Public hearings into Workplace Bullying to commence in Australia 8

Next week Australia holds public hearings into the issue of workplace bullying. Currently the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment has not yet made any submissions publicly available which handicaps the value of the public hearings for observers but the Trade Unions have released their submissions.  Generally, the suggestions for control measures are progressive but the submissions also indicate the extent of the challenge in “controlling” workplace bullying and some of the challenges facing this inquiry.

The ACTU claims that workplace bullying was given national prominence following a survey of union members in 2000 but that survey is not representative of the broader Australian community and should be treated with caution.  The ACTU submission seeks support for its survey results from more authoritative sources such as Safe Work Australia and the Productivity Commission.  But neither of these sources indicates workplace bullying to be as big an issue as the ACTU claims.

Safe Work Australia’s figures, quoted by the ACTU , say that in

“In 2007/08, 26% of accepted workers compensation claims for mental stress in Australia resulted in 26 or more weeks off work.”

The significance in this quote is that bullying is not mentioned and if one accepts that bullying is a subset of mental stress and psychosocial hazards, bullying should be only a fraction of the 26% figure.  It is also the case that it is common for victims of bullying to eliminate the hazard through resignation rather than lodge workers’ compensation claims.  So one metric may indicate a low bullying rate but another indicates a “hidden” rate.  Accurate measurement, the accumulation of evidence, is a major problem in any study of workplace bullying and is a major challenge for this Parliamentary Inquiry. More…

More details of the costs of managing safety required from OHS regulators 2

In a recent edition of Safety Express, a newsletter from WorkSafe Victoria, Clarke Martin outlined the benefits of WorkSafe’s Owner Visit program to one regional company.  This good news story needed more depth and detail so Clark Martin provided SafetyAt WorkBlog with additional information.

The Safety Express article outlined that a company of over 200 employees gained advice through WorkSafe’s free 6-hour consultancy service and has

“…made significant savings in insurance premiums over a two-year period. The financial and safety benefits are continuing today.”

“The company agreed to make significant changes to the way the business managed its OHS and RTW, and the financial management of premium costs.”

“WorkSafe worked with the company for two years and in this time the EPR dropped to just 34 per cent above average and work is continuing to further improve its performance. The company advised WorkSafe that savings achieved from reduced insurance premiums was equivalent to the profits on producing and selling an additional $16m of product.” More…

FindTheBest seriously misjudges on its data services for workplace deaths and injuries 2

Many organisations are beginning to assess their performance in occupational health and safety (OHS), mostly through spreadsheet graphics and lead and lag indicators.  These “databases” provide comparisons of activity with the hope of showing positive progress on safety.  FindTheBest.com has been building comparison websites for some time and has applied their mystical Web2.0 algorithms to workplace safety data from the United States in its FindTheData website.  It has several sites that may be of interest to OHS professionals – Work Injuries and Death and Dangerous Jobs.

Dangerous Jobs allows you to select the occupational categories you are interested in and then compare their statistical data.  For instance, comparing Farmers and Ranchers to Structural Steel Workers shows an annual fatality rate of 39.7 to 30.3 based on hours, respectively.  These comparisons are based on data from the United States Department of Labor statistics.  But the question on the comparison is so what?  What benefit can be gained by comparing these two sets of data?  None, as far as I can see.

The glossary for Dangerous Jobs lists the top couple of popular comparisons as

  • Top 7 Most Dangerous Jobs in US
  • Police and sheriff’s patrol officers vs. Electricians

The first has curiosity value but the second is reminiscent of the adolescent (or drunk) speculation on who would win in a fight between Darth Vader and Gigantor?  Pointless speculation that sounds like it could result in some interesting information.  Just maybe.  Perhaps. More…

“Do some good” sounds more effective than achieving “zero harm” 6

The April 2012 edition of the UK magazine Training Journal makes a statement that is so simple, safety professionals should be kicking themselves.  The safety profession is trying to change the measurement of safety from lag indicators to lead, from negatives to positives, from failures to successes and yet we continue to talk about zero harm.  In Training Journal, Stuart Walkley states that

“…we face a new challenge, not just to ‘do no harm’ but to ‘do some good’ in the workplace, to create a healthy working environment that supports and contributes to our wellbeing.”

“Do some good”.  I would rather be a Do Some Good Manager than a Zero Harm Manager.  Focussing on the safety positive is what I do as a safety adviser but saying that my job is to “do some good” makes me feel better about my job than if I was minimising the negative, which is what the zero harm descriptor does.

Also, “do some good” sits well with the new approach that safety professionals are supposed to have, having to blend the psychosocial hazards into our risk controls approach. More…

The Australian newspaper dismisses workplace deaths as “sickies” 7

Safe Work Australia has released two important statistical reports. One concerns the number of Work-Related Traumatic Injury Fatalities for 2009-10 and the other is called The Cost of Work-Related injury and Illness for Australian Employers, Workers and the Community: 2008-09 .

These reports have gained minimal mainstream media coverage. In a very short article The Australian newspaper preferred to focus on productivity clauses in workplace agreements following a departmental report, as is its choice, but, more significantly, the newspaper’s headline dismisses the report’s cost estimates on “work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths” as “sickies”.  The report on costs, from where The Australian drew its $A60 billion reference, includes an evaluation of the cost of workplace fatalities, defined in the report on page 18 as

“a work-related injury or disease, which results in death.”

It is enormously insulting that the newspaper includes workplace deaths in its disparaging headline “Workers’ sickies costing us $60bn”. Minister Bill Shorten states in his media release accompanying the reports that:

“Work-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities have a huge impact on Australian society. They can physically and mentally affect workers, colleagues, employers, families and the community. This latest research is evidence of the significant cost to Australia’s economy. Workplace safety is not just about avoiding human tragedy it is also about reducing economic cost for the nation.”

At a time when the Federal Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, is trying to bring some rigour and dignity to the issue of workplace safety, The Australian newspaper should be ashamed.

Kevin Jones