HR vs. OHS

I have written elsewhere in SafetyAtWorkBlog concerning the silo mentality of managers in relation to human resources and OHS.  This weekend a reader posted the following comment on this blog:

“You are right about the divide between HR & OHS.  Fact is HR are the culprits of negligence, they exist to support Management.  Any one with a serious complaint thinks long and hard before sticking their neck out and going to HR…”

What struck me about this comment was that human resources was seen to be aligned with management whereas workplace safety was not.  A successful safety management system cannot exist in conflict with other management systems but how much compromise does OHS need to make to achieve an integrated management position?

I am sure that HR professionals would not perceive their position in the same way as above but I remember a colleague once saying that safety professionals were on the same level of influence to companies as hairdressers.  Perhaps OHS professionals are envious of the level of influence that HR professionals seem to have with senior management and say such things from bitterness.

At some time or other we all feel less than relevant to employers but  circumstances have a way of re-establishing relevance, sadly in OHS this is often and injury or a compensation claim.

I don’t believe that the disciplines of HR and OHS are incompatible but I have seen many instances in companies where the HR Manager sees OHS as divisive, particularly in the areas of stress and bullying.  I believe that HR professionals by-and-large have a poor understanding of how safety should be managed in companies but that is not necessarily the fault of the HR professional.  OHS professionals need to be far more analytical of their own actions and purpose within organisational structures and start being active.

Kevin Jones

Australian 2008 workplace statistics

Every year newspapers and organisations undertake a “year in review”.  OHS regulators are no different.  As more statistics become available of the next few weeks, SafetyAtWorkBlog will provide the latest OHS statistics for 2008.  The most recent are below.

Western Australia

According to a media release by WorkSafe WA:

“In 2005/06, WA recorded 12 traumatic work-related deaths and 25 in 2006/07. There were 27 fatalities in 2007/08. In addition, every year around 19,000 Western Australians suffer an injury or illness serious enough to have to take time off work.”

Eleven of these fatalities have occurred since 1 July 2008

Victoria

According to information provided to SafetyAtWorkBlog by WorkSafe Victoria:
  • There were 21 work-related deaths in calendar 2008 compared with 22 in 2007 and 29 in 2006.
  • Deaths in 2008 occurred in building construction (four), transport and agriculture (three each), timber, electrical linesmen (two each). There were also fatalities involving forklifts, the meat industry, retail, firefighting, roadworks, warehousing and manufacturing (one each).
  • The 10 year average is 28.4 deaths/calendar year.  There were 39 fatalities in 1999, the highest in that period.  Lowest was 2004 with 18.
  • The 5 year average is 24 with a high of 30 in 2004, the highest in that period.
  • 29,087 [WorkCover] claims last financial year compared with 28,550 in the previous. There were 77 life threatening injuries in the last financial year compared with 66 in 06/07.

Kevin Jones

UPDATE – 7 January 2009

A spokesperson for WorkSafe WA has told SafetyAtWorkBlog that WorkSafe’s statistical experience varies from that in Victoria in the context of workplace injuries over the Summer break.  January is historically a month with a low rate of workplace injuries.  This may be due to the number and type of West Australian industries that close down for January or that workers are on leave for around two weeks in January.

Statistics on workplace injuries are notoriously difficult to compare from one Australian State to another and SafetyAtWorkBlog would argue OHS would be seen as more directly relevant by the community if statistics accurately reflected the level of work-related injuries and illnesses rather than being based on workers compensation claims and fatalities.   It certainly would change the strategic targets and enforcement processes if illness was accurately assessed.

Various Federal governments have promised to attend to statistical incompatibility over decades and it is hoped that the potential national consistency of OHS laws may also resolve the need for accurate and relevant workplace statistics.

 

 

 

 

Injury Reporting Rates

Government OHS policies are, more often than not, based on statistics.  The most common statistic is workers’ compensation claims as they are trackable and involve money.   Another is fatality data.

Many countries have an obligation on employers to notify the proper authorities if a serious injury has occurred.  We know that in some countries injuries and deaths are under-reported.  In the legal, and illegal, coal mines in China, sometimes workplace deaths are actively disguised, ignored or denied.

Just this week, a Vietnam news service reported on the lack of injury reporting identified by the  Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs’ Labour Safety Department, in Vietnam.

The report says that “only 7,000 companies reported work-related accidents” for 2008 and that this equates to only 10 per cent of the reportable accidents.  Using the mathematical calculation skills of SafetyAtWorkBlog (an Arts graduate) that means that over 60,000 workplace injuries are not being reported.

Earlier this year a more explanatory article appeared which estimated 500 deaths each year form workplace incidents.

