Australian company dumps triple certification as unnecessary

At a recent seminar an HSE Manager of a large Australian company revealed that the company has dropped its support of “triple certification” – external certification to safety, quality and environmental standards. This caused a murmur in the audience as external certification has long been seen as an unavoidable element (and cost) of operating a large business. The HSE Manager explained that the company had assessed all of the resources it provides for certification in light of the benefits it receives and determined that the company could still do well without the external certification.

Certification has been considered as a public and commercial statement of good business management.  Certification is also required as a minimum requirement to qualify for tenders for government works. But certification has also been seen as a costly and disruptive burden.  This perception has strengthened as new regulators have imposed compliance requirements that are usually satisfied through external or third-party audits.  This auditing complexity has sometimes been mentioned in the context of the “red tape” debate.

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“Safety is paramount”, “safety is our number one priority” = bullshit cliches

After a major incident or at an Annual General Meeting, it will be common to hear a senior executive state something like “Safety is our number one priority”.  This is unrealistic and almost absurd because even in the most worker-friendly company, the continued existence of that organisation is the real and ultimate goal.  Most corporate leaders believe these safety clichés because they think they reflect their own values but the statements are misrepresenting occupational health and safety (OHS) and need to be questioned.

Corporate leaders who say such statements are not hypocrites.  They are more likely to not understand the consequences of their statements.  If safety really is the number one priority, an executive should be able or expected to close the company if its work cannot be conducted safely.  If a company’s people are paramount to the success of the company, how does it handle an accusation of bullying against a manager?  Which of the people does the Board or the company choose to keep and which to lose?  Should it keep the “evil” sales representative because the rep is its most effective salesperson or sack the rep because he or she is abusive?

These are executive decisions that need to be worked through if any company is to develop an effective operational culture that truly values the safety of its workers.  It is vital that the reality behind the statements is analysed and acted upon, or perhaps such statements should not be uttered in the first instance.

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GlencoreXstrata’s annual report shows more than 26 deaths

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Last week the Australian Financial Review (AFR) brought some focus on occupational health and safety (OHS) by reporting on the most recent annual report from GlencoreXstrata in its article “Mining’s not war, why 26 deaths?” (subscription required). The article is enlightening but as important is that a business newspaper has analysed an annual report in a workplace safety context.  Curiously, although OHS is often mentioned as part of its sustainability and risk management program, safety is not seen as a financial key performance indicator, and it should be.

AFR’s Matthew Stevens wrote:

“Everybody in mining talks about ‘zero harm’ being the ultimate ambition of their health and safety programs. But talking safe and living safe are two very different things.”

GlencoreXstrata’s 2013 annual report is worth a look to both verify the AFR’s quotes but also to see the corporate context in which fatality statements are stated.  The crux of the AFR article is this statement from the Chairman’s introduction:

“It is with deep sadness that I must report the loss of 26 lives at our combined operations during 2013. Any fatality is totally unacceptable and one of the Board’s main objectives is to bring about lasting improvements to our safety culture.” (page 76)

(A curious sidenote is that the interim Chairman is Dr Anthony Howard, formally of BP and brought to prominence by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.) Continue reading “GlencoreXstrata’s annual report shows more than 26 deaths”

Media coverage on workplace bullying needs more depth and analysis

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The Australian media has given workplace bullying the front page, probably because it is a slow news period and there have been no major disasters this Christmas period. However the coverage is of the new rules and opportunities for assistance offered by changes to the Fair Work Act that commence on 1 January 2014, rather than about prevention.

Most of the comments from the business groups in the article by The Age newspaper will be familiar from the last few months. Generally they object to what they see as red tape and increased regulation. Some also believe that workplace bullying should be handled through human resources rather than as an occupational health and safety (OHS) matter.

Red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy is a legitimate concern but one that, in large part, the business sector has allowed to happen. As discussed previously, much of the red tape originates from the risk management strategy of business where, when an issue or hazard cannot be eliminated or it is too difficult to try, insurance or liability protection is obtained. As others have said, too often the risk management of safety is corrupted to become risk management of legal issues. Continue reading “Media coverage on workplace bullying needs more depth and analysis”

Safety in the C Suite doesn’t always run smoothly

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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”