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”

Challenges for WorkSafe Victoria at WorkSafe Week

As part of the annual WorkSafe Week, WorkSafe‘s Ian Forsyth presented the organisation’s OHS strategy to a large crowd at the Melbourne Convention Centre on 28 October 2012.

Harmonisation

Clearly Forsyth anticipated questions about the Victorian Government’s decision not to implement the model Work Health and Safety laws that will exist in all but two States and territories from 1 January 2013. He stressed that the government is adamant that the WHS laws will not be introduced “in the foreseeable future” and therefore Victorians need to refocus on compliance with the existing Victorian laws. He effectively shutdown any discussion on those laws before they started. The laws are off the Victorian table so let’s start working with what we have.

His stance has great significance for Victorian businesses and almost projected isolationism as a positive move. Part of his, familiar, justification was that the model WHS laws were based largely on the Victorian occupational health and safety laws and so there is little need to change, particular if the change would increase the regulatory cost burden to Victorian businesses. Continue reading “Challenges for WorkSafe Victoria at WorkSafe Week”

Victorian Minister claims “safest state in Australia”

Victoria’s Minister for WorkCover, Assistant Treasurer Gordon Rich-Phillips, obviously felt obliged to get in early for the 2012 WorkSafe Week by stating, in a media release, that:

“Victoria is the safest state in Australia in which to work”

Rich-Phillips quotes a range of statistics based on a recent report by Safe Work Australia (SWA) – the Fourteenth Edition of the Comparative Performance Monitoring.  His claims may be correct but he is selective.  He mentions his State’s workers compensation claims performance:

“Victoria had nine serious injury and disease claims for every 1,000 employees, far fewer than the national average of 12.2 claims. It was also well ahead of the Northern Territory (11.2 claims), Western Australia (12), South Australia (12.3), Australian Capital Territory (13), New South Wales (13.7), Queensland (14.7) and Tasmania (15.6).”

However it is well-known that workers’ compensation statistics indicate performance of the workers’ compensation scheme and claims,  and not the real workplace injury rate.  The SWA report provides information on both safety performance and workers’ compensation claims.  The Minister extrapolates the performance of one element and applies it to the other.

The Comparative Performance Monitoring report also measures each State’s regulatory safety performance against the agreed National OHS Strategy.  Against the Injury and Musculoskeletal measure, again based on claims data, only South Australia exceeded the “36% improvement required to meet the long term target of a 40% improvement by 30 June 2012.”

Victoria came third, after New South Wales, with a 31% improvement rate.

Safe Work Australia stated that

” It is unlikely that Australia will meet the target.” (page 2)

The targets of the OHS National Strategy established in 2012 have been aspirational for some time and without any fear of sanction or reward for attainment, the worth of any National OHS Strategy is dubious.

SWA’s report also includes very positive national statistics on fatalities but still insists that:

“The volatility in this measure means that this improvement should be interpreted with caution and consistent improvement is still required to ensure the target is actually achieved.” (page 3)

This caution is missing from the statements of Gordon Rich-Phillips. Continue reading “Victorian Minister claims “safest state in Australia””

New research on doctor visits hints at new areas of OHS research

The Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) is drawing considerable attention to a recent research report into the actions of patients after medical practitioners ( a general practitioner or GP in Australian parlance) have identified a work-related illness. The research is unique and instructive and indicates areas that require more analysis.

According to the media release on the research:

“ISCRR’s Chief Research Officer, Dr Alex Collie, who conceived the research, said that over 22 per cent of workers didn’t make compensation claims even though their GP had determined that the illness was work-related.” (link added)

Dr Collie continues:

“There are a number of reasons we are seeing work-related conditions not being claimed.. Continue reading “New research on doctor visits hints at new areas of OHS research”