Perhaps there is some hope that if the government is aware of the lack of reporting, it can accommodate this in its national programme on labour protection, safety and hygiene that aims for a reduction of at least 5% in work incidents by 2010.

Latest Australia workplace fatalities data

The latest official, but not comprehensive, data for Australian workplace fatalities has been released. The Australian Safety & Competition Council has published the Notified Fatalities Statistical Report July 2007 to June 2008.

Chairman Bill Scales AO said that this report provides analysis of notified fatalities across Australia for the full financial year. “There were 16 fewer notified worker fatalities in 2007-08 (131 worker fatalities) than in 2006-07 (147 worker fatalities), a decrease of 11 per cent.  While this suggests that we are taking steps in the right direction to reduce work-related fatalities, every death in the workplace is still one death too many.”

Some other key findings of the report include:

  • In 2007-08 there were 150 notified work-related fatalities (131 worker notified fatalities and 19 bystander notified fatalities). 137 of these fatalities were of males.
  • Four industries accounted for eight out of every ten notified work-related fatalities: construction (24 per cent), transport and storage (23 per cent), agriculture, forestry and fishing (18 per cent) and manufacturing (13 per cent).
  • The most common causes of fatalities were vehicle accidents (44 fatalities), being hit by falling objects (23 fatalities), being hit by moving objects (21 fatalities), falls from a height (16 fatalities) and being trapped by moving machinery (12 fatalities).
  • Construction workplaces recorded a consistently high number of notified worker fatalities over the period 2003-04 to 2006-07 (ranging from 18 in 2004-05 to 36 in 2007-08).
  • There was a notable decrease in the number of notified worker fatalities in agriculture, forestry and fishery workplaces (42 fatalities in 2003-04 to 25 in 2007-08).
  • There was a notable decrease in the number of notified worker fatalities in mining workplaces (4 fatalities in 2007-08 compared with 13 fatalities in 2006-07).

The ASCC has also released the Work-Related Traumatic Injury Fatalities, Australia, 2005-06 report. Some key findings of this report for 2005-06 include:

  • 270 people died from injuries sustained while working for income.
  • 123 persons died from injuries incurred while travelling to or from work.
  • 41 persons were killed as a bystander to work activity.
  • The agriculture, forestry and fishing industry and transport and storage industry recorded the highest number of deaths while working for income (55 deaths each) followed by the construction industry (43 deaths).
  • Vehicle accident was the cause of 40 per cent of the working for income deaths. The next most common cause was being hit by moving objects (14 per cent) followed by falls from a height (13 per cent).
  • Vehicle accidents accounted for 18 bystander deaths, of those, 13 involved trucks, semi trailers or lorries. 

Other statistical reports are available at SafetyAtWorkBlog by entering the search term “statistics” in the search box below or by clicking HERE and HERE

pages-from-traumaticinjuryfatalities20050621pages-from-annual_notified_fatalities_07081

Important victory for aircraft maintenance workers

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs may have to pay compensation to the maintenance crews of F-111 fighter planes.  In the 1970s employees worked within the fuel tanks of the fighters with little, if any, PPE.  In 2004 these workers were excluded from a healthcare and compensation scheme even though, according to one media report, evidence was presented that the workers had

  • a 50% increased risk of cancer
  • a two-fold increase in obstructive lung disease;
  • a two-and-a-half fold increase in sexual dysfunction; and
  • a two-fold increase in anxiety and depression.

One of the reasons the maintenance crews were denied compensation was that the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) had destroyed the maintenance records from before 1992.

An inquiry into the affair has received a submission from the commonwealth Ombudsman, John McMillan, and Labor MP, Arch Bevis, that strongly criticised the destruction and inadequacy of records.

In safety management, record-keeping is often seen, and dismissed, as “red tape”.  The reduction of red tape is not the elimination of red tape and the reality of Australia’s increasing litigious legal system is that more records need to be kept, and for longer, than ever before.

Perhaps, the government, in its pledge to reduce red tape and business costs, should look at the lawyers’ insistence to business that the first port-of-call after an industrial incident is to call them so that everything becomes covered by legal-client privilege.

Perhaps it is the pressure to create paperwork than the paperwork itself that is the problem.  In the case of the F-111 maintenance crews, regardless of the lack of paperwork, justice seems to be happening.  It is just sad that so much pain and suffering had to be endured before getting close to a resolution.

Click HERE for a personal reflection on the health issues of the workers from one of Australian Rugby League’s champions, Tommy Raudonikis.

The right time to do something, or union shortsightedness

The title of this blog is deliberately positive because I find it hard to understand why, when union right-of-entry is such a hot political topic, a New South Wales Minister would defy Federal Court action and accompany union organisers onto a construction site against the wishes of the company who operates the site.

