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”

Another public service bullying guide

December must be the month for bullying guidances as another workplace bullying guide for employers has been released in Australia, this time by Comcare.

Comcare has changed considerably over the years, particularly with the influx of private companies and organisations under its jurisdiction.  Where previously it’s guidances covered public servants, postal services and the defence forces, it now has member organisations in construction, banking, and transport.  It is this broad membership that creates challenges for Comcare. Continue reading “Another public service bullying guide”

Preparing for occupational violence in fast food outlets

On 17 December 2010, the parents of Luke Adams were abused outside a court in Melbourne, Australia.  The mother of the killer of Luke Adams berated the parents after her son received further time in jail.

SafetyAtWorkBlog touched on Luke Adams’ death in an article in 2009 in which we pointed out that several violent deaths had occurred in, and around, fast-food restaurants and yet there is little focus on the role of the restaurants in these incidents.

On 4 January 2011, the media is reporting that McDonalds has issued a security warning to its restaurants after a couple of violent robberies on its Victorian stores in the last few days.

Such acts in fast-food establishments are particularly worrying because of the young age of many workers in the sector.  Over this holiday period in Australia, many teenagers experience their first “real” work in fast-food outlets and other than working very long shifts (that’s a different story) the experience should present them with a positive approach to work. Continue reading “Preparing for occupational violence in fast food outlets”

Looking at the root causes of workplace violence

Workplace incidents and injuries often occur as a result of inadequate resourcing in staff and time but few OHS consultants are comfortable recommending to clients that additional staff are required or that shifts should be reconfigured or, possibly, that a certain business activity (or the business itself) should be cancelled.  Yet identifying the “root cause” and eliminating the hazard is the aim of the safety profession and, sometimes, a legislative obligation.

A blog article from the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health in the United States illustrates many of these issues.  In a post entitled “Assaults on Nursing Assistants” unacceptable levels of assault and biting were experienced by aged-care nurses in one survey sample. But the blog not only reported the research results, it recommended some control measures:

“Improving staffing levels may reduce the risk of assault by reducing workload demands and allowing staff more time to spend with each resident and avoiding the need to rush care.” (emphasis added)

These seem sensible control measures in this work situation but will any business really take the recommended actions based solely on safety concerns? Continue reading “Looking at the root causes of workplace violence”

Controlling Christmas party risks is a year-round activity

Every year, around this time, law firms and OHS regulators release statements and good OHS advice about the risks of Christmas and end-of-year work parties.  But companies who wait until now to introduce control measures and policies for the risks of occupational violence, sexual harassment and reputational damage have, largely, missed the opportunity to effectively manage these risks.

The need to enforce safe behaviours at work functions is not a seasonal process but one that is integral to the establishment of a safe workplace culture the year round.  This is not to say that a friendly reminder is not useful but, if managed well, it should be nothing more than a reminder.

Of all the OHS advice for parties, Workplace Health & Safety Queensland is most succinct: