The challenges for Trump’s (Plan B) Labor Secretary could be huge and disruptive

Following the resignation of Andrew Puzder, President Trump has nominated Alexander Acosta to be the new Labor Secretary.  The United States media, generally, has been supportive of the nomination particularly in comparison to Puzder. However, there was a particular line in the President’s media conference that may indicate his approach to safety legislation and regulations.

“We’ve directed the elimination of regulations that undermine manufacturing and call for expedited approval of the permits needed for America and American infrastructure and that means plant, equipment, roads, bridges, factories.” (emphasis added)

President Trump’s plans for cutting regulatory red tape was forecast during his election campaign when he stated that regulations:

“…  just stopping businesses from growing.”

President Trump or his Labor Secretary nominees have not mentioned occupational health and safety (OHS) specifically but the

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Can Australia Post’s executives survive the most recent allegations?

Australia Post features regularly in the mainstream press.  Recently, the media and Government discussed the pay packet of its Chief Executive Officer, Ahmed Fahour, but a safety management issue has been bubbling along for some time and reappeared this morning in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) “Australia post investigated over alleged manipulation of injury rate for bonuses” ($paywall).

The AFR writes that

“Comcare is investigating Australia Post over allegations that some senior managers manipulated data on injured employees’ absences from work to meet key performance indicators and secure hefty bonuses.”

This is allegedly done by

  • “delaying injury claims,
  • recording workers on sick leave when they are really absent on injury, and
  • paying for medical expenses in lieu of workers lodging compensation claims.”

Continue reading “Can Australia Post’s executives survive the most recent allegations?”

Bullying, evidence, ethics and solutions

Safety people love evidence, particularly evidence of hazards because evidence can validate what we thought we saw. Perhaps of more importance is evidence about what types of interventions work. A recent study  into the prevention of workplace bullying (abstract only) held the promise of solutions, even though it was a literature review and of some…

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Two old SafetyAtWork podcasts remain relevant

Over the Christmas break I was cleaning out some files and found some old SafetyAtWork podcast files that used to be on iTunes around a decade ago.  The information and perspectives remain important and to preserve the files I have uploaded them to SoundCloud.

One is an interview with Professor Michael Quinlan shortly after the Beaconsfield mine inquiry.  The other is a presentation to the Central Safety Group by freelance journalist Gideon Haigh about the corporate approach to asbestos and compensation off the back of the publication of his Asbestos House book.

More will be posted over the next few weeks.

Kevin Jones

CEO-speak and safety culture – losing track of what matters most

The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster has faded to become another safety leadership failure to be discussed in the OHS and risk management courses but some new research ($ paywall) in Critical Perspectives on Accounting provides a fresh perspective on BP’s safety culture and leadership prior to the major disaster by deconstructing the speeches of the the then-CEO, Tony Hayward.

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Research into management perceptions of safety – Yeah But…..

In August this year Safe Work Australia released “Perceived Levels of Management Safety Empowerment and Justice among Australian Employers”.  The justification for the document is to better understand leadership culture in line with the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022. It is always useful to understand how business owners and employers see workplace safety as only when we understand their “way of seeing” safety, can we effectively engage in improving occupational health and safety (OHS) but this report could have been so much more.

20161116_091247The perception survey on which the Perceived Levels report was based is an application of the  Nordic Occupational Safety Climate Questionnaire (NOSACQ-50) which is “a tool for diagnosing occupational safety climate and evaluating safety climate interventions”.

The Perceived Levels report found

  • Small business operators felt they didn’t display management safety empowerment and management safety justice enough.
  • The level of activities in these area varied in different industry categories
  • Most employers felt they displayed these activities frequently.
  • Employers with apprentices and young workers felt they displayed these attitudes more.

“Management safety justice” may seem like an odd concept as it is relatively new to Australia and there is very little information available online to clarify.   What might help is the list of questions that was asked in the survey on this topic:

  1. The business collects accurate information in accident investigations.
  2. Fear of negative consequences discourages workers here from reporting near miss incidents.
  3. The business listens carefully to all who have been involved in an incident.
  4. The business looks for causes, not guilty persons, when an accident occurs.
  5. The business knows when to report incidents to the health and safety inspectorate.

The survey results are presented as positives and knowing perceptions is important but the percentages of management safety justice seem alarmingly low for OHS obligations that have existed for decades.  For instance

“Just over half (59%) of employers indicated that their business collects accurate information from incident investigations, although small businesses were much less likely to indicate that they collected this information (54%) compared to employers in medium and large businesses (95% and 94% respectively). ” (page x)

So 41% do not collect information from incident investigations!!  What’s not clear is whether investigations occur at all.

The potential for this type of survey seems good and it would be great to see it carried out more frequently or more broadly and over time so that perception changes the effectiveness of OHS initiatives can be measured.  That is unlikely to occur through Safe Work Australia (SWA), however.

SWA told SafetyAtWorkBlog that it has no plans to repeat the perceptions of work health and safety survey.

OHS people often talk about “work as perceived vs work as done”, acknowledging that planned works are often different from how the work is performed in reality. The SWA report addresses the former but there is no intention to try to verify those perceptions.  SWA advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that

“…to do so would be very challenging from a methodological point of view.”

A major element of OHS management is verifying the reality to the perception, the “work as done” to the work “as planned” through procedures, work instructions and safe work method statements, for instance. Many companies apply a rigorous system of audits, assessments and inspections to verify legal and operational compliance.  Some are beginning to undertake safety culture assessments over time. The benefit to the Australian business community of showing how compatible leadership culture on safety is to the application of safety could have been substantial.

