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”
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”
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”
South Australian Independent Member of Parliament, John Darley, has been negotiating on that State’s Work Health and Safety laws for many months. On 17 October 2012, according to a media release from SA’s Premier Jay Weatherill and Workplace Relations Minister Russell Wortley, Darley agreed to support the passing of the laws after achieving some amendments. Those amendments involve changes to
- height limits,
- duty of care,
- the right to silence, and
- the right of entry.
Tammy Franks, a Greens MLC, was able to achieve an expansion of the number of days available for OHS representative training.
A spokesperson for John Darley told SafetyAtWorkBlog that another change was for any WHS codes of practice to undergo a small business impact assessment in consultation with the Small Business Commissioner. Darley’s spokesperson said that the MP had met with Business SA after it changed its position on the WHS laws. The amendment above is likely to address the small business concerns that BusinessSA raised in its letter to its members earlier this month. The flip-flopping of BusinessSA on workplace health and safety laws was always curious and it is likely to put the organisation at a negotiating disadvantage once the laws passed. It may try to claim a mini-victory through the small business change but the change appears to have occurred due to Darley’s efforts and not through any relationship with the South Australian Government. Continue reading “New workplace safety laws set to pass in South Australia in October”
Victoria’s Minister for WorkCover, Assistant Treasurer Gordon Rich-Phillips, obviously felt obliged to get in early for the 2012 WorkSafe Week by stating, in a media release, that:
“Victoria is the safest state in Australia in which to work”
Rich-Phillips quotes a range of statistics based on a recent report by Safe Work Australia (SWA) – the Fourteenth Edition of the Comparative Performance Monitoring. His claims may be correct but he is selective. He mentions his State’s workers compensation claims performance:
“Victoria had nine serious injury and disease claims for every 1,000 employees, far fewer than the national average of 12.2 claims. It was also well ahead of the Northern Territory (11.2 claims), Western Australia (12), South Australia (12.3), Australian Capital Territory (13), New South Wales (13.7), Queensland (14.7) and Tasmania (15.6).”
However it is well-known that workers’ compensation statistics indicate performance of the workers’ compensation scheme and claims, and not the real workplace injury rate. The SWA report provides information on both safety performance and workers’ compensation claims. The Minister extrapolates the performance of one element and applies it to the other.
The Comparative Performance Monitoring report also measures each State’s regulatory safety performance against the agreed National OHS Strategy. Against the Injury and Musculoskeletal measure, again based on claims data, only South Australia exceeded the “36% improvement required to meet the long term target of a 40% improvement by 30 June 2012.”
Victoria came third, after New South Wales, with a 31% improvement rate.
Safe Work Australia stated that
” It is unlikely that Australia will meet the target.” (page 2)
The targets of the OHS National Strategy established in 2012 have been aspirational for some time and without any fear of sanction or reward for attainment, the worth of any National OHS Strategy is dubious.
SWA’s report also includes very positive national statistics on fatalities but still insists that:
“The volatility in this measure means that this improvement should be interpreted with caution and consistent improvement is still required to ensure the target is actually achieved.” (page 3)
This caution is missing from the statements of Gordon Rich-Phillips. Continue reading “Victorian Minister claims “safest state in Australia””
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”
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?”