Insurance may diminish a director’s commitment to their positive OHS duty

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Neil Foster of the University of Newcastle is known to SafetyAtWorkBlog for his work looking at the legal liabilities of company directors and officers.  Recently Foster released a paper called “You can’t do that! Directors insuring against criminal WHS penalties” which provides an additional legal context to an earlier blog article.

Foster acknowledges that

“…provisions of the criminal law imposing personal liability for company breach of workplace health and safety provisions provide one of the strongest ‘drivers’ for company officers to use due diligence to see to the implementation of company safety policies.”

and asks

“… what if the officer knows all along that, should they be subject to such a penalty, the company, or an insurance policy, will come to the rescue?”

This is a concern that relates to insurance policies or indemnities that are being offered in some industrial sectors.  Insurance could dilute the diligence of officers and directors on a range of matters including workplace safety. Continue reading “Insurance may diminish a director’s commitment to their positive OHS duty”

More safety indemnities offered but with similar limitations

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In August-September 2012 a media release was circulated in Australia promoting an

“…an Australian industry first – leading construction & mining workplace safety provider RIS offers to indemnify operators against non compliance prosecution.”

This may be a first for RoofSafe Industrial Safety (RIS) but not for Australia.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has reported on a smaller but similar system that originated in the automotive repair industry.

RIS’ Syncron system has several steps to compliance

  • Safety Audit
  • Assessment and Priorities
  • Coordinated actions aimed at maximum cost savings
  • Indemnification
  • Ongoing Monitoring and Continuous Improvement

It seems to be popular in the mining sector, according to the RIS website and clearly, from the media release, RIS is expanding its application from its fallprotection base into construction.

Indemnification

There are lots of issues of concern in the media release, if not in the Syncron system itself.  The indemnification is of particular concern and although these sorts of safety management systems are apparently cleared through legal advisers they need a great deal of explanation in order for businesses to feel comfortable.

One of the potential traps of these systems is that indemnification only exists when the assessment and management system is followed absolutely, as highlighted below.  Although the advisory resources exist outside the customer’s business, checking and monitoring still comes from the customer and adequate resources are required.

The legalese through all Syncron brochures and statements needs forensic analysis.   Continue reading “More safety indemnities offered but with similar limitations”

Momentum increases for tangible action on workplace bullying

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According to the Canberra Times, a company board has been served with an improvement notice over inadequate attention to workplace bullying claims in a retirement home.  The ABC television program, 7.30, has followed up workplace bullying claims aired earlier this month with a further case on 25 September 2012 with savage criticism of WorkSafe Victoria’s actions in the case.

The Australian Government has completed the public hearings of its Parliamentary Inquiry into workplace bullying.  Bullying is everywhere but little seems to be happening to address the various elements and deficiencies of the regulatory system.

On 21 September 2012 the WorkSafe ACT Commissioner warned about inaction on workplace bullying:

“If bullying has not occurred, then a properly conducted investigation should find that… If, on the other hand, an independent investigation substantiates the allegations, then the employer will be in a position to act to protect their workers from any ongoing threat to their health and safety.” Continue reading “Momentum increases for tangible action on workplace bullying”

Lessons for Australia from UK assault on OHS red tape

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The chase for government and corporate effectiveness and productivity increases through cutting “red tape” has, historically, had dubious longterm benefits. The attack on the red tape of occupational health and safety (OHS) has been brutal in the United Kingdom and has occurred with an unforgiving, and misguided, tabloid media.  Some in the UK media have been pointing out the government’s strategic folly, the latest is Russell Lynch in the Evening Standard.

On 20 September 2012, Lynch brutally described the UK situation:

“Safer businesses are more productive, not least because of the management time taken up when some poor sod has to be scraped off the floor. And let’s not forget inspections focus on occupational health as well, meaning employees have more chance of working without developing illnesses.”

The sad part of this statement is that productivity advantage of safer businesses has been known by governments for some time but that the wave of red tape attacks was politically stronger.

Some Australian States are on an extreme austerity drive even though the Australian economy is nowhere near as troubled as that of the United Kingdom.  These strategies usually call for across-the-board percentage reductions in costs.  This generality is a major problem as productivity and cost-effectiveness of specific organisations is not considered.  Untargeted cuts penalise the successful and the inefficient – the current experience of the Health and Safety Executive. Continue reading “Lessons for Australia from UK assault on OHS red tape”

Strengthening safety decision-making

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Any professional sees elements of their profession in other walks of life.  Police notice infringements when they are off duty.  Teachers often continue to instruct or educate when outside of school.  Journalist’s conversations with friends often contain pointed questions.

Safety professionals, commonly, extend safety principles to their own behaviours and lives.  This can sometimes lead to a heightened intolerance of unsafe behaviour in others but also desires that life operated on safety principles.  Today I wondered about the application of the concept of “Reasonably Practicable” in prioritising corporate and personal safety objectives.

I simplified (bastardised, some may say) the Safe Work Australia guideline on reasonably practicable into questions that we should ask in our non-OHS lives but, most importantly, the priority of the reasonable practicable process is retained.  The questions, in order of priority are:

  • How important is it?
  • How harmful could it be?
  • What do we know about it?
  • How can we control it?
  • How much will it cost?

Self-help aficionados may see these as life lessons or criteria that can be applied to many decisions.  I agree to some extent but the priority of the questions is of most importance in the decision-making process because it places the issue of cost last. Continue reading “Strengthening safety decision-making”