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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If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail

The trade union movement has often been instrumental in affecting and sometimes creating government policy on occupational health and safety (OHS).  The latest generation of hazards – psychosocial – can be traced back to a survey late last century of workplace stress conducted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).  This week the ACTU released its survey into sexual harassment at work.

The current survey should not be seen as representative of any social group other than trade union members even though the survey was completed by 10,000 of them.  Also, this survey is far less likely to be as newsworthy as last century’s surveys as the agenda on workplace sexual harassment has already been established by reports from groups like Universities Australia and, especially, the current work by the Sexual Discrimination Commissioner and the Australian Human Rights Commission.  It is also likely to be covered, probably as a secondary issue, in the various mental health inquiries scheduled for 2019.

The ACTU survey provides additional information to our understanding of sexual harassment at work but certainly not the whole picture.

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