Will Brodie’s Law deter workplace bullying?

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On 1 June 2011 the Australian television program 7PM Project ran an article about “Brodie’s Law” – an increase in the penalties for bullying and stalking.  I was approached to be interviewed for the program due to my comments on this blog.  I turned down the opportunity for a number of reasons, my time had already been committed to my family and filming did not fit that commitment but, more importantly, I am dubious about whether Brodie’s Law will have the deterrent effect that many hope for.

The 7PM Project approached an outspoken lawyer on the issue who refused to participate because he felt that his comments would not have fitted the approach favoured by the producer who contacted us.  I had similar reservations.  When I expressed my opinion about the lack of deterence, one producer acknowledged that this was a position expressed by almost all the people they had approached to participate.

The video of the 7PM Project segment is available online and begins around the 2 minute mark.  Significantly occupational health and safety laws were not mentioned in the article.  There was no mention of any of the OHS guidances on workplace bullying or of any of the regulator’s programs.

A workplace bullying expert of OHS professional would more likely have recited this definition or at least stressed the importance of repetition.

The speaker they chose for expert opinion on workplace bullying was Grant Brecht.  Brecht was asked whether a definition of bullying exists.  He answered that the definition relates to where psychological harm is possible.  This is true but a crucial element of the definition of workplace bullying  was missed in the discussion.  According to WorkSafe Victoria:

“Bullying is repeated unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.” [emphasis added]

Brecht also mentioned the need for individuals to assert themselves in the face of bullying but a detailed look at Brodie Panlock’s case shows that she did assert herself and that she did approach other workers at the cafe for assistance and she did talk to friends about the situation. That none of these actions helped Brodie is a core element of her tragedy.  Bullying, as with many workplace hazards, is best dealt with by not allowing it to take root in any workplace from the very beginning of a business’ operation.  Too many try to retrofit safety into an already toxic and dysfunctional workplace.

The 7PM Project also ran some dubious re-enactments of workplace bullying and, incongruously, some footage of a construction site?! Continue reading “Will Brodie’s Law deter workplace bullying?”

The best workers’ compensation option is prevention.

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The CEO of South Australia’s WorkCover Corporation, Rob Thomson, has participated in a long interview with the online newspaper inDaily on 1 June 2011.  In the article Thomson addresses many of the recent criticisms of his organisation and the sole WorkCover agent, Employers Mutual Limited, but a telling OHS comment occurs in the last couple of paragraphs of the article:

“He took a simplistic approach to changing the culture and performance of the corporation, he said.
“What I am really trying to say is you need to get the right medical treatment and support for people if they are injured, and the best option is prevention.
“To me prevention is ultimately what this is all about. The fewer claims there are, the better it is for the employer, the worker, the rest of society.”

It is very positive that a CEO emphasises the importance of preventing injuries and it will be very interesting to watch the prevention initiatives that the WorkCover Corporation instigates.  It is hoped that Rob Thomson is not thinking about the Commercial Kitchens Campaign that he recently launched.  Continue reading “The best workers’ compensation option is prevention.”

SafeWorkSA responds to Gottliebsen OHS article

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On 23 May 2011, prominent Australian business writer, Robert Gottliebsen published an article in BusinessSpectator entitled “Saying no to Canberra’s IR dopes“.  The article was uncharacteristically contained major errors on the application of new harmonised OHS laws.

The article generated considerable discussion on some Australian OHS discussion forums but the article’s website has attracted only one comment.  SafetyAtWorkBlog is in possession of a copy of the full reply sent to BusinessSpectator by SafeWorkSA, the OHS regulator in South Australia, a state that featured in Gottliebsen’s article.  SafeworkSA’s reply is reproduced below as it is yet to appear on the BusinessSpectator website, a week after it was sent.

“From:  Bryan Russell, Director of Strategic Interventions, SafeWork SA & SA Representative on the Strategic Issues Group – OHS with Safe Work Australia.

Robert Gottliebsen’s commentary of 23 May on South Australia’s actions regarding the Model Work Health and Safety Bill contains several serious errors that need to be addressed.

For the record, let me emphasise the following.

The Work Health and Safety Bill 2011 was reintroduced to the South Australian Parliament on 19 May 2011.

The Bill was tabled in the same form before the Legislative Assembly (Lower House), where the current Minister for Industrial Relations, Patrick Conlon, sits.

The SA Government is on the record as stating that the Bill was withdrawn from the Legislative Council (Upper House) on 3 May 2011 due to the recent change of Ministers.

Contrary to Mr. Gottliebsen’s assertions, we have observed no “community outrage” generated by radio talkback hosts. Continue reading “SafeWorkSA responds to Gottliebsen OHS article”

Australia’s Safety Institute bemoans the politicisation of OHS

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The Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) is a very quiet organisation for one that claims to be “Australia’s professional body for health & safety professionals”, particularly considering Australia is undergoing a gentle revolution of its workplace safety laws.  But SIA’s recently appointed national secretary, Stephen Thomas, has spoken out, reportedly as an SIA spokesperson, about the lack of prominence of OHS professionals on the boards of OHS and workers compensation regulators.

The lead story of online newspaper inDaily for 30 May 2011 has Thomas discussing the politicisation of occupational health and safety:

“In my view, the tri-partite structure has actually politicised OHS here in South Australia, as well as in other states,” he told Indaily. “You have these groups representing employer interest, employee interest and government interest, but there’s nobody from the OHS profession that sits at these board tables where important strategic decisions are made.

“It’s really only the independent views of professional OHS practitioners that can really provide objective advice and objective opinions without getting embroiled in the political process.

“I believe the politicisation of OHS has been to its detriment, both across the country [nationally through Safe Work Australia] and here in this state.”

Complaining about the politicisation of any element of society seems impractical as politics is integral to the decision making of public policy.  It is surprising that such a position is still held, particularly by an executive of a national professional association, as there are countless examples of how political decisions have affected OHS laws and safety policies negatively and positively. Continue reading “Australia’s Safety Institute bemoans the politicisation of OHS”