John Darley speaks to SafetyAtWorkBlog 5

Independent Member of the South Australian Parliament, John Darley, provided SafetyAtWorkBlog with some background to the package of amendments he has for that State’s Work Health and Safety laws currently before Parliament.

Darley acknowledged that he delayed the Work Health and Safety Bill since December 2011 and admitted that the Bill looked like common sense but his approach is to jump ahead an consider how the Bill would look as an Act and determine its social impact.  The opposition parties in South Australia believed the Bill was so bad that it should have been defeated before it proceeded to the committee stage but Darley knew that could imply that he was not interested in workplace safety.  Darley believes that the reassessment of the WHS Bill over such a long time indicates his commitment to the safety of workers.

Darley said that union right-of-entry was not an issue of concern in December 2011 but he came to see the significance of the  issue after delegations and meetings with people affected by workplace deaths but who were also very dissatisfied with the operations of the OHS regulator, SafeWorkSA.  The union OHS representatives offered an alternate but Darley felt that union access needed More…

New workplace safety laws set to pass in South Australia in October 2

South Australian Independent Member of Parliament, John Darley, has been negotiating on that State’s Work Health and Safety laws for many months.  On 17 October 2012, according to a media release from SA’s Premier Jay Weatherill and Workplace Relations Minister Russell Wortley, Darley agreed to support the passing of the laws after achieving some amendments.  Those amendments involve changes to

  • height limits,
  • duty of care,
  • the right to silence, and
  • the right of entry.

Tammy Franks, a Greens MLC, was able to achieve an expansion of the number of days available for OHS representative training.

A spokesperson for John Darley told SafetyAtWorkBlog that another change was for any WHS codes of practice to undergo a small business impact assessment in consultation with the Small Business Commissioner.  Darley’s spokesperson said that the MP had met with Business SA after it changed its position on the WHS laws.  The amendment above is likely to address the small business concerns that BusinessSA raised in its letter to its members earlier this month.  The flip-flopping of BusinessSA on workplace health and safety laws was always curious and it is likely to put the organisation at a negotiating disadvantage once the laws passed.  It may try to claim a mini-victory through the small business change but the change appears to have occurred due to Darley’s efforts and not through any relationship with the South Australian Government. More…

Safety culture change through a regulatory-based market mechanism 8

In late August 2012 at a breakfast seminar, the Director of Construction Code Compliance, Nigel Hadgkiss outlined the 1999 Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry, which complements a 1997 National Code, and recently released implementation guidelines being imposed on many Victorian construction companies by the Liberal Government. The Code and implementation guidelines are ostensibly about industrial relations or, as Australia is increasingly calling them, workplace relations but do contain some interesting safety elements.

An intriguing element of the Code and guidelines is the introduction of a workplace culture through contract obligations and how this may affect workplace safety.

Hadgkiss stated, according to a copy of his presentation, that

“Where a party tenders for public work called for after 1 July 2012, the party is required to comply on any subsequent privately funded work.”

This quote means that any company that applies for a Victorian Government contract, of specific costs and other criteria, must comply with the Code.  Any client is entitled to impose their own contractual conditions. The obligation that  “the party is required to comply on any subsequent privately funded work” means that even if the contractor or party fails to win the contract it tendered for its management of  any subsequent project, even one from non-government funding, must also comply with the Code.

One of the four priority elements of the Code is occupational health and safety, so OHS requirements will spread from principal contractor, or tenderer, to contractor, sub-contractors and sub-sub-contractors like a virus or an “ITI”, an industry-transmitted infection.   More…

Inside Australian PM’s political problems is a nugget of workplace safety 3

Prime Minister Gillard (centre) and others at Government House Canberra in March 2012

The Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has been under intense media pressure over an issue concerning her conduct as a lawyer around 17 years ago.

It involves legal work for unions, her personal relationship at the time with a union official who has been described as “dodgy” and of most relevance to this blog, workplace safety.

Missed in all the debate is that the workplace safety issue seems to support the assertions of many in the business and industry associations that OHS is frequently used by trade unions as an excuse for action in other areas.  These other areas are usually industrial relations but in this instance OHS was used to mask a unionist’s alleged misuse of member and industry funds. More…

Bullying Inquiry hears about psychopaths, enforcement and ‘hush money’ 8

The latest set of transcripts from Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying has been released to the public.  Again, the public hearings provide important insights, not necessarily into the hazard of workplace bullying, but the perception of the hazard of workplace bullying.

The transcript of the public hearing in Hobart starts with a presentation from Kevin Harkins, the Secretary of Unions Tasmania. Harkins says

“… that the face of bullying in the workplace has changed. There used to be traditional initiation type processes that we are all aware of from media reports. I think it has all moved to a more complex state now: bullying in the workplace largely by workplace psychopaths. While companies have policies in place to combat bullying in the workplace, I think that in the main they are token attempts to do nothing or to cover what happens in the workplace.”

It may be that the initiation rituals where apprentices were set on fire or hung from a crane may have declined but it is concerning if the trade union movement relies on media reports for evidence of the decline in abuse. More…

John Darley’s delay on Work Health and Safety laws is unproductive 13

South Australia still has not passed the Work Health and Safety legislation that would bring it into line with most of the other States of Australia.  A major obstacle to the Bill’s progress in the South Australian Parliament is the “dithering” of Independent MP John Darley.

