Harmonisation becomes more difficult with loss of another political support base

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The Australian Government faces another hurdle in its strategy for OHS harmonisation with another State Government, Victoria, falling to the conservative Liberal /National party coalition. OHS has hardly been mentioned in the state election campaign as all of the reform action is at a national level but, as Mark Skulley reports in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on 29 November 2010 (not available online):

“…the Coalition will be more critical of the state’s militant unions, particularly when it comes to major infrastructure projects, and take a more sceptical line on the Gillard government’s push for a national occupational health and safety regime.”

A Skulley article in the 30 November 2010 AFR indicates that the Australian Council of Trade Unions has received a strategy document that has “urged unions to become more independent of the ALP [Australian labour party]..”

As the union movement is the strongest and loudest advocate for occupational health and safety in Australia, union policies and strategies should be of great interest to the OHS profession.

Until Prime Minister Gillard makes her next statement, or mention, of OHS legal reform publicly, the harmonisation process is in serious limbo. This on the eve of the release of draft OHS regulations and codes of practice.

Kevin Jones

Analysis of Montara oil spill reports begins

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Legal analysis of the Montara oil spill inquiry reports have started to emerge.  One of the first is by Allens Arthur Robinson (AAR).  It does not discuss safety specifically but in many people’s minds Montara was not an occupational safety disaster as no one was injured.  To many the explosion has far more relevance as an environmental or process safety matter but considerable benefit can be gained by realising the Montara oil disaster was a substantial near-miss.

AAR looks at broader impacts of the Australian government’s response to the disaster.  AAR states that “we can expect to see moves by the Federal Government towards establishing a national regulator.”  Why should such a move only apply to offshore petroleum exploration?  If there is considerable administrative and regulatory advantages in a single petroleum exploration regulator, why not apply the same approach to the regulation of workplace safety? Continue reading “Analysis of Montara oil spill reports begins”

Consultation and issue resolution should be top OHS priorities

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Labour law firms in many cities conduct free seminars on the legal issues of the day.  These may involve union right-of-entry, OHS changes, privacy or right-to-know.  The seminars are intended to generate custom by showing how informed and professional the legal firm is.  Commercially for the firm, the seminars are a good idea.  For safety consultants and small business operators, such seminars can be invaluable.

Recently in Melbourne, a prominent law firm, Freehills, conducted a breakfast seminar on “Tips on managing legal risk following a workplace incident” at which a short time was spent at the end discussing OHS harmonisation changes and the expected impacts of the legal changes on business.  (Off-blog I received an email about this matter only last night as it relates to schools.)  Freehills’ Senior Associate, Steve Bell, presented the following graph. Continue reading “Consultation and issue resolution should be top OHS priorities”

Looking at the root causes of workplace violence

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Workplace incidents and injuries often occur as a result of inadequate resourcing in staff and time but few OHS consultants are comfortable recommending to clients that additional staff are required or that shifts should be reconfigured or, possibly, that a certain business activity (or the business itself) should be cancelled.  Yet identifying the “root cause” and eliminating the hazard is the aim of the safety profession and, sometimes, a legislative obligation.

A blog article from the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health in the United States illustrates many of these issues.  In a post entitled “Assaults on Nursing Assistants” unacceptable levels of assault and biting were experienced by aged-care nurses in one survey sample. But the blog not only reported the research results, it recommended some control measures:

“Improving staffing levels may reduce the risk of assault by reducing workload demands and allowing staff more time to spend with each resident and avoiding the need to rush care.” (emphasis added)

These seem sensible control measures in this work situation but will any business really take the recommended actions based solely on safety concerns? Continue reading “Looking at the root causes of workplace violence”

Queensland safety magazine released

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The Queensland Division of the Safety Institute of Australia regularly produces a newsletter/magazine of consistent quality and the November 2010 edition is available online.

This edition includes an article by Warwick Pearse on the Montara oil spill.  Pearse did not have the luxury of access to the final reports or government’s response but he makes sound recommendations.

Kevin Jones