OHS would benefit from a historical perspective on workplace bullying

Every year, around this time, the mainstream media reports on the findings of employee surveys of the Victorian public service. Each year the statistics on workplace bullying are featured.  (The Age newspaper reported on the latest survey on 31 March 2013.)  But the approach to an understanding of workplace bullying has changed over the last fifteen years or so.  A brief look at the March 2001 Issues Paper on workplace bullying, released by the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA), is useful to illustrate the degree of  change but also the origin of some of the contemporary hazard control themes.

Cover of Bullying Issues PaperThe VWA Issues Paper was always intended to lead to a formal Code of Practice but due to belligerence from various industry bodies, no code eventuated and Victoria had to make do with a guidance note.  This effectively banished workplace bullying to a nice-to-manage rather than an essential element of modern management.  Significantly, Safe Work Australia intends to release a model Code of Practice on workplace bullying shortly. Perhaps the employer associations’ attitudes have mellowed.  Perhaps it is the decline of trade union influence since 2001.

The Issues Paper roughly defines workplace bullying as:

“…aggressive behaviour that intimidates, humiliates and/or undermines a person or group.” Continue reading “OHS would benefit from a historical perspective on workplace bullying”

An OHS look at the Australian Labor Party’s National Platform

Cover of National Platform 2011 ALPThe leadership squabbles in the Australian Labor Party (ALP) have diminished  for the moment, and the next Federal election is set for September 2013.  Most everyone is tipping the ALP to lose the election.  The verb “lose” is specifically chosen, for the opposition Liberal/National coalition will probably win “by default”.  Whatever the electoral outcomes, the major political parties in Australia have current positions and policies on workplace safety.  Six months out from an election, it may be worth looking at those policies, as they currently stand. The first is that of the ALP.

The ALP has an extensive National Platform that was presented at its National Conference in 2012.  Below are some of the statements from that document as they pertain to occupational health and safety (OHS).  Some commentary is offered on these statements.

“The Labor Government places the highest priority on worker safety, particularly miner worker safety.” (page 42) Continue reading “An OHS look at the Australian Labor Party’s National Platform”

First aid marketing exercise requires analysis

It is common to use a self-commissioned survey to market one’s services but sometimes the evidence does not support some of the marketing statements. The latest survey by St John Ambulance is a good example of this.

According to St John Ambulance’s media release on 13 March 2013:

“Only 13 per cent of Australian workplaces know how to keep their employees safe according to new research released … by … St John Ambulance Australia.”

Cover of First aid in the workplace - code 2012This is reworded in the report (page 2) as

“…only 13% of Australian businesses are compliant with the new [First Aid in the Workplace Code of Practice]’s requirements…”

The survey sample does not support the generalisations above. Continue reading “First aid marketing exercise requires analysis”

How can one learn from OHS mistakes if those mistakes are hidden?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) regulatory agencies have existed for decades, originally with an enforcement role but increasingly aimed to prevention and education.  It is fair to say the “2nd generation” of OHS regulators in Australia appeared in the 1980s.  It is also fair to expect to be able to readily access the corporate memory and prosecutorial activity of the regulators, particularly since the growth in the Internet. Very recently WorkSafe Victoria reviewed its online database of OHS prosecutions excising prosecution summaries prior to 2012.  This decision is a major weakening of the “state of knowledge” about workplace safety in this State, a decision that some have described as outrageous.  How can one learn from mistakes if those mistakes are not made available?

Continue reading “How can one learn from OHS mistakes if those mistakes are hidden?”

It can take a long time to learn how to manage workplace safety

On 21 December 2012 in the South Australian Industrial Court, Amcor Packaging (Australia) was fined $A96,000 over a breach of the occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.  That type of sentence appears frequently in SafetyAtWorkBlog but the difference this time is that it is the third similar OHS prosecution and fine applied to Amcor in South Australia.  Amcor Packaging has had similar OHS problems in Queensland and Victoria.

According to a SafeWorkSA media release (not yet available online), the latest prosecution involved an incident in November 2010 where:

“Two workers were walking on conveyor rollers to guide an unstable stack of cardboard when one inadvertently stepped into a gap between the rollers. The female worker was then struck by the arm of an automated pallet sweeper, sustaining multiple fractures to her lower leg and ankle.”

Cover  from 2012_sairc_59In his judgment on the case, Industrial Magistrate Stephen Lieschke said there was no risk assessment at the plant and a lack of engineering controls.  The two previous Amcor offences in South Australia also related to inadequate engineering controls.

Recurrence

Magistrate Lieschke also said that

“The two prior offences are highly relevant to this sentencing process, as the court is left with a low level of confidence that Amcor will not commit any future offences…..,”

In June 2008 law firm Holding Redlich mentioned an increase in an OHS penalty against Amcor by the Court of Appeals: Continue reading “It can take a long time to learn how to manage workplace safety”

Safety is missing from productivity debates

A March 2012 report from Safe Work Australia reminds us that the issue of productivity and safety is not a new ideological battle. The report states that

“In 1995, an Industry Commission study estimated that only 25 per cent of the total cost of work–related injury and disease was due to the direct costs of work-related incidents. The remaining 75 per cent was accounted for by indirect costs such as lost productivity, loss of income and quality of life.” [link and emphasis added]

The significance of this quote is that the Industry Commission (now the Productivity Commission) established a direct link between work-related injuries and lost productivity. The link was not established by an organisation focusing on safety but one that is all about productivity. But none of the safety advocates or lobbyists have entered the political debate on productivity, even though the relationship between safety management and productivity has been established for almost 20 years, at least.

Continue reading “Safety is missing from productivity debates”

John Darley speaks to SafetyAtWorkBlog

Independent Member of the South Australian Parliament, John Darley, provided SafetyAtWorkBlog with some background to the package of amendments he has for that State’s Work Health and Safety laws currently before Parliament.

Darley acknowledged that he delayed the Work Health and Safety Bill since December 2011 and admitted that the Bill looked like common sense but his approach is to jump ahead an consider how the Bill would look as an Act and determine its social impact.  The opposition parties in South Australia believed the Bill was so bad that it should have been defeated before it proceeded to the committee stage but Darley knew that could imply that he was not interested in workplace safety.  Darley believes that the reassessment of the WHS Bill over such a long time indicates his commitment to the safety of workers.

Darley said that union right-of-entry was not an issue of concern in December 2011 but he came to see the significance of the  issue after delegations and meetings with people affected by workplace deaths but who were also very dissatisfied with the operations of the OHS regulator, SafeWorkSA.  The union OHS representatives offered an alternate but Darley felt that union access needed Continue reading “John Darley speaks to SafetyAtWorkBlog”