Evidence of the need to change how and why we work

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Last week Professor Rod McClure of the Monash Injury Research Institute urged Australian safety professionals to look at the ecology of safety and injury prevention.  By using the term “ecology” outside of the colloquial, he was advocating that we search for a universal theory of injury prevention.  In short, he urged us to broaden our understanding of safety to embrace new perspectives.  It could also be argued that he wanted to break the safety profession out of its malaise and generate some social activism on injury prevention – a philosophical kick in the pants.

Before discussing the latest research Australia’s Barbara Pocock has undertaken, with her colleagues Natalie Skinner and Philippa Williams, the challenge of achieving some degree of balance between the two social activities of work and non-work can be indicated by a graph provided by Dick Bryan and Mike Rafferty in a recent DISSENT magazine article about financial risk.

In 2008 people in Australian households were working over 50 hours per week.  The reasons for this are of less relevance than the fact that Australian workers are well beyond the 40-hour work week, not including any travel time.  Work has a social cost as well as a social benefit and any discussion (debate?) over productivity, as is currently occurring in Australia, must also consider the social cost of this productivity.  The graph above is a symptom of the challenge of achieving a decent quality of life and a functional level of productivity – the challenge that Pocock, Skinner and Williams have undertaken. Continue reading “Evidence of the need to change how and why we work”

OHS is Dead. Long Live WHS.

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Media reports on the 13 April 2012 Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting say that harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws in Australia has died.  Some say this is the fault of the Victorian Government with its economic justification for inaction but the process was struggling as soon as the West Australian Government flagged its major concerns, principally, with increased union powers, as reiterated in the Australian Financial Review on 14 April 2012 (not available on-line).

WA Premier Colin Barnett is quoted as saying that:

“There are three or four sections we don’t agree with and the principle one of those relates to right of entry [for trade unions]… We see that as an industrial issue.  Right of entry, it is was applied to OH&S, in all probability would be used by the unions to shut down the Pilbara iron ore operations…”

This is further evidence of the political dominance of the mining sector in Western Australia, if it was ever needed.

Victoria does not have the same excuse as the right of entry has existed for many years and almost totally without any industrial relations problems. Continue reading “OHS is Dead. Long Live WHS.”

Victoria’s analysis of OHS law costs is unhelpful politics

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The Victorian Government has released the PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) assessment of the potential economic impacts of the introduction of the national Work Health and safety laws.

The government media statement accompanying the report states that

“The proposed laws do not deliver on the intent of the COAG reform agreed to in 2008 which aimed to reduce the cost of regulation and enhance productivity and workforce mobility,” Mr Baillieu said.

“Victoria already has the safest system, the most effective system, the lowest rate of workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths of all states, and the lowest workers’ compensation premiums in the country.  It is estimated that it will cost Victoria $812 million to transition to the new model and $587 million a year in the first five years in ongoing costs to businesses.  Most of those costs will be borne by small enterprises which make up 90 per cent of Victorian businesses…,”

This media statement needs to be seen as, largely, political posturing. PwC has produced a report that confirms many of the suspicions that the conservative politicians in Victoria have held for some time. Continue reading “Victoria’s analysis of OHS law costs is unhelpful politics”

Is OHS harmonisation a dead parrot or is it just pining?

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In The Australian newspaper on 3 April 2012, Judith Sloan presents a useful summary of the status of the OHS harmonisation process.  Many of her criticisms are valid but she has not realised that the new Work Health and Safety laws stopped being occupational health and safety laws some time ago.  It is easier to understand the proposed changes if one accepts that these laws have broadened beyond the workplace to operate more as public health and safety laws.

It is possible to accept Sloan’s assertion of the “demise”of OHS harmonisation but if seen in the light of an integrated public/workplace health and safety law, the harmonisation process may be a welcome beginning to a broader application of safety in public and occupational lives.

The acceptance of this interpretation provides very different comparisons and linkages.  For instance, the shopper tripping on a mat in the vegetable section of a supermarket was likely, in the past, to receive recompense through public liability insurance. Now it could equally be under OHS laws.  The regulation of potential legionella sources was through the Health Department, even though many of these are in workplaces and often affect workers first.  Should cooling towers have been assessed by hygienists or occupational hygienists?  Should these be managed under an employer’s OHS management system or through the facilities manager or landlord?
Continue reading “Is OHS harmonisation a dead parrot or is it just pining?”

OHS Strategy to nowhere

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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”