John Darley speaks to SafetyAtWorkBlog

Independent Member of the South Australian Parliament, John Darley, provided SafetyAtWorkBlog with some background to the package of amendments he has for that State’s Work Health and Safety laws currently before Parliament.

Darley acknowledged that he delayed the Work Health and Safety Bill since December 2011 and admitted that the Bill looked like common sense but his approach is to jump ahead an consider how the Bill would look as an Act and determine its social impact.  The opposition parties in South Australia believed the Bill was so bad that it should have been defeated before it proceeded to the committee stage but Darley knew that could imply that he was not interested in workplace safety.  Darley believes that the reassessment of the WHS Bill over such a long time indicates his commitment to the safety of workers.

Darley said that union right-of-entry was not an issue of concern in December 2011 but he came to see the significance of the  issue after delegations and meetings with people affected by workplace deaths but who were also very dissatisfied with the operations of the OHS regulator, SafeWorkSA.  The union OHS representatives offered an alternate but Darley felt that union access needed Continue reading “John Darley speaks to SafetyAtWorkBlog”

BusinessSA’s backflip on OHS laws carries short-term gain but long-term risk

Australian business associations have different perspectives on the need to harmonise occupational health and safety laws across Australia but BusinessSA has performed an enormous backflip in only a month on new Work Health and Safety Laws.  In a letter (now a media release) to the industry association’s members, BusinessSA has called on the South Australian Government to defer the laws until a scheduled national review in 2014.  The major points of the letter are discussed below.

Objections to the letter on some of the LinkedIn discussion forums have been voiced by some safety and legal professionals, the principle concern being that all state governments agreed to the initiative of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2008 to harmonise the OHS laws.  Employer groups, unions and OHS regulators have been closely involved in the harmonisation process.  Other parties, including BusinessSA made submissions.  According to the 2008 submission, these were the six key issues:

  • “Self-regulation: The appropriateness of the duty of care, consultative mechanisms, performance-based (as opposed to prescriptive) regulation, and education/training in facilitating an effective (self-regulating) OHS system.
  • Causality and uncertainty: Can, and should, governments attempt to regulate with respect to potential future hazards, given the enormous pace of technological change and uncertainty relating to that change and where causes of Continue reading “BusinessSA’s backflip on OHS laws carries short-term gain but long-term risk”

SISA has few problems with SafeWorkSA but where are the other submissions?

In May 2012, the South Australian parliament announced an inquiry into the effectiveness of that State’s workplace safety regulator, SafeWorkSA.  Submissions are being received by the Parliament Committee but, as yet, none are available through the inquiry’s website.

Andrea Madeley of VOID has commented that her organisation has already provided the committee of inquiry with a submission but the only public submission SafetyAtWorkBlog can find is from the Self-Insurers of South Australian Inc (SISA).  Below is the summary of SISA’s submission:

“Should the responsibility for all occupational, health and safety issues remain with SafeWork SA or should some or all of that responsibility be transferred to WorkCover?

SISA members have no fixed views, although if the choice were simply limited to the current separated model and a single massive regulator, we might well opt for the current model as a means to avoid conflicts of interest. If, in the alternate, we are asked ‘Could the quality of OHS regulation and functional delivery be improved?’, we would answer ‘yes, but this cannot be achieved by structural change alone’. We therefore advocate no particular structure (though with a preference against amalgamation) and urge the Committee to concentrate on the quality of what is delivered.

2(a) WorkCover ought to be recognised as having a vital role and interest in improved OHS outcomes.

2(b) Scope exists for improved collaboration between WorkCover and SafeWork SA, especially in the field of data collection, management and use.

2(c) SafeWork SA and WorkCover should look at the self insured employers as resources and force multipliers for their own efforts to reach out to smaller employers.

2(d) Our members have few complaints (and no recent ones we are aware of) about their interactions with SafeWork SA.

2(e) The experience of small and medium size business may be different, however.

3. The OHS profession should have substantial representation on OHS regulatory and advisory bodies.

4(a) The real challenge for SafeWork SA lies in the small and medium size business community.

4(b) The conventional model of the regulator being the initiator of action will always be inadequate for small and medium size business due to the sheer numbers involved compared to the resources available.

4(c) Experience rating of workers compensation premiums has at best limited and delayed effect, and even that is anecdotal and presumptive rather than established as fact.

4(d) South Australia needs to think outside the square of normal regulatory models when considering small business safety. The French CRAM model might offer one such possibility.” [emphasis added]

SISA believes that SafeWorkSA’s performance can be improved but not through structural change.  It would be fascinating to see how SafeWorkSA would change with a new set of work health and safety laws.  From recent comments in the media by SafeWorkSA’s Judith Lovatt it would appear that the organisation is looking forward to them.

SISA clearly understands the separation between the workers compensation and rehabilitation roles of Workcover and the harm prevention and prosecution role of SafeWorkSA.  Too often criticism of the management of workers compensation is aimed at the wrong regulatory agency, a major problem seen recently in the Federal Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying. Continue reading “SISA has few problems with SafeWorkSA but where are the other submissions?”

More safety indemnities offered but with similar limitations

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

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”

A shaky start leads to a terrific book on incident investigation by Michael Tooma

There is one word that should not be used as an adjective in relation to workplace fatalities – impacted. Workers fall from roofs and the concrete floor has an impact on them. Workers hit by mobile plant or crushed in machines die from the impact. An impact results from the transfer of energy and this transfer of energy in workplaces can kill.

