It has been known for some time that OHS regulators struggle with handling reports of workplace bullying. Investigation of these hazards requires new inspectorate skills and take considerable time. Investigations of bullying involve people and this is always more involved than inspecting a missing machine guard or assessing the operation of a forklift. However, in an article in the Fairfax media on 24 July 2011 WorkSafe Victoria provides some surprising statistics that show a new perspective on workplace bullying and a contrast to recent statistics from Comcare.
The most significant statistic is that, of the 6000 reports of workplace bullying within the last 12 months, only 600 warrant further investigation and, of those, around 60 generate a physical inspection of the workplace. These statistics may indicate a range of issues:
- OHS regulators require greater number of inspectors.
- Workplace bullying is being critically misunderstood by the community.
- Workers are confused about where to report their treatment and choose WorkSafe as the agency with the highest profile for workplace issues.
- Other workplace-related agencies and authorities, such as Fair Work Australia and the Australian Human Rights Commission, need to raise their profiles on this issue.
For readers’ interest searching for “bullying” on the Fair Work Australia site reveals no results however the Australian Human Rights Commission site results in several references – a clarification of violence, harassment and bullying (with links for further information) and a workplace bullying factsheet.
Curiously the factsheet refers people to Jobwatch and makes no mention of State OHS authorities. Jobwatch is also undergoing a substantial reduction in its funding and is likely to need to curtail some of its activities, even though a recent survey for Jobwatch indicated that
“46 per cent of part-‐time workers were either aware of bullying and harassment in the workplace, or had been bullied and harassed themselves.”
However, as WorkSafe’s Ian Forsyth in The Sunday Age article points out,
“I think what we are seeing is that the term bullying is being used quite loosely in the community now in many instances to describe something that has ‘gone against me’ or ‘that I haven’t liked’ or something that ‘I haven’t wanted to do”.
There is a circularity to the issue that is often seen when dealing with workplace safety and workers’ rights, few government agencies who have the authority to step forward do. The cycle is not being broken.
And the issue of workplace bullying will become even more heated and prominent over the next 12 months as a Draft Code of Practice on Bullying is planned for release by Safe Work Australia as part of the harmonisation of OHS laws, according to its December 2010 Issues Paper.
WorkSafe is to be congratulated for providing some statistics on a workplace issue that reveals a reality with which the community may be uncomfortable but one that needs governmental attention and a coordinated strategy.