“Hmm, do tell me more” – safety leadership

Recently the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) conducted a lunchtime online seminar on leadership. The speakers were prominent Australian women – Naomi Kemp, Diane Smith-Gander, Kirstin Ferguson and Queensland Minister Grace Grace. Although the seminar was hosted as part of the Women in Safety and Health group, these events are open to everyone. As work-related sexual harassment has shown, men are as involved in the process of safety and harm prevention as are women.

One of the biggest weaknesses of any safety management system, safety culture or safety leadership, comes from hypocrisy. Leaders state the importance of occupational health and safety (OHS) to the business then make decisions where OHS and worker welfare is dismissed or minimised, or rationalised dubiously to “as far as is reasonably practicable”.

Smith-Gander spoke about how executives should embed OHS into all the Board and executive decisions beyond the obligatory and often poor quality “Safety Moments” at the start of a meeting.

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The hill that OHS needs to climb for respectability remains a mountain

The current Australian debate about sexual harassment at work illustrates the forces ranged against occupational health and safety (OHS) being seen as a legitimate approach to preventing psychological harm. Entrenched Industrial Relations perspectives appear to be the biggest barrier. Such barriers are not always intentional and have evolved over years and decades as cultures and ideologies do. Some of the recent media coverage on the release of the Federal Government’s response to the report of the 2020 National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces illustrates the dominance of industrial relations thinking – part of the reason Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has described elements of the government’s response as a missed opportunity.

The OHS profession must start to overtly tackle each of these dominant perspectives.

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What Australia can learn from other Parliaments about sexual harassment and assaults

Brittany Higgins alleges that she was raped in her employer’s office by a work colleague after a night of drinking. Since mid-February 2021, other women have claimed to have been sexually assaulted in Parliament. The Attorney-General, Christian Porter, is taking some leave after revealing himself to be the person behind historical rape allegations. At the moment, Australian politics is wrapped up in itself over these scandals. Still, similar scandals have happened in other Parliaments, and the responses to these may provide guidance for Australia.

A small survey of female parliamentarians and staff in Europe in 2018 found the following

▪ 85.2 per cent of female MPs who took part in the study said that they had suffered psychological violence in the course of their term of office.
▪ 46.9 per cent had received death threats or threats of rape or beating.
▪ 58.2 per cent had been the target of online sexist attacks on social networks.
▪ 67.9 per cent had been the target of comments relating to their physical appearance or based on gender stereotypes.
▪ 24.7 per cent had suffered sexual violence.
▪ 14.8 per cent had suffered physical violence.

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We complicate what we know works

There is one simple way of improving occupational health and safety (OHS) in any workplace – have the senior managers and executives be more in touch with the manufacturing process or provision of services. This will improve their understanding of the risks in their businesses and, hopefully, cause them to see the importance of improving health and safety, either for increased profitability or for the quality of life of their workers. Often the executives are too busy to take the time to visit, learn and listen and Industrial Manslaughter laws are intended to cut through this business attitude.

Recently SAI Global issued a media release about Industrial Manslaughter laws which has more to do with its certification services than the improvement of worker safety or prevention of harm. Stripping away the marketing, the media release quotes Kiran Bhagat saying:

“Industrial manslaughter laws legislated in Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and the ACT place legal liability squarely at the feet of the C-suite and company directors for industrial manslaughter. Organisations must ensure their compliance to OHS laws is over and above current standards and, besides, aim to meet and exceed international standards as a safeguard. The highest-ranking leaders in an organisation must be proactively involved in these processes.”

There are few OHS professionals who would disagree with this.

The content that lets this media release down and puts it into the marketing folder rather than the OHS folder is the prominent promotion of its certification services, that should be able to stand on their own content such as this in the final paragraph:

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Lindstrom, Common Sense and OHS

I found Martin Lindstrom’s latest book, The Ministry of Common Sense, very funny, then anger replaced funny and I had to put down the book and come back to it later. The book is excellent but all the examples of corporate nonsense that Lindstrom provides can be overwhelming. It also contains dozens of examples that are very close to my own experience and, in many cases, nonsense that I have created or supported when advising clients about occupational health and safety (OHS). SafetyAtWorkBlog asked Lindstrom about how Common Sense fits with OHS.

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Culture, greed and safety heckles

More business “gems” from the Australian Financial Review (AFR).

The potential for corporate change from Australia’s Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry is fading fast. Back in July 2020, the Australian Financial Review (AFR) reported on an investigation by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) that found, according to the AFR’s headline, that Westpac bank’s culture was immature and reactive.

Safety culture, or an organisational culture that integrates safety, has been a running theme in Australian occupational health and safety (OHS) circles for several decades now but it has rarely gained traction. Partly this is due to the distraction presented by corporate wellbeing programs which address symptoms of ill-health and un-safety and provide a comfortable excuse for company executives who can then claim some action even if the results are dubious.

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Business nuggets from the Australian Financial Review

It is not possible to write as many occupational health and safety (OHS) articles as I would like to, and my newspaper clippings files are bulging by the time I get some time to tidy up. The Australian Financial Review (AFR) is an expensive business newspaper that often touches on OHS matters even though OHS may not be the core of the story. Below is a short discussion of many of those clippings from 2020. Most of the AFR articles are paywalled but can often be tracked down through other measures.

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