Professional sportspeople are workers, so make them safe

Player Reaches To Catch Ball In Australian Rules Football GameThere is no doubt that football fields are the workplaces of professional football players and their support staff. So they are covered by occupational health and safety (OHS) and/or work health and safety (WHS) laws but what does this mean in relation to OHS regulators, and the sportspeople’s employers? Recently Eric Windholz looked at this particular issue.

Windholz recently published “Professional Sport, Work Health and Safety Law and Reluctant Regulators” in which he states:

“The application of WHS law to professional sport is almost absent from practitioner and academic discourse. An examination of the websites of Australia’s WHS and sport regulators reveals none contains WHS guidance directed to professional sports.” (page 1, references are included in the paper)

The example he uses to show this apparent lack of interest, even by the Victorian OHS regulator, WorkSafe Victoria, is the Essendon Football Club supplements saga.  Windholz writes

“Had these events occurred in the construction, manufacturing or transport industry, for example, it is difficult to imagine WHS regulators not intervening. Yet, WorkSafe Victoria initially was reluctant to investigate choosing to defer to ‘more appropriate bodies’. It only commenced an investigation when compelled by a request from a member of the public.” (page 2)

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Enforceable Undertakings on OHS – Good and Bad

In 2010 Queensland’s former Attorney-General Cameron Dick said of enforceable undertakings that:

“Enforceable undertakings promote the introduction of long-lasting and more wide-ranging safety changes that would not have occurred under the prosecutorial system that imposes fines after the event.”

Enforceable Undertakings can be a powerful force for improving occupational health and safety (OHS) but they could also be used by employers to forestall investment in OHS and minimise the financial penalties should an incident occur.

Continue reading “Enforceable Undertakings on OHS – Good and Bad”

Is methamphetamine a significant workplace hazard?

The Australian Industry Group (AIGroup)  submission to the Australian Government’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement inquiry into crystal methamphetamine, commonly known as Ice, has been made publicly available.  The submission focuses on the risks to all workplaces, primarily, by imposing non-work statistics onto the workplace, lumping Ice in with other illicit drugs, and relying on anecdotal evidence. This approach is not unique to AiGroup and can also be seen regularly in the mainstream media but such an important Inquiry requires a much higher quality of evidence than anecdotes.

The submission references a recent Australian Crime Commission (ACC) report into Ice saying it:

“… paints a bleak picture for the community and Australian workplaces. This combined with greater ease of access, including in regional areas, places Australian workplaces at risk.

A key requirement for employers seeking to manage safety risks arising from persons attending work affected by Ice is the ability to conduct workplace drug and alcohol testing.” (page 3)

The ACC report refers almost exclusively to the hazards presented to hospital and emergency staff, not by Ice use by staff, and yet is able to link Ice-affected public to the drug testing of workers. Continue reading “Is methamphetamine a significant workplace hazard?”

ACTU Congress’ draft OHS policies deserve serious analysis

Pages from draft-2015-actu-congress-policies-2015-consolidatedThe Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) commences its 2015 Congress this week.  Each year around 800 trade union delegates meet to discuss changes to policies and to develop or refine strategies. This year the ACTU released its draft policies publicly prior to the Congress.  These policies have a long and strong historical and industrial relations context.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) is an important part of these policies and should spark discussions in the union movement and the OHS profession.

Early in the document, the ACTU states its “bargaining agenda” in which is included

“better work, life and family balance.” (page 7)

Curiously, the ACTU has chosen “better” rather than “safe”.  Better is a more inclusive term but harder to define.  Better for whom?  Better could be better paid or more secure or safer.

Trade unionists often see OHS as being monitored and enforced through the mechanism of the Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) and would argue that OHS is throughout all the draft policies due to the HSR role but there are more workplaces in Australia without HSRs than with and it is worth considering the policies as independent from the HSR structure, if that is possible..

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Important OHS statements in Australia’s Parliament

On the eve of its 2015 Budget, the Australian Parliament was debating an increase in enforcement powers of the Fair Work Building and Construction inspectorate and the resurrection of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).  Occupational health and safety (OHS) is rarely mentioned in these debates but not so on 11 May 2015.  Excerpts from yesterday’s safety-related comments are worth noting, particularly as no mainstream media has done so or is likely to..

Senator Cory Bernardi (Liberal Party) attacked a recent video from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) saying that

“For too long the unions have falsely cried safety as a lazy defence for their unlawful and unethical industrial conduct. They have cried wolf so often that they can no longer be believed.”

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Cry of frustration in Industrial Manslaughter Bill

Over the last few months some in Australia’s trade union movement have renewed calls for the introduction of industrial manslaughter laws in various jurisdictions. The issue has appeared both on television and online.

Curiously the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) seems to have dropped the “industrial manslaughter” terminology it has used in the past. In a 28 April 2015 media release, the ACTU stated:

““Strengthening OHS laws to make negligent companies and individual directors liable sends a clear message to employers that they must ensure people are safe at work.”

and

“Current laws need to be strengthened so that companies and company directors are liable for our safety at work.”

It seems that the charge has been left to the South Australian Greens Parliamentarian,

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The evolution of Broken Windows

One year ago, this blog included an article about possibly applying “broken windows” theory to occupational health and safety (OHS) as both involve the enforcement of rules. The article said:

“The principal OHS lessons from Broken Windows Theory are that one needs to scratch the surface of any new OHS approach, that these theories need time to mature and to be verified or questioned and that it remains an important exercise to look beyond our own experiences, but to look with an analytical eye.”

The theory is evolving according to the architect of the theory, William J Bratton in an audio report in  NPR’s All Things Considered for 4 May 2015.  According to that article:

“Bratton says he’s open to some revisions of the city’s broken windows philosophy, including more warnings for first-time offenders. But his larger message seems to be: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

All theories require adjustment to make sure they remain practical and relevant.

OHS professionals who correct the workplace hazards, particularly worker behaviours, that are the “low hanging fruit” seem to be following Broken Windows, theory to some extent. But to continue to do this, without addressing hazards higher up the hierarchy of controls,  the organisational structure and the managerial prerogatives will devalue the original intention of enforcing worker behaviours and improving the work environment.

Mark Griffith illustrates the risk of devaluing the enforcement effort when he says, in the NPR article:

“We all want a better quality of life…. What we’re saying is the approach to it — the tactics that are used to arrive at that — are overly aggressive, and are ultimately on some level counterproductive to the very goals you’re trying to achieve.”

This seems equally valid to workplace safety management.

Kevin Jones