Business silos extend to, and are supported by, the soft professions

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Most managers complain about “silos” even though they often operate comfortably in one.  Having an organisational structure that operates without narrow parameters of professional turf is very difficult and sustainable change takes time.  Similarly many professions operate in silos and the safety profession is a good example.  Rarely does it “play well with others”.  A recent workplace relations survey report from the Australian law firm, Madgwicks, illustrates the silo of the professions and its impediment to change.

Most law firms that have occupational health and safety professionals sit the unit with the Workplace Relations portfolio, for good reasons mostly.  Workplace Relations, or Industrial Relations in other jurisdictions, deals with the pay and conditions of workers and the negotiation of these issues with employers and business owners.  “Pay” is mostly wages and the remuneration received for effort but “conditions’ is more inclusive with OHS a major, but often underplayed, component.

Madgwicks asked two significant questions:

“Currently which workplace relations issues are the most challenging for your business?” and

“Which workplace relations issues do you believe will be the most significant for your business?”

None of the responses (pictured below) to these questions included any occupational health and safety issues.  There was no stress.  Nothing on workloads or working hours.  Nothing on workplace bullying.

Continue reading “Business silos extend to, and are supported by, the soft professions”

Workplace Bullying is a significant challenge even if the reality is smaller than expected

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An article in the Weekend Australian newspaper and magazine (not available fully online) provides some statistics that raise serious questions about the level of bullying in workplaces in Australia, with particular focus on Victoria.  Of the 2,080 complaints lodged with WorkSafe Victoria in 2010-11

“only eight were deemed serious enough to warrant possible prosecution.”

Yet the OHS regulator received 7,050 inquiries about bullying.  There is clearly a problem in Victorian workplaces but it is not always bullying, as defined under OHS law.  Something else is happening and it has been happening for some time.

As reported previously in SafetyAtWorkBlog, the issue of workplace relationships is broader than can be handled by one regulator under one law.  There are human rights issues, mental health issues, harassment  and potential suicides – a range of social issues that should have taken the prevention of “workplace bullying” out of the workplace sometime ago.

The newspaper article, by Richard Guilliatt, draws on several significant cases of proven workplace bullying beyond the more familiar case of Brodie Panlock.  Christine Hodder’s suicide in 2005 following bullying in the New South Wales Ambulance Service generated a review of the organisation that found systemic bullying.  Sixteen year old Alex Meikle committed suicide in 2008 after many workplace “pranks” that included being set on fire. Continue reading “Workplace Bullying is a significant challenge even if the reality is smaller than expected”

Free October 2001 safetyATWORK magazine

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SafetyAtWorkBlog evolved out of an online publication, safetyATWORK.  In 2001, safetyATWORK published a special edition of the magazine focussing on the OHS issues related to the collapse of the World Trade Centre (WTC) in September 2011.  That special edition is now available as a free download through the cover image on the right.

The magazine contains:

  • an article by Lee Clarke on planning for the worst-case scenarios;
  • an interview with Peter Sandman,
  • an article by me, Kevin Jones,

and other articles concerning

France Telecome’s CSR report is telling but sets high expectations

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In 2009, France Telecom’s management practices came to global attention as a result of a spate of over 20 suicides that were identified as work-related.  On 6 June 2011, France Telecom released its Corporate Responsibility Report that covers the period of the management turmoil touched upon in earlier SafetyAtWorkBlog articles.

The document is an impressive document that sets an enormously high benchmark on a range of corporate and personnel issues but one will find no mention of suicides.  The best indication that this was a company in crisis is the level of inquiries, reviews, audits and workplace safety control measures that have been implemented over the last two years.  It is also important to remember that the control measures are designed to bring about a cultural and organisational change to this corporation and that this will take a considerable time.  The struggle can be best, and most tragically, illustrated by the April 2011 self-immolation of a France Telecom employee in the company carpark in Merignac.

By acknowledging that this report has come from a company in crisis it is possible to identify some useful OHS, human resource and organisational cultural initiatives that may be applied in other large corporations around the world. Continue reading “France Telecome’s CSR report is telling but sets high expectations”

Workplace bullying survey of dubious value

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A doomsaying workplace bullying survey is doing the rounds of the Australian media on 8 June 2011. The media release accompanying the survey (neither are yet available online), produced for a “web-based employment screening solution” WorkPro, says

“One quarter of employees (23%) say that they have been a victim of bullying or discrimination in the workplace in the last two years,…”

An equally valid interpretation from the same survey figures could be

Three quarters of employees (76%) say that they have not been a victim of bullying or discrimination in the workplace in the last two years.”

The survey is terrific news. Workplace bullying may not be as big a problem in the workplace as recent media reports have led us to believe. But the survey takes the negative perspective and it is the negative that is being reiterated in the media. Continue reading “Workplace bullying survey of dubious value”