WorkSafe Victoria’s plans for the future

At the Safety In Action Conference in Melbourne last week the CEO Of WorkSafe Victoria, John Merritt, told the delegates that over the coming weeks and months we will see the following:

  • The “Homecomings” series of workplace safety ads have been purchased by Washington State and will be broadcast shortly.  Merritt expects the campaign to spread across the United States and, maybe, into Canada;
  • WorkSafe has developed fake vending machines for use at exhibitions and trade displays which display replacement body parts, fingers as  USB sticks (pictured below);
  • WorkSafe will be introducing an advisory support scheme for the medium-sized businesses, modelled on the Small Business scheme;
  • A team of advisers is targeting poor-performing large employers.  Merritt said that  “50 large employers account for 11% of all injuries WorkSafe sees”;
  • A major street art campaign will be launched by the end of April 2009
  • A new series of ads to be run on regional and rural television based on local sporting legends as part of the country football and netball sponsorship;
  • The graphic young worker advertisements will be re-run at appropriate times.  Merritt acknowledged that the ads have generated many complaints but are transmitting the right message to the target audience.

WorkSafe will also maintain their focus on the “jugglers” those business people or administrative staff that are essential to each organisation because they are in charge of dozens of business processes.  WorkSafe surveys of the jugglers have shown that less than 10% of their time is spent on OHS matters, around 30% of them are trained in their tasks and most operate without support.

Kevin Jones

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Why won’t the Tasmanian government release the OHS report into the Beaconsfield mine collapse?

Since the 2006 rockfall at Beaconsfield Mine in Tasmania, the public has received limited information.  There have been books about the rescue of two workers and the Coroner’s inquest into the death of Larry Knight.  Greg Mellick undertook an investigation into the rockfall and found that noone was to blame for the rockfall.

Many workplace disasters have generated royal commissions in Australia.  The rockfall did not.  However, industry specialists, OHS professionals and others have established an expectation that investigations and reports into industrial disasters are publicly accessible.

The expectation is not unreasonable given that the OHS profession, legal profession, engineers and others operate within a belief that the analysis of disasters can provide ways of avoiding a recurrence.  Apparently the Tasmanian Government does not understand the significance of information in improving the safety of workers and the public in its State, even though its OHS and mine safety legislation is structured around prevention.

The Tasmanian Coroner released his findings into the death of Larry Knight.  The findings quoted extensively from the 400+ page OHS report from Professor Michael Quinlan that was part of Greg Mellick’s investigation process.  But the report itself is yet to be released.  Nor has the larger report undertaken by Greg Mellick.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has chosen not to lay charges over the rockfall.

The mine is back at full operation.

The survivors of the rockfall are rebuilding their lives.

Only a couple of weeks ago, the Legislative Council Select Committee on Mining Industry Regulation released its report into the State’s mining legislation.  The terms of reference have evolved from the findings of various investigations including Quinlan’s.  The committee was required to investigate

  1. Regulation and workplace standards within the mining and related industries in Tasmania.
  2. Safety performance of the Tasmanian mining industry compared to other primary industries in the State and the mining industry nationally.
  3. The role of Workplace Standards Tasmania in the regulation of the mining and associated industries.
  4. The efficacy and limitations of the co-regulatory model within the mining industry in Tasmania; and
  5. Any other matters incidental thereto.

On 2 April 2009 at the Safety In Action Conference in Melbourne, Professor Michael Quinlan expressed bewilderment at the decision to not release his investigation report.

SafetyAtWorkBlog contacted the OHS regulator in Tasmania asking for the Quinlan report.  We were advised that it was likely that the only way to obtain a copy was through Freedom of Information with the Department of Premier & Cabinet. (DPAC)  A representative of DPAC will contact us about the report’s status.

DPAC has a copy of the Mellick report.  The Australian Workers Union has a copy of the Mellick report.  SafetyAtWorkBlog believes there are leaked copies of the report in existence but for some reason, unknown at this time, the public is not permitted to see the report.

