Unnecessary pissing contest in the Western Australian safety profession

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In Western Australia in 2010, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) conducted its conference, the WA Safety Show, at the end of August.  In 2011, the SIA did not hold a conference in that State but in 2012 the WA Safety Show returned to Perth however it was oddly rescheduled earlier in the month, August 7-9.  Curiously there is another safety conference occurring in Perth on those very same days, only 500 metres away and it happens to be conducted by Safety In Workplaces Australia (SIWA), a recent safety professional association that emerged from disenfranchised SIA members.

The 2010 WA Safety Show was organised by the then secretary of the WA branch of the SIA, Gavin Waugh, who is now the President of SIWA.  In 2012 there is both a WA Safety Show and a WA Safety Conference happening on the same days within 500 metres of each other but run by different safety professional organisations.

What the ??? Continue reading “Unnecessary pissing contest in the Western Australian safety profession”

OHS – the missing element in productivity debate

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On 7 August 2012, the Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu, verbally attacked the Federal Government over its COAG program and lack of support for  productivity initiatives.  The criticism of productivity sounded odd as the Victorian Government has dropped out of the reform program for occupational health and safety laws yet OHS is understood to have a positive effect on productivity. More clarification was needed on this understanding.

In April 2012 the Productivity Commission, an organisation favoured by Premier Baillieu, discussed OHS reforms in Australia.  that

“Improved health and safety outcomes achieved in practice would then lead to benefits for businesses (such as increased worker productivity, reduced worker replacement costs and reduced workers’ compensation costs), workers (increased participation, reduced medical costs among others) and society more generally (though reduced public expenses on health, welfare and legal systems).” (page 170)

For years there has been a debate about safety versus productivity.  Partly this stemmed from the taking of shortcuts on safety in order to satisfy production.  In the short-term, it was perceived that safety could be an impediment to production – take the guard of a machine, run the line speed faster than recommended, “don’t worry about the faceshield, just get it done”.  But safety professionals have been arguing that this risky behaviour masks the real problem of  not integrating safety management into the business operations and seeing safety as an optional add-on, or something applied when the boss is watching.

The recently released OHS Body of Knowledge provides some relevant insights on the productivity benefits of safety management that deserve better and broader communication. Continue reading “OHS – the missing element in productivity debate”

New book on OHS laws challenges current understandings of workplace safety

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With the change of political heart from some of Australia’s state governments over the harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws, many academic and legal publishers revised their book plans as the national market was less national. However, some continued to publish understanding that although OHS harmonisation had a political deadline of 1 January 2012, refinement of the laws would continue for several years.

Federation Press has released a new book by prominent labour lawyer, Michael Tooma, and academic, Richard Johnstone, called “Work Health & Safety Regulation in Australia – The Model Act“. The title states an immediate limitation that other publishers squibbed at. The book is based on the Model Work Health and Safety Act and not, necessarily, the versions of the Act implemented at State level. Production timelines are responsible for this but it makes it even more important to follow the writings and research of Johnstone and Tooma to understand developments.

The Social Context of Safety

The authors reiterate an important element of the WHS Act in their introduction:

“[the laws] are no longer workplace or occupationally based, nor predicated on the employment relationship; rather the laws protect persons involved in ‘work’ in a business or undertaking, and, in addition, protect ‘others’ whose health and safety is affected by work. Consequently the scope of the Model Act is limited only by the imagination of those entrusted to interpret them and to enforce them.” (page 3)

This paragraph summarises well the elements of the laws that are causing so much fear in the Australian business community. Continue reading “New book on OHS laws challenges current understandings of workplace safety”

Bullying Inquiry hears about psychopaths, enforcement and ‘hush money’

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The latest set of transcripts from Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying has been released to the public.  Again, the public hearings provide important insights, not necessarily into the hazard of workplace bullying, but the perception of the hazard of workplace bullying.

The transcript of the public hearing in Hobart starts with a presentation from Kevin Harkins, the Secretary of Unions Tasmania. Harkins says

“… that the face of bullying in the workplace has changed. There used to be traditional initiation type processes that we are all aware of from media reports. I think it has all moved to a more complex state now: bullying in the workplace largely by workplace psychopaths. While companies have policies in place to combat bullying in the workplace, I think that in the main they are token attempts to do nothing or to cover what happens in the workplace.”

It may be that the initiation rituals where apprentices were set on fire or hung from a crane may have declined but it is concerning if the trade union movement relies on media reports for evidence of the decline in abuse. Continue reading “Bullying Inquiry hears about psychopaths, enforcement and ‘hush money’”

Safety is unlikely to improve without a transformational conversation

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As the relevance of Leadership encroaches on the workplace safety discipline, so do supportive concepts and techniques such as transformational conversations.  There is little doubt that such concepts are applicable to improving safety management and worker safety, even if, to some extent, these concepts are old wisdom rebranded into modern lingo.  Safety conversations can, and should, be transformational but don’t think that this type of conversation is new or unique.

Transformational conversations have been integral elements of the language used by  OHS consultants, and small business people, (and frauds) all the time, mostly subconsciously.  By answer the phone or asking “how can I help?” you indicate that you are available to be supportive and helpful. It also throws the emphasis back on the customer/employer to be more forthcoming with information and reinforces that you are not providing/imposing solutions but helping the client to develop or refine the solutions themselves.

This is a crucial element of OHS law that the business community still struggles to appreciate. Continue reading “Safety is unlikely to improve without a transformational conversation”