Australian Statistics – Part 1 – Employment Conditions

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Safe Work Australia was released four statistical reports into worker health in Australia.  These are important and useful reports that will assist many companies and safety professionals to better address workplace hazards.

Pages from EmploymentconditionsSafetyAtWorkBlog is going to present some of the data in four blog articles, without commentary or interpretation, which is the usual approach.  Each article will be the summary of findings from each report.  Readers are strongly encouraged to download and read the full reports (links to each will be included in each article) as the summaries do not fully reflect the complexity of the analysis.

We want to thank the Safe Work Australia for their decision to provide such data.  It is an optimistic sign of improved communication for the national organisation.

The impact of employment conditions on work-related injuries in Australia

Employment status

  • Employees accounted for 88% of the total workforce in 2005-06.  Employees recorded a higher incidence rate of work-related injury compared to Employers or Own account workers (E/OAWs): 71 injuries per 1000 employees compared to 52 injuries per 1000 E/OAWs.
  • Employees recorded higher incidence rates in all industries except the Construction industry where similar rates were recorded for the two employment types.
  • Employees recorded higher incidence rates in all occupations except for Managers and administrators where E/OAWs recorded 76 injuries per 1000 workers compared to 53 for Employees.
  • Male employees recorded an incidence rate 1.4 times the rate for female employees whereas male E/OAWs recorded an incidence rate twice the rate of female E/OAWs.
  • E/OAWs recorded 19 injuries per 1000 E/OAWs for injuries involving five days or more compared to 21 for Employees.

Leave entitlements

  • Employees with leave entitlements recorded higher incidence rates of injury (76 injuries per 1000 workers) than employees without leave entitlements (66 injuries per million hours worked).
  • When hours of work were examined, it was found that full-time workers experienced the same frequency rate of injury regardless of whether they had access to paid leave or not. The same pattern was observed for part-time workers, though frequency rates for part-time workers were double those of full-time workers.
  • Male employees without leave entitlements recorded the highest frequency rates of work-related injury, substantially above male employees with leave entitlements and higher than female employees without leave entitlements.
  • Male and female frequency rates for employees with leave entitlements were similar.
  • Employees with leave entitlements recorded higher incidence rates than Employees without leave entitlements in all occupations. However, by industry employees without leave entitlements recorded higher rates in the agriculture, forestry and fishing and property and business service industries.

Full-time / Part-time

  • Part-time workers recorded a frequency rate of work-related injury more than twice the rate for full-time workers: 74 injuries per million hours worked compared to 35 for full-time workers.
  • Male part-time workers had higher rates of injury than female part-time workers.
  • Young part-time workers, who were less than 25 years old, had a higher rate of injury than older part-time workers.

In Australia OHS management is red tape

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The Australian newspaper of 1 September 2009 epitomised the ideological problems with OHS in a business management context.  Page 5 has two articles next to each other:

Renewed pledge to cut business regulation” and

Building chief ‘spat on an abused‘”.

The first article reports on a speech by the Competition Minister, Craig Emerson, where it is reported that the Minister

“has pledged his commitment to removing unnecessary regulation that hampered business”.

The Minister was speaking to a business audience and has been described as less friendly to regulation than his predecessor.  OHS compliance is often bundled as an element of unnecessary business paperwork by employer and industry groups however, in this speech, the Minister spoke more of open markets.

The second article focuses on an attack on the head of the much-hated Australian Building & Construction Commission, John Lloyd, but also reports on the national union protest scheduled for 1 September 2009, concerning the weakening of OHS laws through the harmonisation process.

The article reports on a union survey:

“Unions commissioned a poll that showed 78 per cent of those surveyed agreed employers should do more to protect the health and safety of their workers, even if it led to increased costs or red tape.”

That unions would even accept that OHS compliance could be considered red tape is a great concern, and the phrase is taken directly from the ACTU media release.

Union Survey figures

SafetyAtWorkBlog is endeavouring to obtain the original survey results (over 1000 respondents (workers) taken in the last week of August 2009) but for the moment it is worth quoting ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence’s interpretation of the statistics.

“… this poll shows the Australian public don’t want workplace safety rights undermined.”