The Queensland government has available four reports into mining disasters in the Moura area with one report going back to 1972!!

In the years after the ESSO-Longford gas explosion, Professor Andrew Hopkins published “Lessons From Longford“.  It was for a long time the publisher’s best-selling book.  It is quoted extensively in the OHS and management professions.  Some of Andrew’s terminologies and concepts of safety culture have become ingrained in the psyche of OHS professionals in Australia.

It is hard to see any reason in April 2009 for the Mellick and Quinlan reports not be be publicly available.  Indeed there are many important professional and community reasons for the reports to be seen.

What is the professional legacy of the Tasmanian government’s investigations into the Beaconsfield Mine rockfall in 2004?

What will the government say when the next rockfall occurs in an underground mine?  What will the Premier or the Minister say to the next generation of widows or to the carers of the crippled miners?  Certainly David Bartlett or David Llewellyn cannot say that they did all they could to make workplaces safe.

Kevin Jones

Is there a Mars safety and a Venus safety?

A research paper released last month in Germany caught my attention even though it does not relate directly to research undertaken in a work environment.  

There seems to be an established train of thought that men and women choose to take risks based on some sort of gender criteria.

Alison L. Booth and  Patrick J. Nolen have published “Gender Differences in Risk Behaviour: Does Nurture Matter?”  They researched risk behaviour along gender lines in secondary education, a different sample choice to other researchers who mostly looked at their university students.  Booth and Nolen found

“…gender differences in preferences for risk-taking are sensitive to the gender mix of the experimental group, with girls being more likely to choose risky outcomes when assigned to all-girl groups.  This suggests that observed gender differences in behaviour under uncertainty found in previous studies might reflect social learning rather than inherent gender traits.”

Gender studies are fraught with ideological baggage and it is a brave person who chooses this line of study, as I learnt through studying sociology and Russian literature at university (but that’s another story).

The full report is heavy going for those with no sociology background but the research flags an issue that could be useful to pose to the growing band of workplace psychologists and culture gurus – what are the gender-based variations in unsafe behaviours in the workplace?

Could the available research mean different safety management approaches in workplaces with different gender mixes?  

When people talk about workplace culture, could there be a male culture and a female culture?  (We certainly refer to a macho culture in some industries)  In other words, is there a Mars safety and a Venus safety?

Workplace safety tries hard to be generic but has variations based on industry types.  Perhaps we should be looking more closely at the demographics of these types and varying our safety management approaches?

Kevin Jones

HR vs. OHS

I have written elsewhere in SafetyAtWorkBlog concerning the silo mentality of managers in relation to human resources and OHS.  This weekend a reader posted the following comment on this blog:

“You are right about the divide between HR & OHS.  Fact is HR are the culprits of negligence, they exist to support Management.  Any one with a serious complaint thinks long and hard before sticking their neck out and going to HR…”

What struck me about this comment was that human resources was seen to be aligned with management whereas workplace safety was not.  A successful safety management system cannot exist in conflict with other management systems but how much compromise does OHS need to make to achieve an integrated management position?

I am sure that HR professionals would not perceive their position in the same way as above but I remember a colleague once saying that safety professionals were on the same level of influence to companies as hairdressers.  Perhaps OHS professionals are envious of the level of influence that HR professionals seem to have with senior management and say such things from bitterness.

At some time or other we all feel less than relevant to employers but  circumstances have a way of re-establishing relevance, sadly in OHS this is often and injury or a compensation claim.

I don’t believe that the disciplines of HR and OHS are incompatible but I have seen many instances in companies where the HR Manager sees OHS as divisive, particularly in the areas of stress and bullying.  I believe that HR professionals by-and-large have a poor understanding of how safety should be managed in companies but that is not necessarily the fault of the HR professional.  OHS professionals need to be far more analytical of their own actions and purpose within organisational structures and start being active.

