations.

This week Australia’s Productivity Commission (PC) released a draft paper into the costs of public infrastructure projects that includes some telling OHS information even though most of the media has focused on the political angle or on the taxing of cars?!

A brief review of the draft report reveals OHS dotted throughout both volumes of the report and early on there is some support for Safety in Design in the tender development stage.   More…

Coroner calls for fresh approach to OHS in small business 3

Ever since the UK Government reduced the occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations on small business, there have been concerns that a similar strategy could occur in Australia.  Of all the States in Australia, Victoria is the most likely to mirror the UK actions, particularly as its WorkSafe organisation continues with its restructuring and (ridiculous) rebranding, and Victoria’s conservative government continues to see OHS as a red tape issue for small business.  However a recent finding by the Queensland Coroner should be considered very seriously when thinking of OHS in small business.

In 2011 Adam Douglas Forster

” … came close to the rotating ball mill, then accidently (sic) became ensnared by the protruding bolts and was dragged underneath the ball mill which continued to rotate, thereby causing his fatal injuries.”

The inquest found

“There were no guards, barriers or other apparatus restricting access by any persons to the ball mill.” and

Forster “did not know how to turn the ball mill on or off”. More…

One man’s frustration with OHS illustrates larger safety dysfunctions 4

Terry Reis has written a terrific article about how occupational health and safety (OHS) requirements can impede his work as a fauna ecologist.  Instead of whingeing about green or red tape, Terry has provided examples of the annoyance which allows me to build an article in response.  This article is in no way a rebuttal as I agree with most of Terry’s grievances, but there can be reasons behind some of the grievances that are likely to be unrelated to OHS or illustrate poor OHS decisions.

Some of the issues Terry raises include:

  • Inductions
  • PPE
  • Working Alone
  • OHS arguments
  • Drug and Alcohol Testing
  • Permits

Inductions

Terry mentions the irrelevance of many OHS inductions and his article seems to indicate a dysfunctional induction program.  The intention of inductions is to outline the safety rules of a workplace or task but most are boring, condescending or include information that is unrelated to the task. The reality of many inductions is that they are a mechanism to have workers sign up and indicate they have understood all of their safety obligations on a site so that there is a clearer line of responsibility in the event of an incident.   More…