“The poll shows there is significant support in the Australian community for stronger rights and protections for workers and an ongoing role for unions in checking workplaces where employees are worried they are in danger.

“The poll finds 81 per cent of those surveyed agreed workers should have the right to call in help from a union to check on health and safety issues regardless of their employer’s approval.

“Seven out of ten Australians (69%) believe that injured workers should be able to take their employer to court under workplace health and safety laws.”

Business and government in Australia are harmonising OHS laws to reduce the red tape business compliance costs.  Unions believe that OHS red tape and increased business cost is acceptable.

What does this leave the safety professional who says that they can minimise the red tape associated with OHS compliance AND that safety is not a cost but an investment?  Out in the cold with the Victorian WorkCover Minister, it is suggested.

Kevin Jones

Restorative Justice and workplace fatalities – Part 1

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The city in which SafetyAtWorkBlog is edited, Melbourne, is struggling to manage a spate of street violence – some racially-based, a lot influenced by alcohol and drugs.  The Age newspaper carried a feature article on 25 August 2009 discussing the concept of “restorative justice”, a concept that is barely known outside of some legal or civil liberties areas, in relation to handling offenders and victims of street violence.

Pages from RJ_and_Work-Related_Death_Consultation_ReportOnly last week, there was an important launch of a research report into the application of restorative justice for those affected by workplace fatalities.  It is a fascinating new area of application for restorative justice in Australia and one that seems a more natural fit than for the more common acts of violence.

The research project builds on a lot of the work already undertaken into workplace fatalities by the Creative Ministries Network. Their research, mentioned in the project report, has shown

“…that families and company directors, managers and workers grieving a traumatic death suffer more prolonged and complicated grief due to delays in legal proceedings, public disclosure of personal information, lack of information, and increased stress from involvement in the prosecution process and coronial and other litigated processes.”

Over the next few days SafetyAtWorkBlog will run a series of articles on the concept and its application as well as being able to make available copies of the research reports and transcripts of interviews with research participants.

As SafetyAtWorkBlog has no legal expertise restorative justice needed some investigation.  Below are some useful definitions and descriptions:

Restorative justice is a theory of justice that relies on reconciliation rather than punishment. The theory relies on the idea that a well-functioning society operates with a balance of rights and responsibilities. When an incident occurs which upsets that balance, methods must be found to restore the balance, so that members of the community, the victim, and offender, can come to terms with the incident and carry on with their lives.”

Restorative justice brings victims, offenders and communities together to decide on a response to a particular crime. It’s about putting victims’ needs at the centre of the criminal justice system and finding positive solutions to crime by encouraging offenders to face up to their actions.”

“The term “restorative justice” is often used to describe many different practices that occur at various stages of the criminal justice system including:

  • Diversion from court prosecution (i.e. to a separate process for determining justice);
  • Actions taken in parallel with court decisions (e.g. referral to health, education and employment assessment, etc.); and
  • Meetings between victims and offenders at any stage of the criminal process (e.g. arrest, pres-sentence and prison release.”

[Of course, one can also read the Wikipedia entry)

The intention of restorative justice has more often been to reduce the likelihood of a re-offence.  The application of restorative justice for workplace fatalities seems to be slightly different.  In America, it would be difficult to avoid using the word “closure” (a phrase SafetyAtWorkBlog refuses to use as there is never a close to grief, only a way of living with it) as one of the aims of the workplace fatality application.

There are many effects of a workplace fatality on executives and companies.  It is hard to imagine a company that, after one fatality, would not do all it could to avoid another.  Restorative justice has the potential to heal the surviving victims – family and company.  It can also reduce the animosity that often results from the traditional adversarial justice system, particularly for those participants who may not have been exposed to such processes before.

Kevin Jones

US workplace fatality statistics – 2008

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Preliminary data on workplace fatalities was released recently by the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program in the United States.  Economic pressures have reduced the size of the workforce which, the data indicates, decreased fatalities.  Good news in one way but only status quo if one is looking at long-term trends or for some benefit from government workplace safety initiatives.

Benchmarking and statistics junkies will be able to extract a great deal of information from the preliminary data.  The chart below is a good example of the level of detail available.

cfch0007 chart

There was a passing mention in the media release which caught our attention – workplace suicides.  The media release states:

“Workplace suicides were up 28 percent to a series high of 251 cases in 2008, but workplace homicides declined 18 percent in 2008……

Workplace suicides rose from 196 cases in 2007 to 251 cases in 2008, an increase of 28 percent and the highest number ever reported by the fatality census. Suicides among protective service occupations rose from 14 in 2007 to 25 in 2008.”

Regular SafetyAtWorkBlog readers will understand that work-related suicides is an area that we consider under-researched, so the figures quoted are of particular interest although only a minor part of the statistical report.  It would be great if the Bureau of Labor Statistics revisited its 2004 analysis of workpalce suicides in light of this considerable statistical increase.

Kevin Jones

The future for Standards Australia will be hard

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SafetyAtWorkBlog has written elsewhere of how the global financial crisis has caused OHS related programs to be revised.  The latest bulletin from Standards Australia indicates the impact of the financial pressures on its plans and the reduction in the value of their investments has come at a time of other worrisome changes.

(In this article there is a focus on the safety-related Australian Standards.)

Bulletin_1_Standards_Australia_170809_Page_1According to the 17 August 2009 bulletin, Standards Australia has lost $A70 million from its investment portfolio since November 2007.  This has caused it to introduce a “New Business Model”  which reduces Standards Australia’s operating costs and also increases the costs to many of the voluntary participants on committees that develop Australian Standards through the new consultative strategies.

Hopefully during the period of reflection caused by the financial threats, Standards Australia should have considered whether it is worth continuing, at all.

Following are some ruminations about safety-related Standards and their applicability.  These may be relevant to quality, risk and environmental Standards, also.

  • Australia is a very small market for Standards compared to Europe and the United States, in particular.
  • The management professions are becoming more globalised.
  • Manufacturing is becoming more globalised.
  • Europe can draw upon a broader range of expertise in the development of management standards, than can Australia.
  • Several International Standards could be applied in Australia allowing for an international “compliance”.  Some Standards are already in place and promoted by companies as somehow more legitimate that the Australian Standards.
  • Safe Work Australia has informed SafetyAtWorkBlog that:

“The application and use of Australian Standards in model OHS regulations has not yet been decided and will be considered by the Safe Work Australia Council’s Strategic Issues Group”

  • SafetyAtWorkBlog has heard from a South Australian colleague that SafeWorkSA is considering replacing OHS Standards referenced in legislation with codes of practice. (SafetyAtWorkBlog has sought confirmation of this from SafeWorkSA)
  • Australian Standards can be expensive for small businesses, who may have the greatest need for OHS management standards, whereas government publications, such as Codes of Practice are generally free.

Australian Standards are important for many industries, particularly, those that are required to be audited and/or accredited.  Needless to say there is a considerable secondary industry of auditors for these sectors.

All Australian Standards are only guidelines but many have been granted legislative clout by being referenced in law.  As mentioned above a considerable industry has developed in support, providing some legitimacy to the guidelines through weight of numbers.

Safe Work Australia recognised the important role of Australian Standards, but with several qualifications:

“The COAG [Council of Australian Governments] Guidelines recognise that the use of prescriptive requirements, such as those in Australian Standards, while not preferable, may be unavoidable in order to ensure safety.”

Standards Australia must have realised by now that the days of automatic legitimacy through referencing in legislation may be numbered for many of their Standards .  Their previous operating model has had to be thoroughly revised, government and business are fierce on reducing red tape, international standards have been developed that can be applied in Australia, and contributing organisations are reviewing their own costs of participation.

In fact so keen is the government on the reduction of red tape that it established an Office of Best Practice Regulation in the Department of Finance.  On Finance’s website is a clear statement of aim:

“The Government has committed to reducing the regulatory burden on Australian businesses, non-profit organisations and consumers.  This is consistent with larger commitments to address impediments to Australia’s long-term productivity growth.”

Employer groups have identified industrial relations and OHS requirements as “impediments”.

There is no doubt that in many circumstances technical standards are essential reference documents for improving safety, in particular, and for showing that workplace safety is being managed in a systematic and verifiable manner.  The big question is whether those technical standards should be those produced by Standards Australia.

Kevin Jones