How can an OHS regulator get the management of its own staff so wrong?

How can an OHS regulator get the management of its own staff so wrong?

In June 2014, a NSW Parliamentary inquiry released its final report into Allegations of bullying in WorkCover NSW, that State’s occupational health and safety (OHS) regulator. The report found that

“…Workcover has a significant organisational problem with bullying.  This problem is a longstanding one and operates at a cultural level.” (page x)

The Committee Chairman Hon Fred Nile MLC, wrote that

“more effective leadership and governance is essential.” (page x)

Longstanding bullying problems?  Problems with leadership and governance?  Many companies and public sector organisations have had similar issues ambulances, police, fire services, research organisations, to name a few, and are working them through. What happened in New South Wales?

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Citi Research report provides insight into Australian corporate safety performance

On 29 January 2014 Australia’s Fairfax newspapers published an article called “Safety performances at Australia’s top companies is serious business” written by Adele Ferguson.  The article is based on an analysis by Citi Research of the safety performance of companies listed in Australia’s ASX100 share index.  Citi Research (Citi) has kindly provided SafetyAtWorkBlog with a copy of this report developed for its fund manager and superfund clients.  It is a terrific reference document providing a useful insight to the OHS performance of prominent Australian corporations.  It cannot be definitive but we know of nothing else like it in Australia.

In the Fairfax article Ferguson wrote:

“While safety is a complex issue largely due to the fact that safety records are difficult to measure and difficult to compare across companies and industries, it is an important area to explore. For starters, it is a good proxy for the way a company deals with staff and manages risk more generally.”

Safety does not have to be complex but the measurement of safety performance can be as, even though there is a (dreadfully outdated) Australian Standard for measuring OHS performance, companies tweak the existing measures and the principal measurement, the Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR), has been found to be a flawed indicator.  LTIFR is tolerated as a measurement simply because a better alternative has not been developed or widely accepted.

The Citi Research report lists LTIFRs for most of the 117 companies but it balances this with almost as many Total Recordable Injury Frequency Rates (TRIFR).  

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Sex, work, liability and safety

There is a constant tension between occupational health and safety (OHS) and workers compensation. OHS is intended to prevent harm and workers compensation is available for when harm cannot be, or has not been, prevented.  In Australia, these two elements of safety are administered by different organisations under different legislation but it is a distinction that baffles many.   The recent discussion about a sex-related workers compensation claim illustrates this bafflement to some degree.

This time last year Comcare filed an appeal over a Federal Court decision regarding

“A Commonwealth employee is seeking workers’ compensation for injuries sustained after a light fitting was pulled from the wall of a motel during sex, on a business trip.”

(A good summary of most of the legal proceedings is provided by Herbert Geer.)

The case has received wide media attention mostly for the salacious matter of the case, and some political attention, but the purpose of the appeal, according to Comcare, was

“… to seek a High Court ruling on the boundaries between private Continue reading “Sex, work, liability and safety”

A busy week in Victoria – politics, reviews and common law

Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA),was in the pages of the Australian Financial Review in July 2013 over several issues –

  • CEO Denise Cosgrove told staff of her wonderful holiday in  Daylesford in the same email in which she advised of a review of operating budgets “including people costs” and of job losses,
  • Former Minister for Workcover, Roger Hallam, has been appointed to undertake a review of the Victorian Workcover Authority ,
  • Hallam is said to have been on the panel that appointed Cosgrove recently to the CEO post,
  • Cosgrove has pushed for a change in common law (Common law was controversially dropped during Roger Hallam’s time as Minister).

There seems to be many issues bubbling away at VWA – common law, declining profitability, “dividends” and a secret review. Continue reading “A busy week in Victoria – politics, reviews and common law”

WorkHealth raises health awareness but only so far

Last week the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) released a review of the WorkHealth program.  The results are very positive and deserve detailed analysis.  However these analyses do not seem to address all the expectations of the Victorian Government when the program was launched several years ago.

