Not all employers are the same

Recently SafetyAtWorkBlog reported the umbrage that the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) felt about executive accountability, particularly in relation to OHS legislation.  On 25 October 2009 the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) provided an example that should stop generalisations about employer associations , at least for a little while.

Below are extracts of the significant statements made by ACCI and attributed to its CEO,  Peter Anderson:

“Safe Work Australia Week [is] an opportunity for employers and employees to step back and review their approach to ensuring safety within their workplace.

It is essential that at regular intervals time is taken to step back and take a fresh look at the bigger picture of workplace safety. Safe Work Australia Week presents an ideal opportunity to do so.

Company Boards and Senior Executive teams should regularly review their organisation’s strategy, culture, systems and commitment to workplace safety and make adjustments where needed. Safe workplaces are driven from the top.

However, managers, supervisors and all employees also need to take individual accountability for workplace safety. Workplaces with the best safety records have a culture of clear and shared accountability for safety from the first year apprentice to the Chief Executive.   This is built on the empowerment and obligation of all employees to openly discuss workplace safety, report hazards and incidents, and collaboratively find the most appropriate ways of managing risks.

It is important that in the midst of the current debate about harmonised OHS legislation, the focus on day-to-day workplace safety does not slip.   Legislation is not going to drive further improvements in OHS outcomes in Australia – people’s actions will.   Governments and industry must look for ways to further provide small business in particular with the tools, information, advice and encouragement to effectively manage the challenges and complexities faced in ensuring workplace safety.”

The risk with any national week of special day is that the focus is on a specific moment rather than seeing the issue being raised as one that is relevant for an entire year.  This is very much the problem with Safe Work Australia Week but it is not alone.

Significantly, ACCI makes a clear statement about executives being involved with the management of safety in their workplaces – the attitude and approach of “proactivity” the OHS model legislation is aiming at.

Equally significantly, ACCI discusses the individual accountability of everyone in a company for OHS.  It specifies the elements in support of accountability

  • open discussion or (OHS regulators would say) consultation;
  • hazard and incident reporting; and
  • collaboration.

ACCI is on familiar turf when it says legislation should not be the motivation for change on OHS but employers and other commercial organisations must realise that self-regulation has never been more of an unpopular concept than in the wake of the global financial crisis.  No one can trust business to do the right thing by shareholders, investors or employees.  They want government to make business accountable.

The capitalist ideology says that the wealth created by business is shared with the masses through social and financial structures.  ACCI is trying to rebuild the capitalist structure into a nice, friendly, warm and comforting capitalism because if it cannot, the government will impose social obligations on them.  If the ACCI and other commercial bodies can do this, it will be impressive but the question can be asked why capitalism became so ruthless in the first place and did various employer associations advise companies to act cautiously and keep capitalism in line with the social obligations everyone has?

Workplace safety is an easy indication of the heartlessness of capitalists – increase profits by rushing production and encouraging shortcuts in safety; or not taking the time to train workers well enough that they can work without being harmed.  But if capitalists are willing to try again and NOT follow the same pathways that have been shown to lead to economic destruction, then they should have our support.

Kevin Jones

Categories business, consultation, executives, OHS, safety, UncategorizedTags , ,

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