The nonsense of Victoria’s non-harmonisation

[Guest post from Ross Macfarlane]

A rhetorical question: if you were an OHS advisor for, say, a Victorian construction company, would you prefer to rely on a regulatory guidance document issued in 2012, under legislation which is not in force in the State, or one which is well over 20 years old, and issued under another piece of legislation which is not in force in this State?

It is received wisdom in OHS professional circles that the continuing failure of Victoria and Western Australia to implement harmonised work health and safety laws is a triumph of politics over policy – a victim of lobbying by special interest groups, mostly of a conservative persuasion. It is a fact that the goal of nationally harmonised laws was established during John Howard’s Prime Ministership, but it is also a fact that the national model laws were adopted by the Council of Australian Government (COAG) in July 2008 (with a target date for adoption of 1 January 2012,) in a narrow window of time when Labor governments were in power in the Commonwealth and every Australian State and Territory.

I don’t wish in this article to dwell on the politics surrounding of the adoption, rejection or modification of the harmonised laws. Key ideological differences such as the magnitude of penalties and union right of entry are I believe of less consequence than the failure to adopt the common structure and common approach to regulation. Hence I want to focus on some of the anomalies and contradictions that have arisen in Victoria as a result of the laws not being adopted in this State. Continue reading “The nonsense of Victoria’s non-harmonisation”

Interesting new appointment at South Australia’s Master Builders

Modern workers rarely stay in jobs longer than six or seven years because they choose to move on or are working on projects that have a short lifespan. Sometimes opportunities arise that can steer people in unpredictable directions, sometimes to positions of influence.  One example of this type of journey could be Ian Markos.

One newspaper recently wrote:

“The recently appointed director of policy for the SA branch of the MBA, Ian Markos, said a “nanny state” approach was stifling job creation. “There’s a raft of laws and regulations. You’ve got employment laws, you’ve got taxation laws, you’ve got environmental laws, you’ve got work health and safety laws, local council regulations. We’re saying enough is enough,” he said.”

Criticism of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws is not surprising from the Master Builders Association but Ian Markos was with South Australia’s OHS regulator, SafeWorkSA, for many years (with a once-only appearance on Gardening Australia) as the Chief Officer, Compliance, Advisory, Legal and Investigations. Continue reading “Interesting new appointment at South Australia’s Master Builders”

The safety features of the new Polaris set a new benchmark

2014.5-SprtsmnAce4x4-White_f3qThe Weekly Times scored an exclusive this week about a new model of Polaris quad bike which incorporates a roll cage or rollover protection structure (ROPS) in its design.  The significance of the Sportsman Ace is, according to the newspaper and the manufacturer, a “game changer” because it seems to counter the arguments of the quad bike manufacturers against such design changes in submissions to government and in public campaigns.  They have stressed that more effective control of a quad bike comes from driver training and behaviour and that ROPs may itself contribute to driver injuries and deaths.  The Polaris Sportsman Ace, to be released in the United States this week and Australia next month, seems to prove that quad bikes can be redesigned to include safety features, an action that manufacturers have been extremely reluctant to do.

A major critic of ROPs on quad bikes in Australia has been the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI). SafetyAtWorkBlog spoke to a spokesman for the FCAI who explained that the Polaris Sportsman Ace is not an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) but a UTV (Utility Terrain Vehicle). Continue reading “The safety features of the new Polaris set a new benchmark”

Fair Work Commission girds its loins for workplace bullying complaints

Official statistics on workplace bullying in Australia are notoriously unreliable.  The Productivity Commission estimated the cost of workplace bullying with a huge margin of variation, between A$6 billion and A$36 billion annually.  WorkSafe Victoria has indicated in the past that the number of interventions on workplace bullying is way below the number of workplace bullying complaints.  On 29 October 2103, in a long discussion on workplace bullying the Australian Capital Territory’s Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher stated:

“According to reports from the Commissioner for Public Administration, reports of bullying and harassment have totalled 68 cases in 2010-11, 71 in 2011-12, and 118 cases in the financial year that has just passed, 2012-13. Proven cases of bullying have numbered four, eight 11 and 19 respectively. This amounts to complaints being made by 0.5 per cent of staff, and substantiated in relation to 0.08 per cent of staff.” (Hansard, page P3930, emphasis added)

These latest statistics, in conjunction with those previously reported, indicate that the perception of workplace bullying is much higher than the reality in Australia.   Continue reading “Fair Work Commission girds its loins for workplace bullying complaints”

SafeWorkSA’s fatality ticker is a good initiative but other metrics could add punch

As part of annual safety week activities, South Australia’s Minister for Industrial Relations, John Rau, launched a workplace fatalities counter (on the right of the webpage).  Rau said in a media release that

“As Safe Work Week begins in South Australia, we are reminded of the nine workers who have not returned home from work this year…..  In a similar way to the reporting of the road toll, providing this information is a reminder to us all that we must make every effort to ensure this number does not rise.”

The comparison with the road toll is an admirable aim and one that  some have advocated for but there are other potential metrics that may have had more impact. Continue reading “SafeWorkSA’s fatality ticker is a good initiative but other metrics could add punch”

No code of practice for workplace bullying but hope remains

Ha01-037As the 1 January 2014 implementation date for new workplace bullying processes approaches there is an increasing amount of legal, HR, and safety seminars, and newsletters and alerts being produced.  Most reiterate the amendments to Australia’s Fair Work Act but occasionally there is additional information.

In a recent seminar, it was suggested that the draft Code of Practice for the Prevention and Management of Workplace Bullying, developed by Safe Work Australia, is to be released as a guidance note rather than a Code of Practice (see below).  Continue reading “No code of practice for workplace bullying but hope remains”

Australian research on OHS harmonisation’s progress, success and errors

The harmonisation of Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) laws has stagnated since the West Australian government’s tepid response to the strategy and Victoria’s belligerent and ill-founded rejection.  But some continue to examine the harmonisation process.  Eric Windholz is one of those researchers.

Windholz is a former executive of Victoria’s WorkSafe and is now  with the Monash Centre or Regulatory Studies and is writing his thesis on OHS harmonisation (to be available soon through the Monash Library).  Windholz acknowledges the political context of harmonisation, a context he describes as “contentious”.

The political maneuvering of various stakeholders in the harmonisation process deserves additional study.  The harmonisation, or even national uniformity, of safety has occurred over a similar period in Australia with other industry sectors, most noticeably in rail.  It is a strategy that was started by the conservative government of John Howard, embraced by the Australian Labor Party through its various prime ministerial incarnations and is now stagnant or even ignored. Continue reading “Australian research on OHS harmonisation’s progress, success and errors”

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