Cover of workhealth_synthesis_reportPremier John Brumby said at the launch of WorkHealth that

“Over time the program is expected to free up $60 million per year in health costs, as well as:

  • Cut the proportion of workers at risk of developing chronic disease by 10 per cent;
  • Cut workplace injuries and disease by 5 per cent, putting downward pressure on premiums;
  • Cut absenteeism by 10 per cent; and
  • Boost productivity by $44 million a year.”

One of the key findings of the research seems to meet two of the program’s aims:

“Modelling of outcome forecast goals for a 10% reduction in absenteeism and a 5% reduction in compensable injury rates are likely to be met, especially as health promotion program uptake increases.” (page 5)

It is reasonable to expect from a 4-5 year study of hundreds of thousands of work health checks that hard data be obtained but as the quote above reveals, the researchers needed to apply modelling and draw on research from other sources. Continue reading “WorkHealth raises health awareness but only so far”

Short-sighted redefinition of worker

In May 2013, Workcover Queensland supported the government’s intention to change the definition of worker to match that of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).  The definition re-emphasises the significance of the employer/employee relationship.  Workplace health and safety laws through most of Australia have recently changed to remove the reliance on the employer/employee relationship with the intention of clarifying the lines of responsibility for preventing harm.  The diversity between workers’ compensation and OHS definitions unnecessarily complicates the management of a worker’s health through the linear experience of employment.

The government believes such changes will reduce “red tape” but only in the narrow context of workers compensation.  The Work Health and Safety Act expands the definition of worker but another piece of legislation in the same State restricts it.  Inconsistencies of concepts are likely to lead to duplications, confusion and arguments that may generate as much unnecessary business and legal costs as the initiatives were intended to save. Continue reading “Short-sighted redefinition of worker”

Latest review into workers compensation provides OHS clues

Cover of src_act_review_reportThe Australian Government has released its report into a review of its national workers’ compensation scheme, Comcare, and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (SRC) Act.  Some of the media (and politicians), as it often does, has focused on the seemingly absurd compensation claims.  Few cases have gained the same degree of national and international attention as the sex case for instance, and although most workers’ compensation reports focus on post-incident treatments, there is a glimmer of  hope on occupational health and safety (OHS) in this latest review.

The report, the latest undertaken by Peter Hanks QC, states that one of the guiding principles of the SRC Act should be an acknowledgement that

“The benefit and premium structure should promote incident prevention and reduce risk of loss.” (page 25)

This would be a wonderful benchmark to apply but is likely to be overshadowed by the compensation and rehabilitation issues of the review, unless OHS professionals and practitioners continue to remind regulators that prevention is better than cure.

Peter Hanks admits in a 2012 video interview on his review that injury prevention is not part of the terms of reference but there are elements of his report that require serious consideration by OHS professionals in consultation with their Human Resources (HR) colleagues. Continue reading “Latest review into workers compensation provides OHS clues”

Where to for the “the expensive and failed WorkHealth scheme”?

The Victorian Workcover Authority’s (VWA) WorkHealth program is coming to the end of its five-year life. But what is the way forward?  Has the $A600 million program achieved its aims?

Aims and Results

VWA’s annual report for 2008 (page 33) stated the following aims for WorkHealth, reiterated in the WorkHealth Strategic Framework 2010-12 (page 1):

“Over the long term, the program aims to:

  • cut the proportion of workers at risk of developing chronic disease by 10%
  • cut workplace injuries and disease by 5%, putting downward pressure on premiums
  • cut absenteeism by 10%.

These goals aim to drive productivity and reduce health expenditure that is associated with chronic disease.”

None of VWA’s annual reports since 2008 have included any mention of these benchmarks. Continue reading “Where to for the “the expensive and failed WorkHealth scheme”?”

OHS statistics sound good but do not reflect reality

SafetyAtWorkBlog has questioned the veracity of occupational health and safety statements by Victoria’s Assistant Treasurer, Gordon Rich-Phillips, previously.  Early in January 2013, Minister Rich-Phillips stated that:

“Victoria’s workplaces had the safest year on record in 2012…”

Victorian businesses, workers and policy-makers would benefit enormously if the government were to focus on achieving independent accurate data of workplace injury, illness and business costs instead of cherry picking statistics for political gain. Continue reading “OHS statistics sound good but do not reflect reality”