Prediction on accountability and a political kick in the balls

Responsibility highlighted in greenThere will be two areas of occupational health and safety attention in the early months of 2014 in Australia – workplace bullying laws and the Royal Commission into Home Insulation Program.  The labour law firms are gearing up for a “bumper year” as one said prior to Christmas and the business groups are already lobbying/complaining/whingeing about the workplace bullying laws administered by the Fair Work Commission.  However the Royal Commission has the potential for the biggest social and ideological impact so, as the new year begins, I will attempt some predictions of the Royal Commission’s findings based around some of the terms of reference.

Substantial Change

‘the processes by which the Australian Government made decisions about the establishment and implementation of the Program, and the bases of those decisions, including how workplace health and safety and other risks relating to the Program were identified, assessed and managed;’

This paragraph is the one that could have the most long-term effect on governance, due diligence and procurement.  There are many suggestions on these issues in the sphere of project management but trying to keep the discussion in OHS, there are some useful comments on the Government procurement of services.  Australia’s Federal Safety Commission acknowledges that procurement is an important stage in project design.  WorkSafe Victoria’s “handbook for the public sector – health and safety in construction procurement” says

“As procurers, governments can promote better health and safety by requiring projects to include a range of safety measures, such as specifying the safety budget, building layout or the use of certain

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Moral conflicts in store for Australian politicians and bureaucrats

iStock_000016528694XSmall2014 is going to present tough challenges to Australia’s politicians and corporate leaders.  The Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program, in particular, is going to illustrate and perhaps generate ideological conflict.

The Home Insulation Program (HIP) was established quickly to address a looming economic crisis.  Politicians and business leaders wanted Australia to avoid the global recession and they needed creative solutions.  Various importance governance and safety elements appear to have been sacrificed to achieve the economic ends.  In 2014, the politicians of the time and bureaucrats will be grilled over why they made these decisions.  Various inquiries have already identified that these decisions contributed to the deaths of four young workers.  In 2014, these decision- and policy-makers will be held to account for the fatal consequences of their economic decisions.

There has long been a conflict between the pursuit of profit and the pursuit of safe working conditions.  The Royal Commission, and the surrounding debate, is likely to place this conflict squarely in the highest levels of Australia’s government and public service.  Below are some of the issues that the Australian government and business sector are likely to face in 2014. Continue reading “Moral conflicts in store for Australian politicians and bureaucrats”

Safety in the C Suite doesn’t always run smoothly

It is rare for workplace safety to gain a half-page in the daily press in Australia but this occurred recently in The Australian.  The newspaper’s industrial editor, Ewin Hannan, built an article, “Tunnel Vision on Safety“, around the following quote from a leaked memo from 2010 then head of human resources, industrial relations and safety for John Holland, Stephen Sasse, in relation to the management of the Airport Link project:

“‘‘In my seven years with John Holland, I have never seen any project or management team that was so cavalier about the company’s OHS (occupational health and safety) system, principles and values and I have grave doubts about the management’s team’s capability in safety.’”

This is a remarkable statement but Sasse has been outspoken on safety issues in the general construction sector before. In 2011 a change in the senior management of Leighton Holdings, the parent company of John Holland, created doubt about Sasse’s future and Sasse left the organisation in October 2011.  The latter articles also indicate Sasse’s relationship with the union movement which may be part of the reason the unions are repeating their calls for an inquiry into John Holland and its licence with Comcare.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has several articles about these industrial relations tensions from 2009. Continue reading “Safety in the C Suite doesn’t always run smoothly”

Sex, work, liability and safety

There is a constant tension between occupational health and safety (OHS) and workers compensation. OHS is intended to prevent harm and workers compensation is available for when harm cannot be, or has not been, prevented.  In Australia, these two elements of safety are administered by different organisations under different legislation but it is a distinction that baffles many.   The recent discussion about a sex-related workers compensation claim illustrates this bafflement to some degree.

This time last year Comcare filed an appeal over a Federal Court decision regarding

“A Commonwealth employee is seeking workers’ compensation for injuries sustained after a light fitting was pulled from the wall of a motel during sex, on a business trip.”

(A good summary of most of the legal proceedings is provided by Herbert Geer.)

The case has received wide media attention mostly for the salacious matter of the case, and some political attention, but the purpose of the appeal, according to Comcare, was

“… to seek a High Court ruling on the boundaries between private Continue reading “Sex, work, liability and safety”

The Australian Government targets former PM, Kevin Rudd, over insulation deaths

The investigation into workplace deaths associated with Australia’s Home Insulation Program (HIP) was refreshed yesterday with the publication of some of the terms of reference for a new Government inquiry into the program.  The HIP deaths is an enormously politically charged issue in Australia and the politics, and associated media attention, could derail an inquiry that has the potential to provide important occupational health and safety, risk management and governance issues.

Greg Hunt, Environment Minister is quoted as saying that

“The Government is committed to a full inquiry into Kevin Rudd’s home insulation scheme that was linked to the tragic loss of four young lives,….”

According to the Courier-Mail newspaper on 27 October 2013 there will be ten elements in the terms of reference but only four are mentioned:

  • The process and basis of government decisions while establishing the program, including risk assessment and risk management;
  • Whether the death of the four men could have been avoided;
  • What if any advice or undertakings given by the government to the industry were inaccurate or deficient, and;
  • What steps the government should have taken to avoid the tragedies.

These four seem reasonable aims but this information has been leaked, the full terms of reference have not been released and a person to head the inquiry is yet to be announced.

iStock_000010997810 safety tape Medium crop Continue reading “The Australian Government targets former PM, Kevin Rudd, over insulation deaths”

Workplace bullying can exist in the boardroom

A most curious article about workplace bullying appeared in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on 11 September 2013. In discussing recent changes to Australia’s Fair Work Act Nick Ruskin of K&L Gates wrote about the broad definition of workplace bullying to be applied:

“…the intriguing thing is that worker is very broadly defined. Its definition, reliant on the Workplace Health & Safety Act 2011, is so wide it could even include the director of a corporation.

In other words, non-executive directors of corporations will have the same ability as a traditional worker to take a bullying grievance to the Fair Work Commission.

We could see a situation in which a company director alleges they have been bullied by another director and seeks early intervention from the Commission.” (emphasis added)

Continue reading “Workplace bullying can exist in the boardroom”

MP wants to close a dodgy loophole but vision is what’s needed

One of the most discussed posts on this blog concerned an insurance company that paid the fines awarded against a company director. The company director had been found guilty of OHS breaches that led to the death of a worker. Yesterday, South Australia’s Deputy Premier and Minister for Industrial Relations. John Rau, said that he will be taking action to close the loophole that allows for this situation. But this is unlikely to succeed and may be a distraction from the more significant issue of new penalties for deterrence.

In a media release, not yet available online, Rau states that

“Insurance should not be the preference over safe equipment and safe workplace standards….

Whilst most employers do the right thing, this dodge effectively means that the incentive for a company to provide a safe environment for its workers is diminished or eliminated.”

Rau’s current strategy for closing this loophole, which is not really a legal loophole at all, is weak. Rau, a Labor Party politician, says that he will bring the matter to the attention of the Federal Minister for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten. However, Australia is ten days away from an election that the current (Labor) government is tipped to lose.

Continue reading “MP wants to close a dodgy loophole but vision is what’s needed”

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