OHS – the missing element in productivity debate

On 7 August 2012, the Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu, verbally attacked the Federal Government over its COAG program and lack of support for  productivity initiatives.  The criticism of productivity sounded odd as the Victorian Government has dropped out of the reform program for occupational health and safety laws yet OHS is understood to have a positive effect on productivity. More clarification was needed on this understanding.

In April 2012 the Productivity Commission, an organisation favoured by Premier Baillieu, discussed OHS reforms in Australia.  that

“Improved health and safety outcomes achieved in practice would then lead to benefits for businesses (such as increased worker productivity, reduced worker replacement costs and reduced workers’ compensation costs), workers (increased participation, reduced medical costs among others) and society more generally (though reduced public expenses on health, welfare and legal systems).” (page 170)

For years there has been a debate about safety versus productivity.  Partly this stemmed from the taking of shortcuts on safety in order to satisfy production.  In the short-term, it was perceived that safety could be an impediment to production – take the guard of a machine, run the line speed faster than recommended, “don’t worry about the faceshield, just get it done”.  But safety professionals have been arguing that this risky behaviour masks the real problem of  not integrating safety management into the business operations and seeing safety as an optional add-on, or something applied when the boss is watching.

The recently released OHS Body of Knowledge provides some relevant insights on the productivity benefits of safety management that deserve better and broader communication. Continue reading “OHS – the missing element in productivity debate”

New book on OHS laws challenges current understandings of workplace safety

With the change of political heart from some of Australia’s state governments over the harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws, many academic and legal publishers revised their book plans as the national market was less national. However, some continued to publish understanding that although OHS harmonisation had a political deadline of 1 January 2012, refinement of the laws would continue for several years.

Federation Press has released a new book by prominent labour lawyer, Michael Tooma, and academic, Richard Johnstone, called “Work Health & Safety Regulation in Australia – The Model Act“. The title states an immediate limitation that other publishers squibbed at. The book is based on the Model Work Health and Safety Act and not, necessarily, the versions of the Act implemented at State level. Production timelines are responsible for this but it makes it even more important to follow the writings and research of Johnstone and Tooma to understand developments.

The Social Context of Safety

The authors reiterate an important element of the WHS Act in their introduction:

“[the laws] are no longer workplace or occupationally based, nor predicated on the employment relationship; rather the laws protect persons involved in ‘work’ in a business or undertaking, and, in addition, protect ‘others’ whose health and safety is affected by work. Consequently the scope of the Model Act is limited only by the imagination of those entrusted to interpret them and to enforce them.” (page 3)

This paragraph summarises well the elements of the laws that are causing so much fear in the Australian business community. Continue reading “New book on OHS laws challenges current understandings of workplace safety”

John Darley’s delay on Work Health and Safety laws is unproductive

South Australia still has not passed the Work Health and Safety legislation that would bring it into line with most of the other States of Australia.  A major obstacle to the Bill’s progress in the South Australian Parliament is the “dithering” of Independent MP John Darley.

On 28 June 2012, Darley spoke to the WHS Bill in the Legislative Council (page 1641).  Darley reviews the status of WHS laws in Australian States, mentions Victoria’s flawed PricewaterhouseCoopers costings report but without expressing an opinion on it and acknowledges the support from major industrial and employer associations for the laws, but he seems very sympathetic to minority views on workplace safety.

Darley refers to the views of the Housing Industry (HIA) and Master Builders’ Associations (MBA) on “control”, two groups he acknowledges are “the most vocal opponents” of the Bill, and states

“Any person who does not have direct control of a risk should not have responsibility for eliminating or minimising the risk”.

Consider this position in relation to workplace psychosocial hazards.  A bully would be breaching OHS laws by bullying another worker but those executives who establish the culture of a workplace that condones the bully’s actions would not be facing any penalty.  This scenario seems to contradict a dominant safety principle that compliance and respect stems from the active example shown by an organisation’s leader.  How will the legislative obligation for a “positive duty of care” in workplaces apply with in-direct control? Continue reading “John Darley’s delay on Work Health and Safety laws is unproductive”

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”

WorkSafe Victoria tries humour in safety advertising

For the last few weeks WorkSafe Victoria has been running new injury prevention advertisements based on a game show theme of playing the odds on injuring a worker.  The curiosity of this campaign is that humour and a little bit of shame has been employed to communicate.

It is refreshing for an OHS regulator to use humour in the aim of improving workplace safety particularly as this attempt avoids the slapstick humour that has been tried in the past by several safety organisations.  Workplace injuries are not a laughing matter but a gentle humour can be used to prick the conscience of those who have safety obligations.

Conversations with OHS peers on these ads has shown a perplexity over these ads.  Those who have established a public face or a reputation in the safety field are unsure whether laughing or, at the least, being amused is appropriate.  There is a fine line between mockery and amusement so hesitation is understandable. Continue reading “WorkSafe Victoria tries humour in safety advertising”

Workplace bullying in the police force illustrates the challenges of change management

There are two newspaper reports in Australia on 21 June 2012 about the Victorian Police Force that illustrate a fractious safety culture and a major organisational and ideological impediment to reducing workplace bullying.

The Australian article ” OPI concedes failure against force’s culture” (only available to subscribers) states that:

‘The Office of Police Integrity has conceded it and other corruption fighting measures have failed to root out the entrenched culture of reprisals and mateship in pockets of the Victoria Police that seriously harms the force….”

“The OPI says current law fails to deal with why whistleblowers are targeted. ‘‘The legislated protections against retaliation do not address the root cause of reprisal — a workplace culture of misguided loyalty,’’ it argues.  “The protections are individualistic and short-term, tending to ‘look after’ victims and potential victims of reprisal rather than address why reprisal occurs.’’

“Despite the subsequent formation of the OPI and the beefing up of the Ombudsman’s powers, police still struggled to break free of the shackles of loyalty and the so-called brotherhood.’

The Age article, “A fifth of police bullied at work“, reports on a government survey circulated to 14,000 people.

‘The figures, provided to The Age, mean about 1250 of the 4200 police staff who completed the survey have seen bullying behaviour, while nearly 900 say they have been bullied.’ Continue reading “Workplace bullying in the police force illustrates the challenges of change management”

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”