“aggressive verbal, foul-mouthed abuse” – the Ian Smith saga continues to be discussed

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How language can change in only a little time! Earlier this month, SafetyAtWorkBlog wrote on the OHS context of the departure of Orica’s CEO, Ian Smith. In a liftout (not available online) in the Australian Financial Review, many of the same questions were asked by its Chanticleer columnist, Tony Boyd.  The issues raised by the poor decisions of the board are a useful reminder of one of the potential contributory factors for the occupational and mental health of employees.

At last, one writer in the business press is describing Smith’s behaviour as it was – “…aggressive verbal, foul-mouthed abuse” when Smith “blew his top” and “humiliated” an employee.

This is much more direct language than that used in earlier media reporting where the carefully selected language of corporate media releases was reiterated. To understand the seriousness of the issue, it is necessary to describe actions accurately.

Boyd asked

“…why a 21st-century board of directors would deliberately seek a CEO with an “aggressive management style”.

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What can we learn from a failure in leadership?

Cover of 2013_Orica_Code-of-Conduct-1Many OHS professionals state that leadership is a crucial element to establishing a safety culture and then support this with examples of positive leadership.  But some people fail at leadership and failure is often more instructional than success.  Recently the CEO of Orica, Ian Smith, had to resign after his abusive manner resulted in the resignations of  two employees.  This is bad enough but when the Board hired Smith around three years earlier, the Board saw his manner as attractive.  If leadership is crucial to a safety culture, what does this say about Orica’s decisions?

The Chanticleer column of the Australian Financial Review (AFR) wrote on March 24 2015 (paywalled):

“The board’s determination to have Smith shake Orica to its foundations was so great it allowed him to destroy staff engagement and walk all over the company’s culture of mutual respect.  What is so bewildering about this deliberately aggressive and occasionally bullying change management strategy is that it was endorsed by a range of respected non-executive directors…..”

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Network Rail’s wellbeing program

At the recent Safety Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur, there were several presentation illustrating the importance and the application of wellbeing programs as part of a broad health and safety strategy.  One speaker was Chris Jones, the Health and Wellness Strategy Head for Network Rail.

Chris started a wellness strategy in Network Rail from scratch less than three years ago.  Significantly an integral part of the strategy was to measure the effect of the strategy, a practice that should be an automatic inclusion with any contracts and the introduction of a new strategy.

SafetyAtWorkBlog was invited to attend and speak at the summit and had the chance to ask Chris Jones about some of the issues raised in his presentation.

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Master guide or handbook

In 2012, SafetyAtWorkBlog reviewed the first edition of the Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide. CCH Wolters Kluwer has released its second edition and, sadly, it repeats many of the criticisms in the 2012 review.

The title of Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide (2nd ed) seems inaccurate if one considers a book with “master ” in its title to be a “masterwork”. This is not a masterwork and the publishers have emphasised to SafetyAtWorkBlog that the book was never intended to be.  The book is intended to be a brief outline of the most important contemporary occupational health and safety (OHS) issues in Australia and to provide practical advice, checklists and templates.  In fact, the word that should be focussed on in the title is “guide”.

The publishers advised that “master” is in the title to indicate it is part of its “Master Series“, a “brilliant” series described as

“Australia’s premium range of professional books, widely accepted as the leaders in their fields.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog looked at a couple of chapters to assess the quality of the content.  As workplace bullying is such a contentious issue. the Bullying and Violence chapter was a focus. There were a surprising number of omissions in this chapter.

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WorkSafe Victoria’s Len Neist addresses safety profession breakfast

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), in its Australian partners and as a firm, has been prominent in occupational health and safety (OHS) matters, even though the organisation is “on the nose” with much of the trade union movement. This week HSF conducted a breakfast for the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) in Melbourne, the first in a couple of years after an alleged falling out with the SIA.  The presentations did not sparkle as some have in previous years.

The most anticipated presentation was from Len Neist, an executive director of WorkSafe Victoria.  Neist outlined the aims of the organisation but much of this was familiar.  He reiterated the obligations on WorkSafe from the various legislation and pledged to focus on prevention.

Neist is not beyond executive jargon (“risk tolerability framework” ?) and stated one of his aims was to “incentivise compliance and improvement”.  One can argue that compliance should require no encouragement only enforcement.  Why provide incentives to businesses for what is their legislative and moral duty?

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