Workplace Choirs

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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

OHS impact of the Fair Work Australia Bill

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Over the next few weeks, many Australian law firms are running information seminars on the government’s Fair Work Bill.  This legislation will change the way that workplaces are managed, particularly in the area of personnel management.

The overlap with OHS will come through the increasingly contentious issue of “union right of entry”.  Frequently unions request access to a site in order to investigate an OHS matter.  This is a legitimate part of the tripartite consultative structure that underpins workplace safety.

Given that the National Review into Model OHS Law has already flagged Victoria’s OHS Act as a useful template, it is worth noting that Victoria went through the same right-of-entry concerns in the development of its 2004 OHS Act as the Fair Work Bill is generating now.

Victoria established a system of licensed union OHS delegates through the Court system in 2005.  Earlier this year the CEO of WorkSafe Victoria, John Merritt said 

the ARREO system had been working well since it was introduced in mid 2005.

Mr Merritt said only eight matters involving ARREOs have been reported to WorkSafe since this section of the Act (Part 8 – Sections 79 to 94) took effect in mid-2005.

In seminars prior to the 2004 Act, workplace lawyers, some who have gained considerable prominence since, warned that “the sky was going to cave in” once unions gained this level of access.  It didn’t, but the law firms gained some new clients.  This type of scaremongering is being repeated currently in the Australian press at the moment.

Yes, under the Fair Work Bill, unions can access a broader range of company data than ever before, including salary information of senior executives, as asserted in The Australian Financial Review, but there are considerable safeguards and limitations in place within the legislation.  These safeguards have worked in relation to Victoria’s OHS laws and they will in industrial relations.

In terms of safety management, the establishment of a cooperative relationship with employees is the best way to minimise union involvement.  It is also the best way to minimise the visits of the OHS regulators.  

Remember that those who complain loudest are those with the most to fear.

Kevin Jones

 

OHS Right of Entry Guide
OHS Right of Entry Guide

WorkHealth – end is nigh after less than one year

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Early in 2008, the Victorian Government sprung a surprise on the OHS and health promotion industries by announcing a world-first initiative – WorkHealth.  This program was to be funded by interest generated from the WorkCover scheme to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years.

WorkHealth loses stakeholder support

Two weeks ago, a well-respected OHS professional advised that key stakeholders in WorkHealth were very cool on the program.  This confirmed previous questions raised in SafetyAtWorkBlog about the promotion, transparency and organisational support for WorkHealth.  The professional stated that others were questioning the placement of WorkHealth in the OHS field rather than in health promotion.

Rumour has existed for some months that WorkHealth is a scheme that has been pushed by a narrow range of OHS and workers compensation advocates.

What made WorkHealth so interesting was that the concept originated from within the workers compensation field with workers compensation money.  At the time, the wisdom of committing such a large amount of money to the initiative was questioned by many in the trade union and business areas.  Why head in this direction when there were established mechanisms to reduce OHS and workers compensation costs?

The global economic problems, it is suspected, would have flowed to the investments of the WorkCover scheme and it would be interesting to know what the revenue allocation to WorkHealth now is calculated at.

OHS/Industrial Relations conflict

In The Age newspaper on 26 October 2008, WorkHealth gained some attention as business groups have now seen the criteria for the health assessments of workers.  David Gregory of the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry described the criteria as a potential “industrial weapon”.  According to the article,

“WorkSafe told The Age the idea of an initial ‘tick test’ screening process had been abandoned, and the proposed $130 million worth of prevention programs are not in the pilot at all.”

As is evident from the quote, it is the pilot scheme that is being rolled out, however it is clear from the comments of David Gregory and the state secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, Steve Dargavel that industrial relations sensitivities have not been considered.

Gregory makes excellent points that good OHS professionals are already aware of – workplace safety can only succeed when industrial relations implications and conditions are considered before any intervention process.

OHS has broadened to include the hazards of fatigue, stress, anxiety, depression, workloads, bullying and other matters that have encroached on health promotion and human resources over the last decade or so.  A worker health program would have been more likely to be accepted through this osmosis rather than a surprise announcement.

Is this the end?

WorkHealth could work if it had been generated as a workplace application of public health programs.  The challenge would have been to legitimise the expenditure in an already cluttered health promotion sector.  How would WorkHealth have achieved this testing regime when business is already assessing its workers for psychological disorders, cholesterol, prostate health, hearing, asthma, and a whole range of modern health issues?  It is unlikely that it could so.