Kevin Jones

Gillard’s plans for new OHS agency – response

 It was predictable for the Opposition party to accuse Julia Gillard of arrogance for bypassing the Parliamentary process.   Senator Eric Abetz wrote to the letters page of AFR on 21 January 2009, the text of the letter is below (although there were slight changes in the published version)

“It is highly arrogant and misleading for Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard to blame the so-called “intransigent” Senate and the Opposition for the delay in implementing harmonised OH&S laws (‘Gillard defies Senate on work safety”, 20th January 2009).

As the Shadow Minister who dealt with the issue in the Senate, I know that the facts of the matter are that what you might regard as an unlikely alliance of the Coalition, Family First, the Greens, Senator Xenophon, the ACCI and the ACTU (yes, even the ACTU) all agreed that the amendments proposed and passed by the Senate were necessary.

Unfortunately, our offer to meet with Ms Gillard to negotiate a way forward on this matter was rejected by a Minister who apparently thinks “it’s my way or the highway”. It is indicative of the disregard that the Rudd Government shows for the Parliament and the Senate is that it is now seeking to circumvent it on this important matter.”

The risk from the Gillard strategy is that once the process is completed the regulatory agency will forever be accused of being illegitimate, or a political ideological construct, having not undergone due process through Parliament. The Labor government needs to look beyond political expediency to construct a national OHS regulatory body of which noone can object.

Comment continues to be sought from the labour movement and opposition political parties.

Kevin Jones

Safety promotion needs backup

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WorkSafe Victoria has had considerable advertising success by focusing on the social impact of workplace injuries and death.  In the newspapers and television over Christmas 2008, WorkSafe ads, like the billboard above, were on high rotation but, after the high number of workplace fatalities in January 2009, the strategy must be needing a review.

In terms of OHS promotion generally, branding and awareness strategies are valid however, when the messages of the strategies continue to be ignored, alternatives need to be developed.  The fatality figures imply that family is “the most important reason for safety” but only for a short time or in limited circumstances.  When you return to work the work environment or your approach to the work tasks are worse than before Christmas.

The reality of advertising is that it is often cheaper to raise awareness than change the behaviour of clients, in terms of OHS, this would be both the workers and the employers.  Raising safety as a business priority requires considerably legwork by regulators on-site and through industry associations.  Few OHS authorities around the world seem to be applying hands-on approaches to the extent required.

Part of the reason is that trade unions used to be the shopfloor safety police, as anticipated by Robens in the early 1970s, but trade union membership is at record low levels.  The deficiency in the safety profile on the shopfloor or at the office watercooler is not being picked up by the employers.

Media campaigns are the public face of safety promotion but they should not be a veneer.  Regulators need to provide more information on the alternative strategies they already employ, or plan to introduce, so that promotion is not seen as an end in itself.  

Direct business and CEO visits have been used in the past but given up because these were short term initiatives.   In Victoria, high level visits by regulators to CEOs, board members and directors had a considerable impact in the 1990s but there was no follow-up strategy to maintain that profile.   Ten years on there are a new set of senior managers who could do with a bit of prodding.

Kevin Jones

Workplace Choirs

As workplaces approach the winter break or Christmas, there will be in increase in communal singing.  One Australian has started to establish workplace choirs

Tania de Jong makes some good arguments about the benefits of greater worker contact and understanding through communal singing.  It sounds logical and I am sure there is evidence to show positive benefits,  just as there is to show the stress management benefits of laughing.

There are parallels everywhere with this not-wholly-original concept and one I am reminded of is the Fortune Battle of the Corporate Bands.  (Maybe the economic downturn will cause an increase in trios and duets)

I foresee lots of niggly problems such as the singing of religious songs during Christmas, and singing ironic songs that obliquely criticise corporate strategies and performances.  I can think of many and ask that SafetyAtWorkBlog readers suggest others through comments below.

Suggestions already include

Money, Money, Money – ABBA

I Wanna Be a Boss – Stan Ridgway

Nine to Five – Dolly Parton

 

Kevin Jones