An OHS look at the Australian Labor Party’s National Platform

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Cover of National Platform 2011 ALPThe leadership squabbles in the Australian Labor Party (ALP) have diminished  for the moment, and the next Federal election is set for September 2013.  Most everyone is tipping the ALP to lose the election.  The verb “lose” is specifically chosen, for the opposition Liberal/National coalition will probably win “by default”.  Whatever the electoral outcomes, the major political parties in Australia have current positions and policies on workplace safety.  Six months out from an election, it may be worth looking at those policies, as they currently stand. The first is that of the ALP.

The ALP has an extensive National Platform that was presented at its National Conference in 2012.  Below are some of the statements from that document as they pertain to occupational health and safety (OHS).  Some commentary is offered on these statements.

“The Labor Government places the highest priority on worker safety, particularly miner worker safety.” (page 42) Continue reading “An OHS look at the Australian Labor Party’s National Platform”

Latest review into workers compensation provides OHS clues

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Cover of src_act_review_reportThe Australian Government has released its report into a review of its national workers’ compensation scheme, Comcare, and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (SRC) Act.  Some of the media (and politicians), as it often does, has focused on the seemingly absurd compensation claims.  Few cases have gained the same degree of national and international attention as the sex case for instance, and although most workers’ compensation reports focus on post-incident treatments, there is a glimmer of  hope on occupational health and safety (OHS) in this latest review.

The report, the latest undertaken by Peter Hanks QC, states that one of the guiding principles of the SRC Act should be an acknowledgement that

“The benefit and premium structure should promote incident prevention and reduce risk of loss.” (page 25)

This would be a wonderful benchmark to apply but is likely to be overshadowed by the compensation and rehabilitation issues of the review, unless OHS professionals and practitioners continue to remind regulators that prevention is better than cure.

Peter Hanks admits in a 2012 video interview on his review that injury prevention is not part of the terms of reference but there are elements of his report that require serious consideration by OHS professionals in consultation with their Human Resources (HR) colleagues. Continue reading “Latest review into workers compensation provides OHS clues”

CSB pushes for a more effective discussion on fatigue management

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Occupational health and safety has many examples of addressing small or short-term issues rather than  facing the difficult and hard, but more sustainable, control measures. I was reminded of this by a recent media statement from the United States Chemical Safety Board (CSB) in relation to fatigue management.

In 2007 the CSB recommended that, following the Texas City refinery fire,

“the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the United Steelworkers International Union (USW) jointly lead the development of an ANSI consensus standard with guidelines for fatigue prevention in the refinery and petrochemical industries.” [links added]

The progress of API and USW in developing the 2010 ANSI-approved Recommended Practice 755 (RP 755) has been reviewed by the CSB staff and they have found the following disturbing problems:

  • “The document was not the result of an effective consensus process, and therefore does not constitute a tool that multiple stakeholders in the industry can “own.” It was not balanced in terms of stakeholder interests and perspectives, and did not sufficiently incorporate or take into account the input of experts from other industry sectors that have addressed fatigue risks. Continue reading “CSB pushes for a more effective discussion on fatigue management”

The Iceberg of Bullying

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I’ve frequently observed a manner of bullying not easily described, a below the surface iceberg of bullying.  It can range from a parent relentlessly nagging a child with “You don’t love me”, to a manager at work asking a worker – with a fixed grin, “Don’t you love me anymore, matey?” whilst requesting (always with good humour) a dangerous task to be done, for the good of The Team.  It’s here that language and gestures are used as instruments of camouflage.

A permanent tone of obligation is present, constructed on illusions marketed locally as axioms of behaviour:  “We’re a team, Team, aren’t we Team?!”, “Our first concern is the H&S of our employees”, “They are our most important resource”, “We take their safety issues most seriously”, “Nothing comes before that”.  This is a hybrid form of insidious double bind, but much more subtle than ‘You‘re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t’.  It’s a single theme with regular pin pricks often generating permanent anxiety and learnt helplessness.

I have seen workers completely worn out by it.  They are silently humiliated and angry because the truth of the matter is never exposed.  I’ve seen them sitting quietly eating their lunch surrounded by fancy documents in thin frames or dutifully laminated for posterity: The Corporate OHS Policy, The Family Support Policy, The Anti-Discrimination Policy; The Anti-Bullying Policy; The Fatigue Policy. Continue reading “The Iceberg of Bullying”

Australian Government shifts workplace bullying into the industrial relations system

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Politicians are sufficiently media-savvy to release policies and information to gain the maximum exposure in the media cycle.  For some reason, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, missed the opportunity to have his changes on workplace bullying in the newspapers for 12 February 2013.  The news cycle is also being dominated by the resignation of Pope Benedict.  However Shorten’s response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying deserves detailed analysis.

??????????????????????????????????Shorten is bringing the investigation of workplace bullying cases under the Fair Work Commission.  There are likely to be complex consequences of this decision, a decision that is clearly the Minister’s as the Parliamentary Inquiry made no clear recommendation on the location of the “new national service”.

“The Committee did not receive evidence on where such a service [“a single, national service to provide advice to employers and workers alike on how to prevent, and respond to workplace bullying” 5.51, page 136] should be located.  It might be best situated within an existing government agency or department such as Safe Work Australia, the Fair Work Ombudsman or the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.  It may also be considered appropriate for the service to be an independent body that is funded by the Commonwealth. Consequently, the Committee does not have a clear recommendation as to where the new national service may sit.” (Section 5.58, page 138)

Clearly Shorten’s announcement could easily have been “Minister rejects independent body on workplace bullying”.  The Minister should be asked about his reasons for not establishing an independent body into this important issue. Continue reading “Australian Government shifts workplace bullying into the industrial relations system”