It came down to health assessments in a different context – a context where there had been insufficient groundwork to establish the value of the program to its fundamental stakeholders, the unions and employer groups.  To a much lesser extent, the program was not sufficiently integrated into the WorkSafe authority’s program before the announcement.

Also, the timing has been proven to be wrong.  The global economic problems are beginning to squeeze business’ bottom line.  The calls for workers’ compensation premium relief will increase in the same way that businesses have begun questioning the viability of an emissions trading scheme.  WorkHealth is likely to be one of those program cut, so the government will claim, due to the changing economic climate.  The lessons to be learnt are more wide-ranging than just economics.

Bullying, duty of care and compensation

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The growth of attention to psychosocial hazards in Australia received a considerable boost from a stress survey undertaken by the ACTU some years ago.  During the survey of union-members, it became clear that bullying was a major generator and perpetrator of workplace stress.  The unions went to town on this data and set the agenda for some time in OHS.  Their success was echoed and mirrored in the United Kingdom and Europe. (In fact, Europe seems to be the jurisdiction that has kept the momentum)

The survey and campaign got the attention of regulators and OHS professionals to the presence of, perhaps, the next generation of occupational health and safety activity.

Since that time psychosocial hazards have splintered into sub-groups of stress, occupational violence, workload, fatigue management, shift work, dignity at work and a range of other matters. However bullying persists as the front runner.

As with many elements of OHS, risk management and cultural studies the defence forces provide signposts to future civilian issues. Yesterday the Australian Defence Force agreed to pay ex-gratia payments to family members of defence personnel who had committed suicide as a result of bullying suffered at the hands of their colleagues.  There are many significant signposts from these incidents but one of particular note was that the payments were not made to dependents but to other family members.

According to the ABC radio report by Karen Barlow:

“The suicides date back up to 12 years, when Lance-Corporal Nicholas Shiels killed himself after accidentally shooting his best friend dead during Army training.

Private John Satatas hanged himself at Holsworthy Barracks, in western Sydney, five years ago after being bullied and racially taunted.

Private David Hayward committed suicide four years ago after he was injured and had gone AWOL.” 

The Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, was interviewed on this issue, and others, on Radio National on 23 October 2008 and  has referred the matter to a general review of the defence forces. Fitzgibbon acknowledged that “shortcomings in the defence force system” contributed to the situation and could have been better handled after the event.

The day before the media attention the Australian Defence Force released the findings of its annual attitudinal survey of personnel.  The 2007 survey found, according to a media statement:

“… a marked improvement in knowledge of mental health issues as well as members’ assessments of their own mental health. Since 1999, the data also shows an increasing proportion of personnel who believe that unacceptable behaviour is well managed.”

As Australia moves to a national OHS and workers compensation system, or at least a harmonised system, more attention should be given to some of the responses and OHS initiatives in Commonwealth departments as these will be just as influential on OHS law and management as any State initiative.

Longford explosion anniversary, Andrew Hopkins and a new book

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October 2008 was the tenth anniversary of the explosion at Longford gas plant in Australia that resulted in many injuries, two fatalities and almost two weeks of severely interrupted gas supply to the State of Victoria.

The Longford explosion at an Exxon-Mobil site resulted in a Royal Commission, an OHS prosecution and a record fine.  Recently it was often invoked in comparison to the Varanus Island pipeline explosion in Western Australia.

Professor Andrew Hopkins, sociologist with the Australian National University, was studying safety management systems well before the Esso Longford explosion but it was that major disaster that added international prominence, and a substantial extra workload, to Andrew.  Other than domestic acclaim, in July 2008, the European Process Safety Centre declared Andrew winner of the EPSC Award for 2008.  He is the first person outside of Europe to win this award.  It is believed that Andrew was formally presented with the award at the EPSC conference earlier this month.

Andrew has a refreshing perspective on safety management systems, partly because he has brought a sociologist’s eye to management decisions; his vision is not clouded by the OHS baggage through which many other analysts struggle.

Andrew’s next book due out this month through CCH Australia is Failure to Learn The BP Texas City refinery disaster and could have him travelling frequently the United States to offer his wisdom.

SafetyAtWorkBlog is working on a new interview with Andrew when he returns to Australia but in the meantime, a 2000 interview with Andrew is available as a page on this blog.  The interview was conducted at a book launch in September 2000 for Lessons From Longford.

Professor Andrew Hopkins (right) receiving the award from Christian Jochum, Director of the European Process Safety Centre
Professor Andrew Hopkins (right) receiving the award from Christian Jochum, Director of the European Process Safety Centre