“Impacted” is used by those who do not feel comfortable differentiating between “affect” and “effect” and it is surprising to find the term used in the opening chapter of Michael Tooma’s latest book, Due Diligence: Incident Notification, Management and Investigation.

“Unless you have been involved in a serious incident, you don’t really appreciate how an incident will affect you. For every worker killed at work, there is a grieving mother, father, spouse and/or child. Their co-workers are impacted. Their friends are impacted. Management, guilt-ridden as they are in the aftermath of an incident, sometimes for good reason, sometimes not, are also personally and emotionally impacted. The tragedy touches everyone. In the midst of it all, a group of people are tasked with managing through the chaos and trying to get answers for all those impacted by the tragedy. This book is for them.”

The sentiment is correct and true but read the paragraph aloud and it sounds absurd. And why the overuse of “impacted” when a perfectly suitable word, “affect”, was used in the first sentence?

And this clumsy opening does the book a disservice. Tooma has repeatedly stated that this is a safety book written by a lawyer and not a legal book written about safety. This is a major change from a major Australian OHS publisher. It is a recognition that the readership is not lawyers feeding on lawyers but people wanting to understand workplace safety. Continue reading “A shaky start leads to a terrific book on incident investigation by Michael Tooma”

Where do workers and managers learn about respect?

The origins of workplace bullying behaviour seem many.  One of the issues to, hopefully, emerge from Australia’s inquiry into workplace bullying is how to prevent and minimise bullying, but to do so, one will need to identify the causes.  And these causes need to be more than an amorphous, unhelpful concept like “workplace culture”.

David Yamadamake this comment in his blog, “Minding the Workplace“, about a recent article in a New York Times blog (gosh, social media feeds social media.  What’s a newspaper, Daddy?):

“Doctors and lawyers in training may have no idea how to conduct themselves as practitioners, other than being influenced by a lot of unfortunate “role models” on television. If we want to prevent workplace bullying, the training schools for these professions are the first and perhaps best places to start.”

This point links thematically to several recent SafetyAtWorkBlog articles about defining a safety profession, moving from a practice to a profession, workplace culture and workplace bullying. Continue reading “Where do workers and managers learn about respect?”

Australian employer group doesn’t “get” workplace bullying

Garry Brack is the head of the Australian Federation of Employers and Industries (AFEI), formerly known as Employers First which summarises the industrial philosophy of the organisation.  In the past he has stated that OHS laws are not necessary but this week he has upset the parents of Brodie Panlock by emphasising a failed love affair between Brodie and a work colleague and downplaying the  instances of abuse and bullying that drove Brodie Panlock to jump to her death.

The comments on the ABC Lateline program echo his comments at the public hearing in Sydney of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying. (The Hansard of his presentation is not yet available online although the AFEI submission to the inquiry is)  Brack’s position is difficult to understand as the Inquiry submission and his words at the hearing display a poor understanding of how other organisations and experts (and Brodie’s parents) see workplace bullying.

The AFEI submission says

“What concerns employers is the breadth of these [bullying] definitions which allow a limitless range of actions and behaviour to be construed as bullying by workers – in all jurisdictions. This is where the regulatory difficulty lies. It is not that there are differences in regulatory requirements but that compliance is impossible to achieve. This is because the concept of workplace bullying, as viewed by regulators, is not confined to recklessness, intimidation, aggressive or violent acts, threatening actions or behaviour, verbal abuse or an actual risk to health and safety. It may be anything from a customer demanding faster service or just complaining (even over the phone) to setting deadlines or changing work hours.”

There are several nonsensical statements here.  The Parliamentary Inquiry is not an investigation of regulations, it is an inquiry into workplace bullying.   Continue reading “Australian employer group doesn’t “get” workplace bullying”

Lessons for everyone in the legal action against France Telecom executives over suicides

In 2009-10, SafetyAtWorkBlog followed the unfolding and tragic story of the spate of suicides at France Telecome that were directly related to the change of work practices and organisational policies instigated after privatisation.  SafetyAtWorkBlog stated that the suicides could be considered to be a case study of poor personnel management and, in more recent parlance, a failure of safety leadership.  This month French authorities have begun investigating France Telecom executives.

According to an AFP report in early July 2012:

“Louis-Pierre Wenes was placed under investigation on Thursday, a day after former France Telecom chief Didier Lombard, for workplace harassment, his lawyer Frederique Beaulieu said.”

At the time of the suicides Wenes was Deputy CEO and Lombard was CEO.

Interestingly and curiously, workplace bullying is not a term used in the France Telecome situation, although it may have met the criteria that Australia applies. Continue reading “Lessons for everyone in the legal action against France Telecom executives over suicides”

Through Wilful Blindness I begin to see

Put your hand over your ears and start saying La La La La La La La.  That is willful blindness (or, technically,deafness, but let’s not quibble).

Margaret Heffernan, author of a new paperback edition of  “Wilful Blindness  – Why we ignore the obvious at our peril“, discovered wilful blindness while researching the trial of the Enron executives.  Heffernan says that

“Judge [Simeon] Lake was applying the legal principle of wilful blindness: you are responsible if you could have known, and should have known, something which instead you strove not to see.” (page 1)

Heffernan’s book is not simply a new book on business management. Heffernan acknowledges that wilful blindness is not limited to a workplace, person or management theory.  She also says wilful blindness is not always a negative.  It is this breadth of approach to the topic that increases the worthiness of her book. Continue reading “Through Wilful Blindness I begin to see”