Workplace Bullying is a significant challenge even if the reality is smaller than expected

An article in the Weekend Australian newspaper and magazine (not available fully online) provides some statistics that raise serious questions about the level of bullying in workplaces in Australia, with particular focus on Victoria.  Of the 2,080 complaints lodged with WorkSafe Victoria in 2010-11

“only eight were deemed serious enough to warrant possible prosecution.”

Yet the OHS regulator received 7,050 inquiries about bullying.  There is clearly a problem in Victorian workplaces but it is not always bullying, as defined under OHS law.  Something else is happening and it has been happening for some time.

As reported previously in SafetyAtWorkBlog, the issue of workplace relationships is broader than can be handled by one regulator under one law.  There are human rights issues, mental health issues, harassment  and potential suicides – a range of social issues that should have taken the prevention of “workplace bullying” out of the workplace sometime ago.

The newspaper article, by Richard Guilliatt, draws on several significant cases of proven workplace bullying beyond the more familiar case of Brodie Panlock.  Christine Hodder’s suicide in 2005 following bullying in the New South Wales Ambulance Service generated a review of the organisation that found systemic bullying.  Sixteen year old Alex Meikle committed suicide in 2008 after many workplace “pranks” that included being set on fire. Continue reading “Workplace Bullying is a significant challenge even if the reality is smaller than expected”

Workplace bullying statistics remain muddy

A recent article on workplace bullying by the CEO of Diversity Council Australia, Nareen Young, is a good introduction to the issue but, as with many other articles on the issue, the content requires careful consideration.

One statistical resource used on workplace bullying articles is the very important and influential March 2010 Productivity Commission (PC) report – Performance Benchmarking of Australian Business Regulation: Occupational Health & Safety.  Predominantly, this report lumps together “harassment”, “occupational violence”, and “fatigue” with “workplace bullying” under the term “psychosocial hazards”.  This means it is impossible to extrapolate data from any specific workplace issue in this category, however the PC report does devote some sections of Chapter 11 specifically to bullying, but even then the statistics are tricky.

Young’s article states that

“Estimates of its [bullying’s] prevalence in the workplace vary, but one study outlined in the Productivity Continue reading “Workplace bullying statistics remain muddy”

Academic clarifies objections to sex work

Caroline Norma of RMIT University responded to some questions about sex work and brothel safety put to her by SafetyAtWorkBlog in response to her recently published opinion piece.  This article is a companion piece to an earlier SafetyAtWorkBlog article on sex work and safety.

SAWB: What action do you recommend that brothel owners should take, beyond the current legislative and licensing requirements, to ensure that only safe sex occurs on their premises?

CN: “Brothel owners are currently commissioning violence against women by operating prostitution businesses.  Prostitution is inherently a practice of violence against women, and can’t be made ‘safe’ for women by any action by pimps.  In fact, brothel owners have a financial conflict of interest with regards to ensuring the safety of women in their venues, because clients will pay more for unprotected sex acts, violent sex, body punishing sex acts like anal penetration, sex with younger women, etc.” Continue reading “Academic clarifies objections to sex work”

Brothel safety gains new media attention

The occupational health and safety of sex workers is one of the most difficult areas to write about as the industry is politically and ideologically charged with matters of feminist ideology, human rights and sex trafficking, religious morality and NIMBY lobbying.  In such an environment, it is important that the OHS needs of sex workers not be forgotten.

On 13 July 2011, The Age newspaper reported on the threat of legal action by one sex workers on a Victorian licensed brothel, Butterflys of Blackburn.  The article raised many OHS issues for the brothel industry.  In short, the article reports that a sex worker is suing the brothel because the brothel, allegedly, established an expectation that the sex workers would allow unprotected sex, sexual acts without a condom or other protection, an offence under Victorian law.  This particular sex worker’s experience in Butterflys of Blackburn was that, when refusing unprotected sex to a client, the client assaulted her, attempted to rape her and threatened her with a gun.

The Age reports that the woman “has since been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, whiplash in her neck and a torn muscle in her shoulder.”  The worker is already receiving workers’ compensation and is pursuing compensation for permanent impairment.  Her plans for suing the brothel relate to the accusation that the brothel failed to provide a safe workplace. Continue reading “Brothel safety gains new media attention”

New workplace bullying reference group established

Queensland’s Education and Industrial Relations Minister, Cameron Dick, has always been a strong critic of school bullying but now he has focussed on workplace bullying.

According to Minister Dick’s media release on 10 July 2011 the government is setting up a special reference group to examine workplace bullying.  A spokesperson for the minister told SafetyAtWorkBlog that the membership of the reference group is unlikely to be finalised.

The Minister is quoted as saying.

“Queensland currently has existing laws to address workplace bullying and protect workers from harassment and the time is right to review these laws….I am establishing a workplace bullying reference group to look into the incidence of bullying and strategies to prevent bullying in Queensland workplaces.