The legal action has been considerably drawn-out but Minister Phil Costa’s seems purposely inflammatory.  In a report on the visit in The Australian on 12 November 2008, the Minister said he was given permission by Sydney Water and a building contractor.  This confirms the confusion over control of a workplace that is being worked through as part of the National OHS Law Review panel.  Who  is the principal contractor?  Who runs the site?

The minister says that permission was obtained from John Holland Construction and the company was accommodating.  The media report did not say if there was any particular reason the minister visited although a media handler said it was a PR visit.

The CFMEU assistance secretary said the only way the union could get on site Was “as a visitor with the minister” and that OHS issues have been raised including dust, wetness and falling from heights.

The minister’s visit just confirms the beliefs of the New South Wales employers that the Labor government’s relationship with the unions is too friendly.  There is some support for this perspective when the government chooses to keep Sydney Ferries out of the credit-rating fire sale, “after intense pressure from union leaders” according to one media report.

In a national context, Minister Costa’s visit illustrates the need for clarity on national OHS laws as John Holland moved from the state workers’ compensation system to the national version, Comcare, a couple of years ago.  So not only did the visit raise matters of workplace control, there was jurisdictional problems.

Unless you are a construction union member in New South Wales, minister Costa’s actions had no positive result.

I have been a union member for several decades and support many of their initiatives but occasionally some in the union movement take short term gains and narrow interest over the bigger picture and the best interest of the whole union movement.  Isn’t short-term gain over long-term benefit what the unions accuse the banks and the corporations of?

WorkHealth – end is nigh after less than one year

Early in 2008, the Victorian Government sprung a surprise on the OHS and health promotion industries by announcing a world-first initiative – WorkHealth.  This program was to be funded by interest generated from the WorkCover scheme to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years.

WorkHealth loses stakeholder support

Two weeks ago, a well-respected OHS professional advised that key stakeholders in WorkHealth were very cool on the program.  This confirmed previous questions raised in SafetyAtWorkBlog about the promotion, transparency and organisational support for WorkHealth.  The professional stated that others were questioning the placement of WorkHealth in the OHS field rather than in health promotion.

Rumour has existed for some months that WorkHealth is a scheme that has been pushed by a narrow range of OHS and workers compensation advocates.

What made WorkHealth so interesting was that the concept originated from within the workers compensation field with workers compensation money.  At the time, the wisdom of committing such a large amount of money to the initiative was questioned by many in the trade union and business areas.  Why head in this direction when there were established mechanisms to reduce OHS and workers compensation costs?

The global economic problems, it is suspected, would have flowed to the investments of the WorkCover scheme and it would be interesting to know what the revenue allocation to WorkHealth now is calculated at.

OHS/Industrial Relations conflict

In The Age newspaper on 26 October 2008, WorkHealth gained some attention as business groups have now seen the criteria for the health assessments of workers.  David Gregory of the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry described the criteria as a potential “industrial weapon”.  According to the article,

“WorkSafe told The Age the idea of an initial ‘tick test’ screening process had been abandoned, and the proposed $130 million worth of prevention programs are not in the pilot at all.”

As is evident from the quote, it is the pilot scheme that is being rolled out, however it is clear from the comments of David Gregory and the state secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, Steve Dargavel that industrial relations sensitivities have not been considered.

Gregory makes excellent points that good OHS professionals are already aware of – workplace safety can only succeed when industrial relations implications and conditions are considered before any intervention process.

OHS has broadened to include the hazards of fatigue, stress, anxiety, depression, workloads, bullying and other matters that have encroached on health promotion and human resources over the last decade or so.  A worker health program would have been more likely to be accepted through this osmosis rather than a surprise announcement.

Is this the end?

WorkHealth could work if it had been generated as a workplace application of public health programs.  The challenge would have been to legitimise the expenditure in an already cluttered health promotion sector.  How would WorkHealth have achieved this testing regime when business is already assessing its workers for psychological disorders, cholesterol, prostate health, hearing, asthma, and a whole range of modern health issues?  It is unlikely that it could so.

It came down to health assessments in a different context – a context where there had been insufficient groundwork to establish the value of the program to its fundamental stakeholders, the unions and employer groups.  To a much lesser extent, the program was not sufficiently integrated into the WorkSafe authority’s program before the announcement.

Also, the timing has been proven to be wrong.  The global economic problems are beginning to squeeze business’ bottom line.  The calls for workers’ compensation premium relief will increase in the same way that businesses have begun questioning the viability of an emissions trading scheme.  WorkHealth is likely to be one of those program cut, so the government will claim, due to the changing economic climate.  The lessons to be learnt are more wide-ranging than just economics.

Concatenate Web Development
© Designed and developed by Concatenate Aust Pty Ltd