The Victorian Workcover Authority’s (VWA) WorkHealth program is coming to the end of its five-year life. But what is the way forward? Has the $A600 million program achieved its aims?
Aims and Results
VWA’s annual report for 2008 (page 33) stated the following aims for WorkHealth, reiterated in the WorkHealth Strategic Framework 2010-12 (page 1):
“Over the long term, the program aims to:
- cut the proportion of workers at risk of developing chronic disease by 10%
- cut workplace injuries and disease by 5%, putting downward pressure on premiums
- cut absenteeism by 10%.
These goals aim to drive productivity and reduce health expenditure that is associated with chronic disease.”
None of VWA’s annual reports since 2008 have included any mention of these benchmarks. Continue reading “Where to for the “the expensive and failed WorkHealth scheme”?”
Several years ago, a WorkSafe Victorian executive saw “reasonably practicable” as a major legal advantage in safety regulation. It is of legal benefit, but does it make workplaces safer? Does it make it easier to manage workplace safety? In this time of economic austerity and the pursuit of red tape reductions, can the “reasonably practicable” elements of Australia safety law be an impediment to safety management?
Employers have always seen legislative compliance as the equivalent of being safe. This position seems sensible because if the safety police of the OHS regulator leave you alone after a site visit and say you are compliant, your workplace must be safe. The safety experts have visited and found nothing wrong, it is logical to then assume safety.
Here’s a radical thought – compliance ≠ safety. Never has and never will.
This will be a shock for many businesses, and even a shock for many OHS regulators, because so much workplace safety strategy is based a flawed logic that “if I comply with workplace safety laws, I am safe”. Regardless of OHS laws, there is a moral social duty to look after the safety and welfare of one’s workers and oneself. When values become codified in law, the law becomes the value, and the moral duty becomes historical.
Continue reading “Need to focus on safety first and compliance later”
The corporate wellness advocates have been able to estimate the return-on-investment (ROI) for their programs but there has been little research on the return-on-prevention, until recently. In 2012 the International Social Security Association (ISSA) determined that, in microeconomic terms,
“…there are benefits resulting from investment in occupational safety and health… with the results offering a Return on Prevention [ROP] ratio of 2.2.”
This means that for every one dollar spent per employee per year the potential return is 2.2 dollars.
The report also found that OHS provides, amongst other benefits:
- Better corporate image
- Increased employee motivation and satisfaction, and
- Prevention of disruptions.
But why bother costing harm prevention when there is already a legislative requirement to provide safe and healthy workplaces? Such a question usually comes from those whose understanding of OHS is principally compliance and who believe compliance equals safety.
The calculation of ROP, in the ISSA report at least, counters the belief that safety is always a cost with no economic benefit to the company. A positive ROP provides an opportunity to actively participate in the economic debate over productivity and, in some countries, austerity.
Writing recent articles on workplace bullying and harmonisation reminded me of an interview I conducted in 2003 with the then head of the National OHS Commission, Robin Stewart-Compton. NOHSC was a predecessor to Safe Work Australia.
The extract below reminds us that National Uniformity, a cousin to harmonisation, started over twenty years ago.
SAW: In the early 1990s there was a strong push for National Uniformity of OHS laws and a recent conference of the Royal Commission into the Building and Construction industry discussed this issue at length. Will the National Strategy achieve the aims of National Uniformity over 10 years ago?
RSC: The language has changed and you are more likely to hear of National Consistency than Uniformity but although this change has occurred there exists a paradox. Ten years ago we spoke commonly of the objective of National Uniformity and made very little progress toward achieving it. Continue reading “Stargazing on harmonisation from 2003”
Politicians are sufficiently media-savvy to release policies and information to gain the maximum exposure in the media cycle. For some reason, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, missed the opportunity to have his changes on workplace bullying in the newspapers for 12 February 2013. The news cycle is also being dominated by the resignation of Pope Benedict. However Shorten’s response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying deserves detailed analysis.
Shorten is bringing the investigation of workplace bullying cases under the Fair Work Commission. There are likely to be complex consequences of this decision, a decision that is clearly the Minister’s as the Parliamentary Inquiry made no clear recommendation on the location of the “new national service”.
“The Committee did not receive evidence on where such a service [“a single, national service to provide advice to employers and workers alike on how to prevent, and respond to workplace bullying” 5.51, page 136] should be located. It might be best situated within an existing government agency or department such as Safe Work Australia, the Fair Work Ombudsman or the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. It may also be considered appropriate for the service to be an independent body that is funded by the Commonwealth. Consequently, the Committee does not have a clear recommendation as to where the new national service may sit.” (Section 5.58, page 138)
Clearly Shorten’s announcement could easily have been “Minister rejects independent body on workplace bullying”. The Minister should be asked about his reasons for not establishing an independent body into this important issue. Continue reading “Australian Government shifts workplace bullying into the industrial relations system”