Inside Australian PM’s political problems is a nugget of workplace safety

Prime Minister Gillard (centre) and others at Government House Canberra in March 2012

The Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has been under intense media pressure over an issue concerning her conduct as a lawyer around 17 years ago.

It involves legal work for unions, her personal relationship at the time with a union official who has been described as “dodgy” and of most relevance to this blog, workplace safety.

Missed in all the debate is that the workplace safety issue seems to support the assertions of many in the business and industry associations that OHS is frequently used by trade unions as an excuse for action in other areas.  These other areas are usually industrial relations but in this instance OHS was used to mask a unionist’s alleged misuse of member and industry funds. Continue reading “Inside Australian PM’s political problems is a nugget of workplace safety”

Bullying Inquiry hears about psychopaths, enforcement and ‘hush money’

The latest set of transcripts from Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying has been released to the public.  Again, the public hearings provide important insights, not necessarily into the hazard of workplace bullying, but the perception of the hazard of workplace bullying.

The transcript of the public hearing in Hobart starts with a presentation from Kevin Harkins, the Secretary of Unions Tasmania. Harkins says

“… that the face of bullying in the workplace has changed. There used to be traditional initiation type processes that we are all aware of from media reports. I think it has all moved to a more complex state now: bullying in the workplace largely by workplace psychopaths. While companies have policies in place to combat bullying in the workplace, I think that in the main they are token attempts to do nothing or to cover what happens in the workplace.”

It may be that the initiation rituals where apprentices were set on fire or hung from a crane may have declined but it is concerning if the trade union movement relies on media reports for evidence of the decline in abuse. Continue reading “Bullying Inquiry hears about psychopaths, enforcement and ‘hush money’”

Australian employer group doesn’t “get” workplace bullying

Garry Brack is the head of the Australian Federation of Employers and Industries (AFEI), formerly known as Employers First which summarises the industrial philosophy of the organisation.  In the past he has stated that OHS laws are not necessary but this week he has upset the parents of Brodie Panlock by emphasising a failed love affair between Brodie and a work colleague and downplaying the  instances of abuse and bullying that drove Brodie Panlock to jump to her death.

The comments on the ABC Lateline program echo his comments at the public hearing in Sydney of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying. (The Hansard of his presentation is not yet available online although the AFEI submission to the inquiry is)  Brack’s position is difficult to understand as the Inquiry submission and his words at the hearing display a poor understanding of how other organisations and experts (and Brodie’s parents) see workplace bullying.

The AFEI submission says

“What concerns employers is the breadth of these [bullying] definitions which allow a limitless range of actions and behaviour to be construed as bullying by workers – in all jurisdictions. This is where the regulatory difficulty lies. It is not that there are differences in regulatory requirements but that compliance is impossible to achieve. This is because the concept of workplace bullying, as viewed by regulators, is not confined to recklessness, intimidation, aggressive or violent acts, threatening actions or behaviour, verbal abuse or an actual risk to health and safety. It may be anything from a customer demanding faster service or just complaining (even over the phone) to setting deadlines or changing work hours.”

There are several nonsensical statements here.  The Parliamentary Inquiry is not an investigation of regulations, it is an inquiry into workplace bullying.   Continue reading “Australian employer group doesn’t “get” workplace bullying”

Performance Management may be key to building a safe workplace culture

Occupational safety advice and incident investigations are peppered with the need to have an improved workplace culture.  In some ways, workplace culture is another, and broader, way of saying of “system of work”, a concept that has existed in Australian OHS laws for a long time but never received the prominence of clarity it deserved.  But how does one develop an improved workplace culture and system of work?  Performance Management seems to be one option.

Performance management is well established in the human resources (HR) discipline but the OHS implications are just being acknowledged in the safety discipline.  The concept has been mentioned several times in the public hearings of Australia’s inquiry into workplace bullying as a positive and potential negative.

According to Associate Professor Robin Kramar (now Professor of Human Resource Management at the Australian Catholic University) of  in the 2004/2005 edition of CCH’s Australian Master Human Resources Guide, performance management is

“..a way of encouraging behaviour that supports organisational objectives.” (page 19)

This is particularly relevant to the management and removal of psychosocial hazards that safety professionals are increasingly being called on to address or to assist with. Continue reading “Performance Management may be key to building a safe workplace culture”

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”

The Safety Institute’s low profile needs to be seen in a media context

In recent weeks on several LinkedIn discussion forums there has been a series of highly critical postings about the Safety Institute of Australia. (I have participated in some of the discussions.)  Many comments have been unfair but almost all decry the absence of clear communication from the SIA and the very low profile of the organisation within Australia.

The SIA has struggled to gain traction in the Australian media even though the organisation has been in operation for over 60 years.  It seems there is little about workplace safety that is attractive to the general community.  (Who could not be fascinated by James Reason’s cheese?)  But a recent article by Mark Phillips, Communications Director with the Australian Council of Trade Unions, in the May-June 2012 edition of The Walkley Magazine (not available online), provides a contributory factor to the lack of traction. Continue reading “The Safety Institute’s low profile needs to be seen in a media context”

South Australia’s politicians prepare to grill the OHS regulator, SafeWorkSA

On 19 May 2012, South Australia’s Parliamentary Committee on Occupational Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (OSRC) announced in the Adelaide Advertiser and inquiry into the operations of SafeWorkSA.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has been told that the inquiry was self-initiated by the committee as a result of no one particular reason.  The Minister for Industrial Relations was apparently unaware of the inquiry and nor was SafeWorkSA.

As the passing of Work Health and Safety laws stall in the Parliament, the politics of safety in South Australia is about to get even messier.

The notification from the OSRC committee lists the inquiry’s terms of reference: Continue reading “South Australia’s politicians prepare to grill the OHS regulator, SafeWorkSA”