Serious questions raised about the effectiveness of OHS enforcement strategies

Richard Johnstone is always worth reading as he writes perceptively about occupational health and safety (OHS) and its enforcement.  The new book from Baywood PublishingSafety or Profit” provides a chapter by Johnstone that argues:

“…that despite the rhetoric of stronger enforcement and more robust prosecution, the dominant ideology of work health and safety enforcement – ambivalence about whether work health and safety offenses are “really criminal” and viewing prosecution as a “last resort” in the enforcement armory – still dominates the approach of Australian work health and safety regulators.” (page 113)

The importance of Johnstone’s chapter is that he reminds us that much of the current OHS debate is circular and limited and fails to question the soft enforcement strategy that has existed since the

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Workers Memorial Day ceremony, industrial manslaughter and red tape

ACTU President Ged Kearney addresses the event. (image: VTHC)

The President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Ged Kearney, spoke briefly at the Workers Memorial Day ceremony in Melbourne Victoria on 29 April 2013.  Kearney reiterated the call for industrial manslaughter laws in Australia echoing the statements by the ACTU’s Michael Borowick yesterday and the ACTU media release. Continue reading “Workers Memorial Day ceremony, industrial manslaughter and red tape”

National Workers Memorial opens

Yesterday Australia opened its National Workers Memorial in Canberra.  The Workplace Relations Minister  Bill Shorten, spoke at the ceremony with, largely, an edited and reduced version of the speech he presented in Brisbane earlier last week.  The Canberra speech dropped  all the ANZAC Day references and spoke about the importance of remembering.

“By erecting this monument, we tie the lives and memories and families of thousands of Australians to this place.  We stand here in this place as a mark of respect from a civilised community as an expression of failure and regret.  That’s what all memorials are, and this one is no different.  This is a symbol of the mourning for those lost too early from our tribe Australia.” Continue reading “National Workers Memorial opens”

Where are the Codes for establishing a safety culture?

Recently a safety professional told me he was investigating an incident on a work site and asked his first question “What do you think caused the incident?” The response was “safety culture”. Of course the next question will always be “what do you mean by safety culture?” and in most cases at this point the investigation will stall.

iStock_000023283219XSmallAll workplaces have a safety culture, it is just that most are dysfunctional or immature. In many workplaces, incident causes are handballed to this poorly understood concept of which most take as the latest iteration of “an act of God” or an SEP – “someone else’s problem”.

Safety regulators need to break the use of safety culture as an excuse by developing codes of practice on how to introduce and build an effective safety culture in Australian workplaces.

Continue reading “Where are the Codes for establishing a safety culture?”

WorkSafe Victoria tries humour in safety advertising

For the last few weeks WorkSafe Victoria has been running new injury prevention advertisements based on a game show theme of playing the odds on injuring a worker.  The curiosity of this campaign is that humour and a little bit of shame has been employed to communicate.

It is refreshing for an OHS regulator to use humour in the aim of improving workplace safety particularly as this attempt avoids the slapstick humour that has been tried in the past by several safety organisations.  Workplace injuries are not a laughing matter but a gentle humour can be used to prick the conscience of those who have safety obligations.

Conversations with OHS peers on these ads has shown a perplexity over these ads.  Those who have established a public face or a reputation in the safety field are unsure whether laughing or, at the least, being amused is appropriate.  There is a fine line between mockery and amusement so hesitation is understandable. Continue reading “WorkSafe Victoria tries humour in safety advertising”

Election failure, missed opportunities on bullying

Within the last week, Victoria’s State Premier, John Brumby, lost an election allowing the conservative parties in the Australian State to gain power, narrowly, after over a decade in isolation.  Election pledges are now only of historic interest but let’s look at a couple.

The crime of workplace bullying

According to the Australian Financial Review on 2 November 2010 (not available without subscription), John Brumby pledged to have a legal review into the “creation of the offence of bullying under the Crimes Act”.  The Victorian Chamber of Commerce & Industry‘s (VECCI) Steven Wojtkiw opposed the pledge because existing OHS laws were sufficient.  Taking the election context away for a moment indicates a  challenge for those anti-bullying advocates.  Wojtkiw is quoted as saying

“To introduce a greater level of legislative prescription in the area may only add to the increasing complexities already being confronted by employers in managing a modern workplace.”

It could be argued that if industry had already introduced an appropriate approach to reducing the likelihood of bullying in the workplace John Brumby would never have felt the need to make such a pledge.  In many cases, anti-regulation laissez-faire business lobbyists could reduce the “insidious elements of the nanny state” by doing right by their workforce in the first place.

Bullying and harmonisation

Michael Tooma of Norton Rose is quoted in the same article but Tooma uses Brumby’s pledge as an example of another but different nail in the coffin of Federal OHS reform.   Continue reading “Election failure, missed opportunities on bullying”

Australian business is outraged over OHS changes but is it all piss and wind?

Australian business groups have written an open letter to the New South Wales Government protesting about the decision to continue with some OHS processes specific to New South Wales regardless of previous commitments to support the harmonisation of OHS laws.  As the letter was published as an advertisement  (Page 6 of  The Australian on 20 October 2010), it is not readily available online but the letter needs a little bit of deconstruction to better understand the politics and ideologies behind the letter and the business associations.

The letter says Australian industry signed on to the national harmonisation process because of the need for an effective way of improving safety, fair legal processes and national consistency.  Yes, to some extent but more often industry groups have been calling for a reduction of red tape for the purpose of reducing administrative costs.  Reducing the injuries and fatalities of workers is not the same as “improving the safety of Australia’s workplaces”.

The ideological gap is shown in the argument against the national imposition of “reverse onus of proof”.  The letter uses Victoria as an example of a jurisdiction without the reverse onus of proof and says

“Victoria, which was used as the model for the new national laws and which does not have union prosecutions or reverse onus, has between 30% and 50% better safety outcomes than NSW depending on the measurement used“. (my emphasis)

What is a “better safety outcome”?  Less deaths?  Less cost to business?  Is it fair to compare NSW to Victoria?  And can the variation in “safety outcomes” be directly related to reverse onus of proof?   Continue reading “Australian business is outraged over OHS changes but is it all piss and wind?”

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