Dis-harmonisation over OHS laws

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Victoria’s largest OHS conference and trade show has ended.   The shadow of the impending harmonisation of OHS laws hung over both events.  The OHS message throughout the conference was one of nothing to worry about. WorkSafe’s Ian Forsythe felt that Victoria was well-placed for minimal disruption as the OHS laws in that State had been thoroughly reviewed by Chris Maxwell QC in 2003.  Forsythe described the current OHS review as “Maxwell on steroids”, a good line for the conference audience but one that reflects the, often, smug approach of many Victorians to the harmonisation process, an approach not shared elsewhere as shown by a front-page article in The Australian on 9 April 2011.

The Business Council of Australia is concerned about the different interpretations of the laws by each of the states.  This has been a possibility from the very start of the reform process because the focus was always harmonisation, not uniformity. Continue reading “Dis-harmonisation over OHS laws”

Workplace bullying gets Australian media attention

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Victoria’s OHS regulator, WorkSafe, was in the Sunday Age and Herald-Sun on 10 April 2011 over formal bullying complaints made by some workers in their telephone advisory services. The pressures of working in a call centre or telephone services are well-known as can be seen from the 2004 “Good Practice Guide for Occupational Health and Safety in Call Centres” that, it seems, WorkSafe was involved with developing.

Michael Birt of WorkSafe told the Sunday Age that

“The fact that from time to time people do raise concerns is positive; it confirms people are comfortable raising issues and know they’ll be investigated.”

He is right that reporting of any OHS incident is an important first step to controlling the hazard but that such a hazard exists in WorkSafe, a leading adviser on workplace bullying in Australia, illustrates just how difficult and fraught workplace bullying is to address.

Karen Batt of the Community & Public Service Union acknowledged that workplace bullying has a range of causes including “work overload, excessive demands, under-resourcing”.

Bullying has been a particularly hot topic in Australia’s media at the moment due to the introduction of Brodie’s Law and reports of abuse coming from the Australian Defence Forces. I wonder how the debate would be running if the Australian government’s OHS harmonisation process had already released its draft code of practice on bullying which is due in a couple of months.

Industry action confuses quad bike sellers

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Last week, Honda quad bike dealers were supplied with the safety code provided by the Federated Chamber of Automotive Industries. This code outlines research that shows some roll over protection (ROPS) devices may increase the risk of injury.  A major ROPS identified in recent reports is the QuadBar, a device that may be “set to become an industry standard” for quad bike safety according to one media report.

Last week, SafetyAtWorkBlog heard that some Honda quad bike dealers, who also stock the QuadBar, feared that the distribution of the FCAI Industry paper was an indication that the continued stocking of the QuadBar may threaten the retention of their Honda dealership. Continue reading “Industry action confuses quad bike sellers”

Australian lawyers comment on Brodie’s Law

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Clayton Utz lawyers have looked at Victoria’s new bullying-related law changes for their relevance to workplace safety management and have found the following.

Is this an issue for employers?

Yes and no.

Theoretically, even before these proposed amendments, certain types of workplace bullying already fell within the definition of stalking.  In one sense, therefore, this doesn’t change the situation much – employers already had the potential problem of, for example, dealing with keeping apart at work a victim and stalker subject to an intervention order.

In another sense, this is clearly an important change.  More types of workplace bullying are now criminalised, and public awareness of bullying issues will certainly have been increased by the publicity surrounding this Bill.  We can therefore expect a rise in complaints and the number of victims coming forward, and not just in Victoria, as other States and Territories have stalking laws that could cover at least some types of workplace bullying.”

Clearly the awareness of bullying in the workplace is already high but these laws are likely to make the management of this issue more complex and and challenging. Continue reading “Australian lawyers comment on Brodie’s Law”

South Australia is the first to table a new WHS bill

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The South Australian Parliament will be the first in Australia to be presented with a Work Health and Safety Bill based on the model National OHS laws. The Work Health and Safety Bill 2011 will be tabled in parliament on 7 April 2011, according to a media release from the South Australian Minister for Industrial Relations, Bernard Finnigan.

Finnigan sees great advantages in the bill:

“Harmonised work health and safety laws will slash red tape for business operators while maintaining a high level of protection for employees,” he said. “It will also provide for greater labour mobility, with training and licences recognised across states and territories.

Organisations will have to comply with just one set of laws regardless of the number of states or territories in which they operate, thereby reducing their compliance costs. Ultimately it means greater certainty for employers and enhanced safety protection for workers.”

There remains some dispute about the optimism that Finnigan shares with many other harmonisation advocates but the validity of the optimism will only be assessed through hindsight.

Kevin Jones

Update 8 April 2011

The Work Health and Safety Bill 2011 is now available online with an FAQ site by SafeWorkSA.