GlencoreXstrata’s annual report shows more than 26 deaths

Last week the Australian Financial Review (AFR) brought some focus on occupational health and safety (OHS) by reporting on the most recent annual report from GlencoreXstrata in its article “Mining’s not war, why 26 deaths?” (subscription required). The article is enlightening but as important is that a business newspaper has analysed an annual report in a workplace safety context.  Curiously, although OHS is often mentioned as part of its sustainability and risk management program, safety is not seen as a financial key performance indicator, and it should be.

AFR’s Matthew Stevens wrote:

“Everybody in mining talks about ‘zero harm’ being the ultimate ambition of their health and safety programs. But talking safe and living safe are two very different things.”

GlencoreXstrata’s 2013 annual report is worth a look to both verify the AFR’s quotes but also to see the corporate context in which fatality statements are stated.  The crux of the AFR article is this statement from the Chairman’s introduction:

“It is with deep sadness that I must report the loss of 26 lives at our combined operations during 2013. Any fatality is totally unacceptable and one of the Board’s main objectives is to bring about lasting improvements to our safety culture.” (page 76)

(A curious sidenote is that the interim Chairman is Dr Anthony Howard, formally of BP and brought to prominence by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.) Continue reading “GlencoreXstrata’s annual report shows more than 26 deaths”

Safety in the C Suite doesn’t always run smoothly

It is rare for workplace safety to gain a half-page in the daily press in Australia but this occurred recently in The Australian.  The newspaper’s industrial editor, Ewin Hannan, built an article, “Tunnel Vision on Safety“, around the following quote from a leaked memo from 2010 then head of human resources, industrial relations and safety for John Holland, Stephen Sasse, in relation to the management of the Airport Link project:

“‘‘In my seven years with John Holland, I have never seen any project or management team that was so cavalier about the company’s OHS (occupational health and safety) system, principles and values and I have grave doubts about the management’s team’s capability in safety.’”

This is a remarkable statement but Sasse has been outspoken on safety issues in the general construction sector before. In 2011 a change in the senior management of Leighton Holdings, the parent company of John Holland, created doubt about Sasse’s future and Sasse left the organisation in October 2011.  The latter articles also indicate Sasse’s relationship with the union movement which may be part of the reason the unions are repeating their calls for an inquiry into John Holland and its licence with Comcare.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has several articles about these industrial relations tensions from 2009. Continue reading “Safety in the C Suite doesn’t always run smoothly”

Focus on Safety and compliance will come

Everyone wants clarity.  We want the comfort of knowing we are doing the right thing or that we are meeting the targets we and others set.  Workplace safety is no different but it has been complicated to an extent that clarity is unachievable and so uncertainty has come to dominate.

Occupational health and safety (OHS) consultants are often asked by business, small business in particular, “just tell us how to comply”.  Once upon a time this could be done but now the best a consultant can do is say something like “I reckon you’ll be okay, ……. if you follow through with the commitments needed, and keep your state of knowledge up to date, and take out as many liability insurances as you can, and become a member of an industry association ….and……..and…..”

The cult of “reasonably practicable” has been a major cause of this uncertainty but even prior to this was the move in Australia in the 1990s from a prescriptive regulatory structure to performance-based.

OHS compliance is now at the stage of the “best guess” or an “educated guess”, if one is lucky.  Continue reading “Focus on Safety and compliance will come”

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

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”

Australia’s mining sector progresses safety but without effective accountability

In 2010 the New South Wales Mines Safety Advisory Council (MSAC) released its important Digging Deeper report, proving this industry sector is at the forefront of safety management innovation in Australia.  This month  MSAC provided an insight into “world-leading” safety with its report “Actions for World-leading Work Health and Safety to 2017“.

The report discusses five strategic areas for attention but of more interest is the elements that MSAC believes represents “world-leading WHS”:

Continue reading “Australia’s mining sector progresses safety but without effective accountability”

Safety culture change through a regulatory-based market mechanism

In late August 2012 at a breakfast seminar, the Director of Construction Code Compliance, Nigel Hadgkiss outlined the 1999 Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry, which complements a 1997 National Code, and recently released implementation guidelines being imposed on many Victorian construction companies by the Liberal Government. The Code and implementation guidelines are ostensibly about industrial relations or, as Australia is increasingly calling them, workplace relations but do contain some interesting safety elements.

An intriguing element of the Code and guidelines is the introduction of a workplace culture through contract obligations and how this may affect workplace safety.

Hadgkiss stated, according to a copy of his presentation, that

“Where a party tenders for public work called for after 1 July 2012, the party is required to comply on any subsequent privately funded work.”

This quote means that any company that applies for a Victorian Government contract, of specific costs and other criteria, must comply with the Code.  Any client is entitled to impose their own contractual conditions. The obligation that  “the party is required to comply on any subsequent privately funded work” means that even if the contractor or party fails to win the contract it tendered for its management of  any subsequent project, even one from non-government funding, must also comply with the Code.

One of the four priority elements of the Code is occupational health and safety, so OHS requirements will spread from principal contractor, or tenderer, to contractor, sub-contractors and sub-sub-contractors like a virus or an “ITI”, an industry-transmitted infection.   Continue reading “Safety culture change through a regulatory-based market mechanism”

Principled pragmatism – Human Rights included in OHS Due Diligence

On 16 August 2012, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, said in Parliament, in relation to new asbestos management initiatives, that”

“On 14 March this year, in my first ministerial statement on workplace health and safety in this place, I said that every Australian who goes to work should return home safely. I know both sides of the House endorse this universal human right and today I reaffirm our commitment to this principle…” (page 13, Hansard. emphasis added)

It is very common to hear safety professionals and company executives echo the statement that workers should return home in an uninjured state.  But few would be aware or, perhaps, agree that this is a human rights statement.

Following an earlier blog post, one reader has pointed us to the United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights that were released in 2011. According to the author, John Ruggie, these principles:

“… highlight what steps States should take to foster business respect for human rights; provide a blueprint for companies to know and show that they respect human rights, and reduce the risk of causing or contributing to human rights harm; and constitute a set of benchmarks for stakeholders to assess business respect for human rights. Continue reading “Principled pragmatism – Human Rights included in OHS Due Diligence”