Australian union campaigns on mine safety using Pike River mother

Recently SafetyAtWorkBlog suggested the need for a new approach to OHS advertising. Around the same time the Construction Forestry Mining & Energy Union (CFMEU) launched the latest stage of its lobbying campaign against one of Australia’s largest mining companies, and a longtime target for unions, BHP BIlliton. This time the CFMEU connects the Pike River mining disaster with the safety performance of BHP Billiton; in some ways, an unfair connection.

The speaker in this video, Joanne Ufer, acknowledges, in an interview with Matt Peacock on ABC Radio, that the company may feel this link is unfair as BHP Billiton had no direct role in Pike River Coal.  Joanne Ufer’s justification for participating in the ad is understandable and valid:

“I just want to make sure that everyone is aware that mine safety is a big issue and that it’s just not left to them to look after it; there has to be a lot more interaction with fellow workers etc. And unions and mines inspectors, the whole lot, have to be involved.”

The CFMEU was on much stronger ground in September 2011 with an ad that included the wives of BHP workers asking for a fair go.  The ad illustrated that the company was working employees very hard at a time of record corporate profits. The point an industrial relations one of sharing the wealth.  The ad was also a good example of the, usually, sidelined issue of health and safety that underpins many industrial and employment concerns.

The September 2011 ad mentions long working hours and inadequate leave – elements crucial to the wellbeing of workers.  But by using these elements in the justification of a “fair go” in the context of record profits, the implied solution was increasing the wages of workers rather than a change in working conditions.  The families in the ad are, primarily, asking for safe, healthy and less-fatigued husbands.

The recent ad would have more traction with the viewer if the speaker had been a relative of a BHP Billiton worker.  Even better would have been an ad featuring Bruce West, a safety deputy at BHP’s Crinum mine underground, interviewed by ABC Radio (audio available here for a limited time). Bruce West stated that workers do not trust the company:

“….the management just break rules all the time and then sweep them under the carpet.

MATT PEACOCK: And when you say break rules – like little things, like just trying to speed up production or what?

BRUCE WEST: Yes, mostly to do with production yes or how they interpret acts and regs which is our safety legislation – our safety rules we work under.”

The statement that production is more important than safety is one that is heard regularly and just as regularly denounced by most corporations.  However there are some who say that one should not be surprised that production trumps safety as the fundamental basis for corporations is to maximise the return on investment for shareholders and safety will, inevitably, impede this financial return.

Joanne Ufer’s justification for participation in the CFMEU ad is a plea for workers, companies and regulators to communicate and consult in order to raise the value of worker health and safety.  It is a call that the majority of the safety profession would support and should vocally support.  Society often asks “how can workplace deaths happen?”  People like Joanne Ufer ask the same question in a personal context.  They deserve answers.

Kevin Jones

Categories advertising, BHP Billiton, business, campaign, death, mining, OHS, politics, risk, safetyTags , , , ,

3 thoughts on “Australian union campaigns on mine safety using Pike River mother”

  1. It’s a quizzical thing, attitudes about work safety and production; that thing that they contradict one another. Yet, the practical experience is that it’s bleedingly obvious that good, smart work safety goes hand-in-glove with efficiency. It can’t possibly be otherwise. At the most crass level, a busted-up worker is not efficient, a half-arsed work process system that is dangerous is not efficient. (“Efficient” meaning the long-term benefit across the board.)

    Perhaps OHS-World has spent too much energy being outraged at bad management of safety (recognising it’s pretty hard to stay level-headed in the face of rampant stupidity) vs hammering home the bleedingly obvious efficiency that safety delivers.

    At last year’s ILO/ISSA World Congress the ISSA reported findings from a big global study with the short title “The returns on prevention”. Yep, the summary of the report concedes they investigated companies that were switched-on about safety, but despite that, the report concluded the efficiency benefit of good, smart work safety was an impressive 1:2.2. One buck spent on OHS delivers a $2.20 efficiency return.

    An advertising campaign targeting managers? “Bad work safety is just dumb; any way you look at it.” Might work.

    Here’s the link to the summary of the ISSA co-ordinated study: http://www.issa.int/Resources/ISSA-Publications/The-return-on-prevention-Calculating-the-costs-and-benefits-of-investments-in-occupational-safety-and-health-in-companies .

    Definitely a paper worth dropping on the boss’s desk.

  2. “increasing the wages of workers rather than a change in working conditions”

    Now that won’t help save many lives in the workplace.
    They shouldn’t be doing such ridiculous long hours, no matter what their pay is like.

  3. I can’t understand why employees should “share in the wealth” of a company. The logic is beyond me. Shareholders share in the wealth of a company, employees get paid to do a job. If you want to share in the wealth, buy some shares in the company.

    Now a normal counter argument is that the workers don’t get paid enough to buy shares (manufacturing, trades etc) but in mining this is hardly the case. When an unskilled worker is on more than $100k I’m pretty sure they can afford to buy some BHP shares to “share in the wealth”.

    It may be cold, but its how it works.

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