A safe (social) system of work

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For years Australian OHS legislation has focused on establishing a “safe system of work”.  This focus is inclusive and is an understandable approach to safety regulation but it has also generated a fair share of confusion.  If a business does not have a documented safety management system, does it have a system of work?  Yes it does but the lack of documentation makes it very difficult to describe, particularly if there is a performance benchmark such as “compliance”.  Humans like to have a clean line of cause and effect or a linear, causative management process.  So vague concepts like “system of work” can be challenging.

Prescriptive rules used to be the way that safety compliance could be met but that world is long gone.  Its distance can be seen by looking at the Australian Government’s new model Work Health and Safety Act which compounds the vagueness by including “as far as reasonably practicable” wherever possible.  All of this vagueness makes the lot of the business operator more complex and more costly as the business operator seeks clarity from others such as lawyers, OHS consultants, auditors and Standards organizations.  Is it any wonder that safety is seen as an exorbitant cost?  In essence, OHS regulators have outsourced the responsibility, and the cost, to employers. Continue reading “A safe (social) system of work”

“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”

Changing political support of workplace safety in the US

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Occupational health and safety used to be above political argy-bargy.  It was accepted that the safety of workers was a core importance to the management of any business.  Often it operated as a subset of industrial relations and popped its head up occasionally, usually when new of revised legislation was due.  Rarely has workplace safety been a catalyst for political controversy.

In the United States, the last political fight was over the ergonomics  rule under a Republican Bush presidency in 2001.  According to one media report:

“The president has directed Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to find a less expensive way to protect worker health.” Continue reading “Changing political support of workplace safety in the US”