Workplace bullying hits the national agenda in Australia

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On Saturday morning, May 26 2012, the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and her Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, announced an inquiry into workplace bullying to be undertaken by the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment and to report to Parliament in November 2012.

This announcement seems to be another that is buried or overtaken by current political events.   The Australian Broadcasting Corporation mentioned workplace bullying as a “silent epidemic”.  There is a strong risk that the politicians are overstating the workplace bullying case.  WorkSafe Victoria receives thousands of enquiries about workplace bullying but only a portion of them fit the workplace bullying definition and only a handful proceed to a prosecution.  The government needs to be careful that it is not operating to a perception of workplace bullying instead of the reality, even though the community outrage is genuinely felt.

The Age newspaper and AAP, basically printed an edited media release but the most significant statements have not been printed.  These are the comments by the Prime Minister, Minister Shorten and the parents of Brodie Panlock, Damian and Rae.  Below is a selection or statements from the doorstop transcript:

PM : “I’ve have had the opportunity to have a conversation with Damian and with Rae about their family experience and they will talk about that family experience themselves, but it led to the loss of their daughter Brodie. And they fought hard here in Victoria for Brodie’s law, to have a law that deals with serious bullying at work. Continue reading “Workplace bullying hits the national agenda in Australia”

Differentiate the WorkCover and WorkSafe brands

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Recently SafetyAtWorkBlog wrote:

“In many industries, and in the safety profession itself, people confuse the OHS laws of injury prevention with the Compensation laws of rehabilitation.”

This misunderstanding also extends to the public.  Every so often, this blog receives comments from irate readers who express their frustration with “WorkSafe” or “Workcover”.  It is a frustration that is shared by many but the frustration is frequently aimed at the wrong target.  Most of the frustration stems from real or perceived injustice in the workers compensation system, but the criticism refers repeatedly to the OHS prevention and enforcement authority. Continue reading “Differentiate the WorkCover and WorkSafe brands”

Some journeys should never be needed

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Relatives of people who have died in workplaces regularly complain about the lack of communication from OHS regulators and other government and legal agencies who are charged with investigating an incident.  A recent example of this is Ann Maitland whose daughter, Michelle, died in a gymnastics class in 2009, but Ann Maitland took action and the safety level of gymnastics classes, and many other workplaces,  is likely to improve considerably as a result.

Prior to discussing the government’s report into gymnastics safety, it is worth acknowledging the arduous journey that Ann Maitland ( an occasional commenter on this blog) undertook.

In response to complaints by Ann Maitland, the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General engaged conducted an independent review of the actions of Work Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ)  in relation to Michelle Maitland’s death.  The review report found that

“A key deficiency highlighted by Mr Byrne was the inadequate communication with Ann Maitland. He further adds that “any similar situation in the future by the creation of the liaison officer position”. In this regard the Investigations Liaison Support Officer position was implemented in January 2011.”

There were several other recommendations from the review for WHSQ to tighten up enforcement procedures.  The fact that an independent review was conducted at all is a major win for Ann Maitland and other Queensland families.  The fact that such an independent review was required at all should be a matter of great concern. Continue reading “Some journeys should never be needed”

Quad bike manufacturers walk out of safety working group

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In early 2010, Australia’s Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA) established a trans-Tasman working party to look at the safety issues of quad bikes, often called all-terrain vehicles.  The working group is in the final stages of its report and a major motorcycle industry representative has not liked the findings and has apparently withdrawn from the working group.  A report on the increasing tensions was published in  this week’s The Weekly Times.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has been told that the quad bike industry representative has walked out in protest.

Let’s look at what HWSA said about the working group in May 2010:

“HWSA Chair, John Watson, said every farming fatality leads to immeasurable suffering in close-knit rural communities and these figures are not acceptable.
“The working group is expected to deliver solutions to safety problems associated with use of quad bikes on farm properties and raise awareness of practical risk controls,…
“The group will look at issues that include design, safety equipment, training and instruction, aftermarket accessories, safe use and point of sale,….
“The joint program of work will be delivered through an Industry Solutions Program where industry and regulators work together to address high risk safety issues – an initiative that has successfully provided practical solutions to a number of issues across many industries.
“The working group is focused on producing tangible and sustainable safety outcomes across the farming and agricultural industry where quad bikes are commonly used….”
Of significance in that media release is that Chief Executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) Andrew McKellar said

“It is our objective that all quad bike users are well informed of the manufacturer’s recommendations in relation to the safe use of these vehicles…”

The sticking point in the working group was, according to The Weekly Times, that

“”…the committee was expected to back the recommendation to “consider fitting an anti-crush device”, the strongest position yet for roll-over protection.”

The committee did recommend this and apparently the FCAI walked.  Attempts have been made to contact the FCAI to confirm their action and their objections. Continue reading “Quad bike manufacturers walk out of safety working group”

Transocean executives gain safety bonuses

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News that Transocean are awarding their executives substantial safety bonuses has the internet aflame with outrage.  Certainly it seems hard to justify the bonuses given after the death of 11 workers and the damage to the local environment, economy and community but the action will also affect safety management.

 Safety management is increasingly relying on statistics to identify performance levels.  Transocean’s actions illustrate that some statistics bear little relation to reality or, at least, the real-world context of its operations.

AFP  quotes Transocean as reporting to the US Securities and Exchange Commission that:

“Notwithstanding the tragic loss of life in the Gulf of Mexico, we achieved an exemplary statistical safety record as measured by our total recordable incident rate and total potential severity rate” Continue reading “Transocean executives gain safety bonuses”