On 28 June 2012, Darley spoke to the WHS Bill in the Legislative Council (page 1641).  Darley reviews the status of WHS laws in Australian States, mentions Victoria’s flawed PricewaterhouseCoopers costings report but without expressing an opinion on it and acknowledges the support from major industrial and employer associations for the laws, but he seems very sympathetic to minority views on workplace safety.

Darley refers to the views of the Housing Industry (HIA) and Master Builders’ Associations (MBA) on “control”, two groups he acknowledges are “the most vocal opponents” of the Bill, and states

“Any person who does not have direct control of a risk should not have responsibility for eliminating or minimising the risk”.

Consider this position in relation to workplace psychosocial hazards.  A bully would be breaching OHS laws by bullying another worker but those executives who establish the culture of a workplace that condones the bully’s actions would not be facing any penalty.  This scenario seems to contradict a dominant safety principle that compliance and respect stems from the active example shown by an organisation’s leader.  How will the legislative obligation for a “positive duty of care” in workplaces apply with in-direct control? More…

Australian Government moves on quad bike safety 5

Just before Christmas in 2009, Dr Yossi Berger speculated for an information network about the safety of quad bikes.  He called it QuadWatch.  Over two years later, on 13 July 2012, Australia’s Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten announced his own QuadWatch.

In the 2009 Croaky Blog, Dr Berger suggested

“a network could be called QuadWatch and it would become a clearing house for all needs related to quad bikes, particularly in relation to safety standards.  All training needs, advice about accessories, advice about the correct machine for a certain job or terrain could be handled by such regional cells.”

Shorten described the new QuadWatch as

“… a community based network bringing together farmers, community groups, emergency services and local government.

Shorten’s QuadWatch is broadly consultative but is a little different in its communication strategy.  Establishing websites in support of a political strategy have not had the greatest success in the last few years under the Federal Labor Government and QuadWatch is not the end point in the safety debate.

It is worth deconstructing the Minister’s media release a little.

More…

Workplace bullying inquiry followed the script, mostly 5

The Melbourne public hearing in support of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying has concluded after over an hour of personal impact statements that were confronting, saddening but, overall, defiant.

The hearing began more sedately and predictable. The employers’ association, ACCI, says that workplace bullying is a broad social issue that needs broad social control measure. In rough translation, “it’s not our problem”. The employers also see everything in terms of industrial relations so prevention of harm rarely features in recommendations.

The ACTU stressed that workplace bullying IS a workplace issue and therefore should be principally “managed” under occupational health and safety laws. More…

Workplace bullying in the police force illustrates the challenges of change management 2

There are two newspaper reports in Australia on 21 June 2012 about the Victorian Police Force that illustrate a fractious safety culture and a major organisational and ideological impediment to reducing workplace bullying.

The Australian article ” OPI concedes failure against force’s culture” (only available to subscribers) states that:

‘The Office of Police Integrity has conceded it and other corruption fighting measures have failed to root out the entrenched culture of reprisals and mateship in pockets of the Victoria Police that seriously harms the force….”

“The OPI says current law fails to deal with why whistleblowers are targeted. ‘‘The legislated protections against retaliation do not address the root cause of reprisal — a workplace culture of misguided loyalty,’’ it argues.  “The protections are individualistic and short-term, tending to ‘look after’ victims and potential victims of reprisal rather than address why reprisal occurs.’’

“Despite the subsequent formation of the OPI and the beefing up of the Ombudsman’s powers, police still struggled to break free of the shackles of loyalty and the so-called brotherhood.’

The Age article, “A fifth of police bullied at work“, reports on a government survey circulated to 14,000 people.

‘The figures, provided to The Age, mean about 1250 of the 4200 police staff who completed the survey have seen bullying behaviour, while nearly 900 say they have been bullied.’ More…

Who would buy asbestos? 5

A busy mum, two little kids playing on the carpet in the corridor.  She is busy pulling out an old gas heater from the cavity in the wall.  Dust everywhere.  She wants to recreate the old fashioned open fireplace that was there.  The job will take a few days, she’s not in a hurry.    Then the neighbour asks her gently, “Have you checked, we had asbestos behind our fireplace?”  Mum’s blood goes cold.  She looks at the kids.

‘Who in their right mind would buy asbestos?’  you may ask.  After all the publicity, the growing numbers of tragic mesothelioma sufferers in Australia, the lung cancers, the famous court cases, the Hardies’ debacle.

There are three main ways you can still buy asbestos in Australia.  First, a small number of components used in industry and the defence forces still contain asbestos in sealed conditions.  For example, a shock absorber in the front wheel assembly of an aeroplane may contain an asbestos gasket.  Certain specialised gaskets used in segments of the chemical industry may contain asbestos.  The risk to workers and the general public is very small.

Then you can buy asbestos when you purchase gravel made from crushed masonry from demolished buildings that contained asbestos.  Some 10 million tonnes of such bricks and concrete are recycled every year in Australia.  More…