Banking Royal Commission and corporate culture

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has come late to seeing its operations as part of the organisational culture of Australian businesses. Its realisation started with an assertion of a “safety culture” that operated in parallel with regular business imperatives but often resulted in conflict and usually on the losing side. OHS has matured and become less timid by stating that OHS is an integral part of the operational and policy decision-making.

Some of that business leadership that was admired by OHS and many other professions existed in the banking and finance sector which has received a hammering over the last two years in a Royal Commission. That investigation’s final report was released publicly on 4 February 2019. The report reveals misconduct, disdain, poor regulatory enforcement and a toxic culture, amongst other problems. The OHS profession can learn much from an examination of the report and some of the analysis of that industry sector over the last few years.

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What can we practically do to improve the OHS culture of Australia’s business sector?

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This afternoon the Australian Government releases the findings of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. This has little to do with occupational health and safety (OHS) directly but it has a lot to do with:

  • organisational culture,
  • business ethics,
  • the social licence to operate,
  • the morality of capitalism, and
  • Trust

OHS needs to operate within all these elements of business operations and all Australian businesses will be watching how the Government and other political parties react to these findings.

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The absence of OHS says much

Workplace safety is an integral element of managing any business. The acceptance of this reality by business leaders is restated every time a Chief Executive Officer claims that “safety is our number 1 priority”. The mismanagement of safety and health can also subject personal and corporate reputations to considerable damage So it is reasonable to expect some mention of occupational health and safety (OHS) in a recent survey from the Australian Industry Group concerning business prospects for 2019. Nah, nothing.

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Liability insurance products get some serious criticism

In 2017 the Queensland Government was advised to prohibit business insurance products that cover the costs associated with financial penalties that may occur after a successful prosecution of a breach of work health and safety (WHS) laws. This recommendation (page 47) was one of only two that were not accepted by the government and which were “referred to the WHS Board” for further consideration (footnote page 3).

On 17 October 2018 the Senate Education and Employment Committee’s report into industrial deaths similarly recommended the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments:

“amend the model WHS laws to make it unlawful to insure against a fine, investigation costs or defence costs where they apply to an alleged breach of WHS legislation;” (Recommendation 21, page xi)

Given the

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