The weight given to this perceptions report needs to be considered carefully as the limitations are identified very early in the document. For instance, the response rate to the 2012 survey was low and the data cannot be said to be representative of the Australian community. Safe Work Australia (SWA) told SafetyAtWorkBlog that

“we cannot be confident that the information is representative of the whole population”.

This Safe Work Australia report provides a glimpse into managerial perceptions but little more. Safe Work Australia does provide other more substantial reports from which there is often more to learn.  One such report, from May 2011 – “Motivation, Attitudes, Perceptions and Skills: Pathways to Safe Work” provided these findings, amongst others

“Commitment to work health and safety as a desirable characteristic of workplaces is strong among those who work in them.Commitment to work health and safety and individual efficacy does not translate into consistent adherence to safe work practice: Talk does not match action.

Talking about work health and safety is essential to impart understanding, but it needs to be accompanied by institutional structures that allow broad participation and that consistently mainstream safe practices.

A key element in talk and action is cooperation among managers, workers, work health and safety authorities, and unions. These actors are interdependent and each is needed to enable the effectiveness of the other. The inverse is also true. Each has capacity to undercut the effectiveness of the other.

Workplaces underperform on safety when management does not put safety first for its own sake (managers don’t walk the talk) and when participation and communication about safety are not consistent and institutionalised: In these circumstances individuals ‘close down’ as active learners and participants of safety.

Social demographic groups did not differ markedly in this report but two consistent trends were observed. Those who are most dismissive of authority while expressing concern about safety and reporting negatively on the safety of their workplaces comprise a disproportionately large proportion of younger respondents and respondents from smaller workplaces.”

Curiously, the Motivations & Attitudes report was not referenced in the employer perception report.

Research relies on replication to validate original research and it is very disappointing that Safe Work Australia cannot replicate this survey. But SWA does have the capacity to build on these survey results and provide a more detailed analysis of these perceptions, often from its existing resources, publications and reports, as seen from the Motivation report quoted above.

OHS benefits enormously from literature reviews that pull together similarly-theme research into an assessment of the current state of knowledge about workplace safety topics. The Perceived Levels report would have benefited greatly from placement within a literature review on managerial perceptions on workplace safety.  It would have also been useful for a more detailed discussion of the assessment themes of “management safety empowerment and management safety justice”.  These concepts are new to Australia and could have been discussed independently and to provide an Australian context.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has been critical of the importation of Scandinavian (and US) concepts to Australia in the past as the socioeconomic structures of Scandinavia are very different from the Australian.

Safe Work Australia should be congratulated for trying something new and it is hoped that someone in Australia continues this work.

Kevin Jones

Law firm’s report provides important safety contexts

Law firms have been producing newsletters and case summaries for a long time.  Ostensibly these are for marketing purposes but occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals have benefited from these potted histories and examinations, even though the perspectives are often limited to the legal precedents.  Over the last few years though, law firms have been…

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Podcast tackles Safety Culture

Cabbage Salad BannerThe latest episode of the Cabbage Salad and Safety podcast is now available and includes a discussion on the perennial occupational health and safety (OHS) debate over Safety Culture.

Siobhan Flores-Walsh and I discuss the role of safety culture and its influence on contemporary safety management.  The definition is fluffy and this is part of the challenge in improving a company’s safety culture.  I think the podcast episode is a useful primer on the issue to those who are just making contact with the concept and of interest to those of us who are already dealing with safety culture and people’s expectations for it.

Cabbage Salad and Safety podcasts are changing all the time and we read all the feedback and comments that listeners have emailed in. Please have a listen and email me your thoughts for future episodes or please comment below if you prefer.

 

Kevin Jones

Corporate culture on show from ASIC at the Governance Institute

20160731_211159On 22 July 2016, the Governance Institute of Australia conducted a seminar at which John Price (pictured right), a Commissioner with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) discussed Board and Organisational Culture.  The issue of culture has been an important discussion point with ASIC and Australian businesses recently and this discussion included consideration of the role of occupational health and safety (OHS).

Although the seminar was not a speech, the discussion paralleled many of the points that Price made in this May 2016 speech.   The speech is a useful insight into how an Australian corporate regulator sees culture and it is not very different from how the OHS profession sees it.  Price references the Criminal Code that

“…defines corporate culture as including an organisation’s attitudes, policies, rules, course of conduct and practices.”

He also said that

“Culture matters to ASIC because poor culture can be a driver of poor conduct.”

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Worker democracy reappears and OHS needs to be ready

Tripartite consultation of occupational health and safety (OHS) is largely a relic of the past. It remains in the structure of government policy formulation and in workplace safety legislation but, largely due to the decline in trade union presence in Australian workplaces; OHS consultation occurs more linearly than through formalised tripartism.

A recent example of contemporary consultation, that is likely to include OHS, was reported on in The Guardian newspaper on 17 July 2016. The incoming UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, wants to encourage the inclusion of a worker on company boards.  It is a curious suggestion from a Conservative Prime Minister which has been leapt on as “workplace democracy” by some commentators. The workplace democracy or “industrial democracy” push is not a new idea and was once seriously proposed in 1977 but, according to an article in The Conversation, the political time was not right.  Whether that time is now is debatable. Continue reading “Worker democracy reappears and OHS needs to be ready”