OHS Strategy to nowhere

Throughout 2011, Safe Work Australia (SWA) has been conducting consultative workshops in the development of the next ten-year National OHS Strategy.  SafetyAtWorkBlog reported previously on the Melbourne meeting.  SWA has released their report into that Melbourne meeting.

The meeting had a set of criteria for the stakeholders to consider.  Sadly, there was no forewarning of the issues to be discussed so the workshop took some time to gain traction.  With only one day of consultation, it would have been more productive to release the agenda topics a day or two earlier.  These topics, each of which could have generated at least a half-day’s debate, are listed below

“Social/Economic/Emerging Issues in the Workforce, Business and Technology…

Hazards – Enhancing the capacity of workplaces to respond to:

  • Disease-Causing Hazards …
  • Injury-Causing Hazards …
  • Psychological Injury-Causing Hazards …

Work Health and Safety Systems – Challenges and Solutions in Safe Design and Work Systems, Skills and Training, and in Safety Leadership and Organisational Culture…..”

The report has responses to each of these topics but many of the suggestions are already known.  The lack of creativity in the suggestions is largely disappointing.  The responses to “what will success looks like in ten years” are mostly extensions of programs that are already in place or a perpetuation of the “way things are done now”.  Innovation was largely missing, perhaps due to the participants not being able to lose their own agendas.  The earlier SafetyAtWorkBlog article discussed the negative impact of the shadow of harmonisation, a term found only once in SWA’s report. Continue reading “OHS Strategy to nowhere”

Regulatory Impact Statement to be released on 14 September 2011

According to a media release from Senator Chris Evans, the Australian Minister for Workplace Relations,  the Regulatory Impact Statement for the new OHS regulations will be released today, 14 September 2011.  The release is not yet publicly available on-line so the full text is included below:

New health and safety regulations to boost national productivity

“Historic health and safety reforms will deliver up to $2 billion a year in productivity gains Minister for Workplace Relations, Senator Chris Evans said today.

The Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) for the harmonisation of health and safety regulations released today confirms the economic benefit of a national OHS system and demonstrates that the reforms are on track to be implemented by 1 January 2012.

“The Statement vindicates COAG’s decision in 2008, and the Gillard Government’s determination to pursue OHS harmonisation as a key economic reform,” Senator Evans said. Continue reading “Regulatory Impact Statement to be released on 14 September 2011”

Harmonisation becomes more difficult with loss of another political support base

The Australian Government faces another hurdle in its strategy for OHS harmonisation with another State Government, Victoria, falling to the conservative Liberal /National party coalition. OHS has hardly been mentioned in the state election campaign as all of the reform action is at a national level but, as Mark Skulley reports in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on 29 November 2010 (not available online):

“…the Coalition will be more critical of the state’s militant unions, particularly when it comes to major infrastructure projects, and take a more sceptical line on the Gillard government’s push for a national occupational health and safety regime.”

A Skulley article in the 30 November 2010 AFR indicates that the Australian Council of Trade Unions has received a strategy document that has “urged unions to become more independent of the ALP [Australian labour party]..”

As the union movement is the strongest and loudest advocate for occupational health and safety in Australia, union policies and strategies should be of great interest to the OHS profession.

Until Prime Minister Gillard makes her next statement, or mention, of OHS legal reform publicly, the harmonisation process is in serious limbo. This on the eve of the release of draft OHS regulations and codes of practice.

Kevin Jones

Delays in draft OHS harmonisation documents

Further to the blog post on the prioritization of draft Codes and Regulations by Safe Work Australia, SafetyAtWorkBlog has been advised that the release of these documents will no longer be around 10 November 2010.  A December 2010 release is now being planned for.

Whether the Public Comment period will similarly be put back has yet to be decided.

Some involved with the harmonisation negotiations believe a January 2011 release is more likely.

Part of the reason for the delay is believed to the fallout from the dialogue between the New South Wales and Federal Governments that has been reported on extensively.

The challenge for the release of documents is whether to delay until the draft documents are the best they can be, particularly in relation to the Regulations which are considered crucial to the OHS harmonisation program, or to release incomplete drafts for the sake of meeting the reform schedule.

Kevin Jones

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?”

The Safety Institute discovers the media

For many years the Safety Institute of Australia has been uncertain in its media relations. On most of the important OHS issues in the last 10 years the SIA has either been silent for the fear of being “overtly political” or been too slow to react.  Its past media releases have almost always been to promote upcoming conferences.  Finally, the SIA has made a media statement within 24 hours of an OHS issue AND it was a political issue.   Perhaps the SIA is finally showing some understanding of how to work with the media instead of being suspicious.

On 15 October 2010, The SIA issued a media release on the matter of NSW Premier Kristina Keneally’s refusal to play to the rules on harmonizing OHS laws. In a carefully worded statement, the SIA has come out on the side of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.   No surprise there as Keneally’s government is considered by almost everyone as a certainty to lose power in the March 2011 election.   But the SIA’s inherent conservatism is on show when it says the proposed federal law changes remove “any justification for a union’s right to prosecute.”.  The SIA has always been uncomfortable with the OHS role of unions and has had a fractious relationship with the union movement. Continue reading “The Safety Institute discovers the media”

Harmonious fragility or fragile harmony – OHS and politics in Australia

Less than 24 hours after mentioning the fragility of Australia’s OHS harmonisation process, confirmation comes from an unexpected source, Kristina Keneally, Premier of New South Wales (pictured right).  It would seem that Keneally’s decision to change her stance on OHS is more to do with a general package of industrial relations and, union-friendly, reforms, as reported in the Brisbane Times on 14 October 2010  (video available HERE). Yet she has stated that

“”We will not therefore introduce the model OHS legislation as it is currently drafted.”

The media has been quick of highlighting this new tension between State and Federal agendas.  Prime Minister Julia Gillard was asked about Keneally’s statements and responded:

“….I think the Keneally Government should honour the agreement it made. It had an extensive period of time to raise issues of concern – and indeed it did, through its Minister at the Workplace Relations Ministerial Council table. Issues were raised, issues were discussed. When you are reaching uniform laws, it is obvious that states and territories come with different perspectives. They’ve got their own laws. If no-one moves then you never get national uniformity.

So, yes, New South Wales raised issues along the way, but it accepted the outcomes and it signed the deal. We require the deal to be delivered.” Continue reading “Harmonious fragility or fragile harmony – OHS and politics in Australia”