New political challenges for OHS in Australia

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This weekend the Australian people voted for the conservative Liberal Party to be the next Federal government.   Workplace safety has been largely absent from the pre-election campaign but when it has been mentioned it has almost always been couched in terms of productivity.  In the next few years, workplace safety issues must be couched in terms of productivity to have any hope of gaining the ear of the new government and, particularly, the ear of Senator Eric Abetz, the most likely candidate for the ministry of workplace relations.

Workplace Bullying

Recent changes to workplace bullying laws which provide a prominent role of the Fair Work Commission are unlikely to be rolled back but Abetz has promised Continue reading “New political challenges for OHS in Australia”

Labour productivity is “soaring” in a period of IR/OHS variability

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Mental health, happiness, well being, safety, red tape …. each of these have been linked to productivity recently in Australian discourses but, as has been mentioned previously, productivity has a flexible definition depending on one’s politics and political agenda. There is multi-factor productivity and labour productivity.  Each measure provides different results.  So where does OHS sit?

An article in The Weekend Australian on 27 July 2013 illustrates the flexible definitions and includes a rare acknowledgement on labour productivity.

“On the measure of labour productivity, which captures the output of each worker, productivity growth is in fact soaring, hitting 3.4 per cent in 2011-12. [emphasis added]

But on the broader measure, which includes the use business makes of capital equipment, growth is still a negligible 0.1 per cent and has declined on average 0.7 per cent a year ever since Labor was elected.”

The labour productivity figure is important to remember when one hears about excessive workloads, excessive hours of work and other potential causes for psychosocial hazards.   Continue reading “Labour productivity is “soaring” in a period of IR/OHS variability”

Federal Safety Commissioner begins review of SWMS info

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Recently, the issue of Safe Work Method Statements was discussed at a construction safety conference in Canberra.  SafetyAtWorkBlog reported that:

“Several delegates stated their belief that the Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner (OFSC) is largely to blame for the over-emphasis on SWMS in the construction sector and for the bloating of SWMS into a document that does little to improve safety and is more related to meeting the audit criteria of the OFSC”

Last week, the Office of the Federal Safety Commission (OFSC) removed the webpage that led to its Fact Sheet – Guidance for producing Safe Work Method Statements.  The webpage now says that

“The Guidance for producing Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) Fact Sheet is currently under review.”

What’s going on? Continue reading “Federal Safety Commissioner begins review of SWMS info”

Safety should not be the red tape bastard of productivity

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There is a logic being applied to workplace safety and public policy that does not ring true. The argument seems to be that productivity levels in Australia are low, that part of the reason for this low productivity is excessive business paperwork and that workplace safety regulators are a major contributor.   (SafetyAtWorkBlog has written around this topic previously.)

Businessman with devil or angelThe authority on productivity in Australia is, unsurprisingly, the Productivity Commission (PC).  In mid-June 2013, the commission released its Productivity Update, the first of promised annual reports.  Search in the document for “workplace safety” and there is no mention, even “safety” only pulls up a couple of public safety references.  Nothing for “workplace” either.

In fact, the report states that

“Strong growth in labour productivity in the December quarter of 2012-13 could be a sign that a broader improvement in MFP growth is now underway” (page 2)

and

“modelling shows that a comparatively small increase in the rate of labour productivity growth (primarily due to higher MFP growth) could lead to a comparatively large increase in the level of real GDP per person by 2050.” (page 2)

2050 is a long way off but the forecast is for an increase in productivity and the growth in the December quarter could indicate a trend. So for all the productivity gloom and doom being written about in the business newspapers, the reality may be different.   Continue reading “Safety should not be the red tape bastard of productivity”

WorkHealth raises health awareness but only so far

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Last week the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) released a review of the WorkHealth program.  The results are very positive and deserve detailed analysis.  However these analyses do not seem to address all the expectations of the Victorian Government when the program was launched several years ago.

Cover of workhealth_synthesis_reportPremier John Brumby said at the launch of WorkHealth that

“Over time the program is expected to free up $60 million per year in health costs, as well as:

  • Cut the proportion of workers at risk of developing chronic disease by 10 per cent;
  • Cut workplace injuries and disease by 5 per cent, putting downward pressure on premiums;
  • Cut absenteeism by 10 per cent; and
  • Boost productivity by $44 million a year.”

One of the key findings of the research seems to meet two of the program’s aims:

“Modelling of outcome forecast goals for a 10% reduction in absenteeism and a 5% reduction in compensable injury rates are likely to be met, especially as health promotion program uptake increases.” (page 5)

It is reasonable to expect from a 4-5 year study of hundreds of thousands of work health checks that hard data be obtained but as the quote above reveals, the researchers needed to apply modelling and draw on research from other sources. Continue reading “WorkHealth raises health awareness but only so far”