Can OHS achieve change in a neoliberal world?

The operation of the European Union is a mystery to everyone outside the EU and to most people in the EU.  Any organisation that juggles the legislation of over 20 countries has a thankless task but some of the work being undertaken by occupational health and safety (OHS) advocates provides a clarity on power relationships between employers and workers. I never tire of reading articles and editorials by Laurent Vogel of the European Trade Union Institute. Below is an excerpt from his editorial in the Autumn-Winter 2015 edition of HesaMag: Continue reading “Can OHS achieve change in a neoliberal world?”

Victoria’s WorkSafe to be reviewed

New Labor Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, has announced a review into the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA) and the Transport Accident Commission (TAC). No terms of reference for the inquiry are being released other than the brief mention in the media release of :

“…identify opportunities to optimise the effectiveness, efficiency and value of these organisations to the Victorian community.”

This inquiry has been mooted for some time but the lack of detail is curious, as could be the choice for the inquiry’s head.  There is no doubt that James MacKenzie has great knowledge about the workings of VWA and TAC as he was CEO of the TAC from 1994-97 and the Chairman of both TAC and WorkSafe Victoria from 2000-07.  Mackenzie was on the Board until around 2010 and was thanked profusely by VWA’s Elana Rubin in the 2011 Annual Report:

“On behalf of WorkSafe I would particularly like to acknowledge James MacKenzie’s work in the governance and management of personal injury schemes in Victoria. James served on the Board for over a decade, of which six years he was Chair.  During that time he led the transformation of WorkSafe.” (page 4)

Although MacKenzie seems to have had no direct role in the area for the last four years or so, his direct experience could also be considered an impediment, particularly if he “led the transformation of WorkSafe”. Continue reading “Victoria’s WorkSafe to be reviewed”

Fair Work Commission girds its loins for workplace bullying complaints

Official statistics on workplace bullying in Australia are notoriously unreliable.  The Productivity Commission estimated the cost of workplace bullying with a huge margin of variation, between A$6 billion and A$36 billion annually.  WorkSafe Victoria has indicated in the past that the number of interventions on workplace bullying is way below the number of workplace bullying complaints.  On 29 October 2103, in a long discussion on workplace bullying the Australian Capital Territory’s Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher stated:

“According to reports from the Commissioner for Public Administration, reports of bullying and harassment have totalled 68 cases in 2010-11, 71 in 2011-12, and 118 cases in the financial year that has just passed, 2012-13. Proven cases of bullying have numbered four, eight 11 and 19 respectively. This amounts to complaints being made by 0.5 per cent of staff, and substantiated in relation to 0.08 per cent of staff.” (Hansard, page P3930, emphasis added)

These latest statistics, in conjunction with those previously reported, indicate that the perception of workplace bullying is much higher than the reality in Australia.   Continue reading “Fair Work Commission girds its loins for workplace bullying complaints”

The Australian Government targets former PM, Kevin Rudd, over insulation deaths

The investigation into workplace deaths associated with Australia’s Home Insulation Program (HIP) was refreshed yesterday with the publication of some of the terms of reference for a new Government inquiry into the program.  The HIP deaths is an enormously politically charged issue in Australia and the politics, and associated media attention, could derail an inquiry that has the potential to provide important occupational health and safety, risk management and governance issues.

Greg Hunt, Environment Minister is quoted as saying that

“The Government is committed to a full inquiry into Kevin Rudd’s home insulation scheme that was linked to the tragic loss of four young lives,….”

According to the Courier-Mail newspaper on 27 October 2013 there will be ten elements in the terms of reference but only four are mentioned:

  • The process and basis of government decisions while establishing the program, including risk assessment and risk management;
  • Whether the death of the four men could have been avoided;
  • What if any advice or undertakings given by the government to the industry were inaccurate or deficient, and;
  • What steps the government should have taken to avoid the tragedies.

These four seem reasonable aims but this information has been leaked, the full terms of reference have not been released and a person to head the inquiry is yet to be announced.

iStock_000010997810 safety tape Medium crop Continue reading “The Australian Government targets former PM, Kevin Rudd, over insulation deaths”

New political challenges for OHS in Australia

This weekend the Australian people voted for the conservative Liberal Party to be the next Federal government.   Workplace safety has been largely absent from the pre-election campaign but when it has been mentioned it has almost always been couched in terms of productivity.  In the next few years, workplace safety issues must be couched in terms of productivity to have any hope of gaining the ear of the new government and, particularly, the ear of Senator Eric Abetz, the most likely candidate for the ministry of workplace relations.

Workplace Bullying

Recent changes to workplace bullying laws which provide a prominent role of the Fair Work Commission are unlikely to be rolled back but Abetz has promised Continue reading “New political challenges for OHS in Australia”

Double your money, invest in OHS

The corporate wellness advocates have been able to estimate the return-on-investment (ROI) for their programs but there has been little research on the return-on-prevention, until recently. In 2012 the International Social Security Association (ISSA) determined that, in microeconomic terms,

“…there are benefits resulting from investment in occupational safety and health… with the results offering a Return on Prevention [ROP] ratio of 2.2.”

This means that for every one dollar spent per employee per year the potential return is 2.2 dollars.

The report also found that OHS provides, amongst other benefits:

  • Better corporate image
  • Increased employee motivation and satisfaction, and
  • Prevention of disruptions.

But why bother costing harm prevention when there is already a legislative requirement to provide safe and healthy workplaces? Such a question usually comes from those whose understanding of OHS is principally compliance and who believe compliance equals safety.

The calculation of ROP, in the ISSA report at least, counters the belief that safety is always a cost with no economic benefit to the company. A positive ROP provides an opportunity to actively participate in the economic debate over productivity and, in some countries, austerity.

Kevin Jones

Nothing is more important than (safe) jobs

Richard Marles is a Federal Member of Australia’s Parliament and a former executive of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.  He has produced an opinion piece that is doing the rounds of the Victorian media  and is headed “Nothing is more important than jobs“.  The 80 jobs to be created in the Corio electoral are important but nowhere in the article does Marles talk about creating safe jobs.  This is a weakness in his argument and reflects the subconsciousness, and short memory, of many Australian governments. Continue reading “Nothing is more important than (safe) jobs”

Australia’s harmonisation program may be on life support but it’s getting stronger

In April 2012, this blog said that the harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws (OHS) in Australia was coughing up blood. On 1 January 2013, two more Australian States introduced new OHS laws based on the model Work Health and Safety Act and Regulations of the harmonisation process. (only two left, Victoria and Western Australia) As Acting Workplace Relations Minister, Kate Ellis, said in a media release yesterday:

“As of today 64 in every 100 working Australians will be covered by modern, best practice and consistent laws…”

On the national front, harmonisation has failed but from the perspective of those individual States that have introduced the WHS laws, the process has increased the influence and attention of workplace safety in their jurisdictions.

Laws do not improve worker safety by themselves. They require support and commitment from both business owners and workers. Those fierce and, often, confused critics of the WHS laws need to accept that their campaigns have failed. The maturity of those critics will now be judged by the critics’ preparedness to accept the situation and work within the new laws to improve the safety of their members and clients.

Australian businesses will not benefit from constant white-anting of the new laws, undermining safety laws for political reasons benefits no one.  Continue reading “Australia’s harmonisation program may be on life support but it’s getting stronger”

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”