Victorian Minister claims “safest state in Australia”

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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””

Safety culture change through a regulatory-based market mechanism

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In late August 2012 at a breakfast seminar, the Director of Construction Code Compliance, Nigel Hadgkiss outlined the 1999 Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry, which complements a 1997 National Code, and recently released implementation guidelines being imposed on many Victorian construction companies by the Liberal Government. The Code and implementation guidelines are ostensibly about industrial relations or, as Australia is increasingly calling them, workplace relations but do contain some interesting safety elements.

An intriguing element of the Code and guidelines is the introduction of a workplace culture through contract obligations and how this may affect workplace safety.

Hadgkiss stated, according to a copy of his presentation, that

“Where a party tenders for public work called for after 1 July 2012, the party is required to comply on any subsequent privately funded work.”

This quote means that any company that applies for a Victorian Government contract, of specific costs and other criteria, must comply with the Code.  Any client is entitled to impose their own contractual conditions. The obligation that  “the party is required to comply on any subsequent privately funded work” means that even if the contractor or party fails to win the contract it tendered for its management of  any subsequent project, even one from non-government funding, must also comply with the Code.

One of the four priority elements of the Code is occupational health and safety, so OHS requirements will spread from principal contractor, or tenderer, to contractor, sub-contractors and sub-sub-contractors like a virus or an “ITI”, an industry-transmitted infection.   Continue reading “Safety culture change through a regulatory-based market mechanism”

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

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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’

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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

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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”