Trade unions enter debate on profits vs safety

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The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has issued a media release aimed at addressing or countering some of the concerns over new OHS laws expressed by the business community and some politicians recently.

Ged Kearney

ACTU President Ged Kearney has said

“Attempts by employer groups to weaken the new regulations are yet another example of business putting profits before safety….. Employer groups called for a national set of health and safety laws, and we would have thought that business would welcome a tough approach to OHS regulations.”

Sympathy for business is unlikely from the union movement but some sympathy is warranted.   Australian business was promised that new work health and safety laws would reduce the business costs of complying with laws that differed from across a number of jurisdictions.  As companies begin to assess the impacts of new laws on their own business operations, as all companies surely must do, they are noticing additional costs for compliance. Continue reading “Trade unions enter debate on profits vs safety”

Dis-harmonisation over OHS laws

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Victoria’s largest OHS conference and trade show has ended.   The shadow of the impending harmonisation of OHS laws hung over both events.  The OHS message throughout the conference was one of nothing to worry about. WorkSafe’s Ian Forsythe felt that Victoria was well-placed for minimal disruption as the OHS laws in that State had been thoroughly reviewed by Chris Maxwell QC in 2003.  Forsythe described the current OHS review as “Maxwell on steroids”, a good line for the conference audience but one that reflects the, often, smug approach of many Victorians to the harmonisation process, an approach not shared elsewhere as shown by a front-page article in The Australian on 9 April 2011.

The Business Council of Australia is concerned about the different interpretations of the laws by each of the states.  This has been a possibility from the very start of the reform process because the focus was always harmonisation, not uniformity. Continue reading “Dis-harmonisation over OHS laws”

Workplace bullying gets Australian media attention

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Victoria’s OHS regulator, WorkSafe, was in the Sunday Age and Herald-Sun on 10 April 2011 over formal bullying complaints made by some workers in their telephone advisory services. The pressures of working in a call centre or telephone services are well-known as can be seen from the 2004 “Good Practice Guide for Occupational Health and Safety in Call Centres” that, it seems, WorkSafe was involved with developing.

Michael Birt of WorkSafe told the Sunday Age that

“The fact that from time to time people do raise concerns is positive; it confirms people are comfortable raising issues and know they’ll be investigated.”

He is right that reporting of any OHS incident is an important first step to controlling the hazard but that such a hazard exists in WorkSafe, a leading adviser on workplace bullying in Australia, illustrates just how difficult and fraught workplace bullying is to address.

Karen Batt of the Community & Public Service Union acknowledged that workplace bullying has a range of causes including “work overload, excessive demands, under-resourcing”.

Bullying has been a particularly hot topic in Australia’s media at the moment due to the introduction of Brodie’s Law and reports of abuse coming from the Australian Defence Forces. I wonder how the debate would be running if the Australian government’s OHS harmonisation process had already released its draft code of practice on bullying which is due in a couple of months.

Industry action confuses quad bike sellers

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Last week, Honda quad bike dealers were supplied with the safety code provided by the Federated Chamber of Automotive Industries. This code outlines research that shows some roll over protection (ROPS) devices may increase the risk of injury.  A major ROPS identified in recent reports is the QuadBar, a device that may be “set to become an industry standard” for quad bike safety according to one media report.

Last week, SafetyAtWorkBlog heard that some Honda quad bike dealers, who also stock the QuadBar, feared that the distribution of the FCAI Industry paper was an indication that the continued stocking of the QuadBar may threaten the retention of their Honda dealership. Continue reading “Industry action confuses quad bike sellers”

Australian lawyers comment on Brodie’s Law

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Clayton Utz lawyers have looked at Victoria’s new bullying-related law changes for their relevance to workplace safety management and have found the following.

Is this an issue for employers?

Yes and no.

Theoretically, even before these proposed amendments, certain types of workplace bullying already fell within the definition of stalking.  In one sense, therefore, this doesn’t change the situation much – employers already had the potential problem of, for example, dealing with keeping apart at work a victim and stalker subject to an intervention order.

In another sense, this is clearly an important change.  More types of workplace bullying are now criminalised, and public awareness of bullying issues will certainly have been increased by the publicity surrounding this Bill.  We can therefore expect a rise in complaints and the number of victims coming forward, and not just in Victoria, as other States and Territories have stalking laws that could cover at least some types of workplace bullying.”

Clearly the awareness of bullying in the workplace is already high but these laws are likely to make the management of this issue more complex and and challenging. Continue reading “Australian lawyers comment on Brodie’s Law”