Inaccurate claims made of BP spill inquiry membership

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On 1 June 2010, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) informed its 3,000 members that Professor Andrew Hopkins has been

“nominated for a spot on the US commission’s inquiry into the disaster’s causes”.

Andrew Hopkins has advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that the nomination is not true and that the article is inaccurate.  His name was included in ill-informed speculation on membership of the United States’ commission of inquiry into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill but was never formally nominated. Continue reading “Inaccurate claims made of BP spill inquiry membership”

“We will trust but we will verify” – upcoming lessons from the Gulf of Mexico

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The mass media is full of reports on legal action being taken on behalf of shareholders in BP over the continuing oil spill from the former Deepwater oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

An Australian video report was broadcast on 25 May 2010 and a composite article has appeared in The Australian on 26 May 2010 as well as elsewhere. Many outlets are mentioning the law suit (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and Robert Freedman v Anthony B Hayward et al, Court of Chancery for the state of Delaware, No. 5511) but no details of the suit are publicly available at the moment.

Although safety is mentioned as one of the bases for the suit, it is likely that environmental impact will get prominence over occupational safety and that impact on stock value will be of the most concern.   The shareholder outrage mentioned in some of the articles seems to focus mostly on the financial impact on BP share value rather than any moral outrage on environmental impact or dead and injured workers.

BP CEO Anthony Hayward has acknowledged the substantial  “reputational risk” but his comments are almost always reported surrounded by financial bad news.   Continue reading ““We will trust but we will verify” – upcoming lessons from the Gulf of Mexico”

National recognition of Workers’ Memorial Day – US & UK

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The United States President, Barack Obama, has officially proclaimed 28 April 2010 as Workers Memorial Day.

It may be a politically appropriate announcement given the multiple fatalities that have happened recently in the United States, which the President mentions, but this should not overlook the fact that the leader of one of the most influential countries in the world has acknowledged the International Day of Mourning. Continue reading “National recognition of Workers’ Memorial Day – US & UK”

Work/life balance needs to grow into sustainability

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Just as government is reigning in the excesses of the financial sector over the last decade or so, there is a strong movement to pull back on the workload excesses. Some of this is through the work/life balance movement.

In terms of occupational health and safety, this movement has a strong base that is reflected in a lot of OHS legislation where individual employees have a responsibility to ensure they are working safely and not putting themselves at risk. This can be a very difficult obligation when one is working in an organisation that does not grant safety or mental health or its social obligations much weight.

Just as government is reigning in the excesses of the financial sector over the last decade or so, there is a strong movement to pull back on the workload excesses.  Some of this is through the work/life balance movement.

In terms of occupational health and safety, this movement has a strong base that is reflected in a lot of OHS legislation where individual employees have a responsibility to ensure they are working safely and not putting themselves at risk.  This can be a very difficult obligation when one is working in an organisation that does not grant safety or mental health or its social obligations much weight. Continue reading “Work/life balance needs to grow into sustainability”

A consistent approach to developing public policy is required

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Australia is a Federation of States.  This does not just mean that each State is a different colour of the schoolroom map.  Each State has its own duties to its citizens from within the overall scheme of running a country.

There has always been a tension between the two levels of government and currently the management of health care facilities is the cause of friction, as reported, for instance, in The Age newspaper on 23 October 2009.   The current tension in this sector illustrates a trend that extends beyond health and into workplace safety legislation, human resources and social policy.

The Victorian Health Minister, Daniel Andrews,  is reported to have said that Canberra’s “health bureaucrats [are] remote and incapable of understanding the day-to-day needs of patients.”

“”You can never take it as a given that decision makers and policy makers at the bureaucratic level in Canberra understand how you deliver care in a bed, in a ward or in a country town, because they don’t do that: it’s not their world.”

This argument echoes some of the concerns being raised over the national harmonisation of OHS laws. In such a large country as Australia there are going to be cultural, demographic and geographical variations that a centralised system cannot service.  The Federal Government is hoping to harmonise workplace safety but it has already taken over industrial relations and is strongly threatening a takeover of health.  Why the inconsistency?

On 22 October 2009 at the HR Leadership Awards ceremony in Melbourne, the CEO of Carnival, Ann Sherry, said that centralised policy makers in Canberra are making important decisions from within a rarified world.  Sherry is a member of a review panel into the Australian Public Service (APS) and she identified several features of the APS, and shortcomings, as the service aims to become “world’s best practice in public administration”.  Amongst them:

  • 42% of public servants are younger than 45 years;
  • a highly educated workforce;
  • senior public service positions are centered in Canberra.

The last characteristic Sherry said has led to a disconnection between service design and delivery, echoing, to some extent, the concerns of Daniel Andrews on health policy.

It seems that there are many reviews and investigations occurring into how various industries and sectors in Australian business and government should be structured for the future, a future that is likely to be very different, climatically, economically and demographically.  But there is not a consistency in approaches, or at least one that is readily understood, even though the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, talks repeatedly about “nation building“.

The Australian Government has the best chance in a long time to set the country on a path of sustainable growth.  The United States, under President Barack Obama, has a similar opportunity.  Governments have an obligation to plan for the long-term benefit of their countries ands citizens, not the short-term gains of their political donors, political parties and lobbyists.  This obligation  is as relevant in occupational health and safety as it is anywhere.

Kevin Jones