“aggressive verbal, foul-mouthed abuse” – the Ian Smith saga continues to be discussed

How language can change in only a little time! Earlier this month, SafetyAtWorkBlog wrote on the OHS context of the departure of Orica’s CEO, Ian Smith. In a liftout (not available online) in the Australian Financial Review, many of the same questions were asked by its Chanticleer columnist, Tony Boyd.  The issues raised by the poor decisions of the board are a useful reminder of one of the potential contributory factors for the occupational and mental health of employees.

At last, one writer in the business press is describing Smith’s behaviour as it was – “…aggressive verbal, foul-mouthed abuse” when Smith “blew his top” and “humiliated” an employee.

This is much more direct language than that used in earlier media reporting where the carefully selected language of corporate media releases was reiterated. To understand the seriousness of the issue, it is necessary to describe actions accurately.

Boyd asked

“…why a 21st-century board of directors would deliberately seek a CEO with an “aggressive management style”.


“… believes Orica’s board embraced Smith and his aggressive management techniques because of the pressure for rapid results after years of indifferent oversight. Caplan [Orica’s Chairman] denies the end justifies the means but it is hard to avoid concluding that was the rationale.”

He summarises saying

“… the aggressive option was costly and time consuming.  In the end, the effort was wasted.”

In occupational health and safety, there is often criticism of workers who do not follow procedures or who “cut corners”.  It can be argued that the Orica Board cut corners in “seeking rapid results” and has indicated to its workforce that such an aggressive approach can be appropriate in certain circumstances.  OHS law and practice would say that this is not the case.

One could argue that the whole Ian Smith saga is not an OHS issue as no harm (apparently) occurred and no workers compensation claim has eventuated from his actions.  However, it can also be argued that Orica has experienced a Near Miss on psychological harm.

Boyd writes that the target of the abuse, Karen McRae, general manager investor relations, was still unemployed at the time of the article (early April 2015).

Workers’ compensation and other legal redress should never be about retribution but Boyd notes that often

“…those people who resign rarely fight back as it expensive and can be a black mark.”

How different the reporting of this case would have been if McRae had submitted a workers’ compensation claim or pursued legal action for harassment? (Fraser-Kirk anyone?)

It has only been three months since McRae resigned as a result of the January 2015 meeting with Ian Smith and others.  Hopefully the continuing discussion of the issue in the business press indicates that the circumstances will continue to be considered and commented on at corporate levels.

Kevin Jones




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