The reference group will consist of senior worker and employer representatives, as well as legal and academic experts.  Continue reading “New workplace bullying reference group established”

Workplace bullying survey of dubious value

A doomsaying workplace bullying survey is doing the rounds of the Australian media on 8 June 2011. The media release accompanying the survey (neither are yet available online), produced for a “web-based employment screening solution” WorkPro, says

“One quarter of employees (23%) say that they have been a victim of bullying or discrimination in the workplace in the last two years,…”

An equally valid interpretation from the same survey figures could be

Three quarters of employees (76%) say that they have not been a victim of bullying or discrimination in the workplace in the last two years.”

The survey is terrific news. Workplace bullying may not be as big a problem in the workplace as recent media reports have led us to believe. But the survey takes the negative perspective and it is the negative that is being reiterated in the media. Continue reading “Workplace bullying survey of dubious value”

New OHS info on Working Alone and Occupational Violence

One of the most difficult safety management challenges is the control of hazards associated with working alone.  The most effective control is to not work alone, but the difficulty comes because this option requires expenditure.

WorkSafe Victoria recently released an information sheet on this hazard and listed the following hazard control options:

  • Buddy system
  • Environmental design
  • Communication or location systems
  • Alarms
  • Movement records
  • Training
  • Knowledge sharing

WorkSafe wisely says that most workplaces will require a combination of these options to control the hazard of working alone.

Trying to reduce the hazards of working alone is a terrific indication of the economic health of a business, the level of safety commitment of a business owner or manager, and the state of safety knowledge in the company. Continue reading “New OHS info on Working Alone and Occupational Violence”

Brodie’s Law on bullying needs more consideration for workplace application

Recent attention on the presentation of the Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Bill 2011 to the Victorian Parliament has, understandably, focussed on the changes to the criminal code. However some of that attention should also have been given to the existing rules and control measures under workplace law, particularly considering that the proposed amendments, commonly referred to as Brodie’s law, are being described in the context of workplace bullying.

WorkSafe Victoria’s 2005 guidance on workplace violence and bullying specifies what elements of the Crimes Act 1958 could be relevant to workplace bullying:

  • Intentionally or Recklessly Causing Serious Injury
  • Intentionally or Recklessly Causing Injury
  • Threats to Kill
  • Threats to Inflict Serious Injury
  • Stalking

The inclusion of the last item may surprise some who have been reading only the newspaper coverage of Brodie’s Law as there was a clear implication that the application of stalking to workplace bullying was new.

Law firm Clayton Utz reminds us that workplace bullying remains undefined in the Crimes Act and that the Bill

“… extends the definition of the pre-existing offence of stalking by expanding the definition of that offence to pick up the type of behaviours that are typical of workplace bullying.”

If the Bill passes the Victorian Parliament, the OHS regulator will need to amend its advice on workplace bullying to reflect the expanded definition of stalking. But as can be seen by the bullet points above, changes to guidance may be minor as stalking is already seen as a potential element of workplace bullying. Continue reading “Brodie’s Law on bullying needs more consideration for workplace application”

You can lead a stressed horse to water……

England’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) released results of a survey of union representatives on 24 February 2011 that shows that workplace stress is

“now by far the most common health and safety problem at work.”

Even taking into consideration the inherent bias of such union surveys of reps, the figures are significant.  The 24 February 2011 media release states:

“Nearly two thirds (62%) of reps say that stress is in the top five problems faced by the workers they represent and more than a quarter of reps (27%) pick out stress as the hazard at work that most concerns them.  Another recent report from the British Academy states that the global economic downturn is to blame for the soaring stress levels due to the sharp rise in job strain and job-insecurity; both determinants of work-related stress. In the last 2 years, work stress levels rose by more than 4%, compared to the previous rises of 0.1% from 1992 to 2009.” [link added]

So what can be done to reverse this trend?

If the global economic downturn has generated increased stress levels, OHS practitioners and activists need to look at the big picture and begin pushing for better economic health – an action that, outside of the union movement, hardly ever gets a mention.

If OHS principles are based around the need to eliminate hazards then OHS professionals should be strong advocates of sustainable development where the mental health of workers needs as much support for sustainability as the environment receives, if not more. Continue reading “You can lead a stressed horse to water……”

Insurance company “fire-bomber” dies in custody

Almost 12 months ago, Paul Wayne Clarke “loaded a shopping trolley with jerry cans of fuel and set it alight inside a Darwin insurance office, injuring 15 people”.  Clarke died on 21 January 2011 after a failed suicide attempt whilst in custody.

On February 2010 media report provided a few details of Clarke’s circumstances:

“The bomber reportedly goes by the name “Bird” and is a former security guard who worked at a Darwin pub until being injured on the job in October 2007.

He allegedly blamed the insurer for loss of earnings that forced him to leave his three-bedroom home in Humpty Doo and move into a shipping container.”

The incident was enormously traumatic for the 15 staff and customers of the Territory Insurance Office (TIO) who were injured by the incident.

The Coroner will be investigating Clarke’s death but the motivation for Clarke’s initial actions against TIO will remain a mystery.  Continue reading “Insurance company “fire-bomber” dies in custody”