Victoria’s Workcover Minister reveals more of the “secret” inquiry into Workcover and the Transport Accident Commission

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The terms of reference of the Victorian Government’s review of the Victoria Workcover Authority and the Transport Accident Commission remain hidden in the inquiry by the Essential Services Commission but some hints about the review are appearing in the press and official records.

The Australian Financial Review of 21 May 2012 reported that the Victorian Minister for WorkCover, Gordon Rich-Phillips would not rule out the option of merging the two organisations.  A reading of the transcript of the budget estimates inquiry conducted by the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) illustrate the reasonableness of Rich-Phillips statement – an inquiry has commenced and he should not pre-empt the inquiry findings.

Rich-Phillips said that the inquiry will be looking at

“how [the functions of both organisations] can be improved and how the two agencies can work together better.”

The concerns, principally raised by the Shadow Finance Minister, Robyn Scott, seem to be over potential changes to the TAC, including the use of private insurance companies to manage injuries from motor vehicle accidents, and not about the VWA or WorkSafe. Continue reading “Victoria’s Workcover Minister reveals more of the “secret” inquiry into Workcover and the Transport Accident Commission”

Bill Shorten speaks at the Safe Work Australia Awards

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Australia’s Employment and Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten had a very busy day on 26 April 2012 with the recent actions over the management of the Health Services Union.  Tha evening he spoke eloquently and passionately at the Annual Safe Work Australia Awards. Not only did he speak but he also spent several hours speaking with award finalists winners. At these sorts of functions many politicians cannot wait to escape. But Bill Shorten is enormously well qualified for his role as the minister for employment relations, including workplace safety.

He diverged strongly from his written speech yet there was one section that he clearly felt strongly about and it is a point that many safety professionals should remember:

“Hazards and risks and the entire approach to risk assessment and risk management generally do not address what really happens at work. Beaconsfield gold mine had such a system. Longford oil and gas refinery had such a system before sections of it blew up in 1998.

It is not the systems or the fancy talk about culture that will save people’s lives.” (link added) Continue reading “Bill Shorten speaks at the Safe Work Australia Awards”

Australian senator sees OHS consultation as “collusion”

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In response to correspondence from an Australian safety professional, Senator Eric Abetz, Federal Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, has displayed his ignorance of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.  In the  email response, reproduced in full below and dated 26 April 2012, Senator Abetz, accuses “big Government” “big unions and big business” of colluding on the development of Codes of Practice.

Abetz shows his misunderstanding of the status of codes of practice in the regulation of OHS.  He also uses a DRAFT  code of practice to illustrate the absurdity of new OHS laws, a draft that is having a contentious route but is expected to be considerably changed in the final version.

The draft code he chooses is workplace bullying and the senator tries to illustrate how silly this code’s suggestions are by hypothesizing a small business.  He chooses a two person plumbing firm.  How different his perspective could have been should he have chosen a real small business workplace bullying case that resulted in a worker killing herself.  How convenient to avoid the Cafe Vamp example. Continue reading “Australian senator sees OHS consultation as “collusion””

OHS is Dead. Long Live WHS.

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Media reports on the 13 April 2012 Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting say that harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws in Australia has died.  Some say this is the fault of the Victorian Government with its economic justification for inaction but the process was struggling as soon as the West Australian Government flagged its major concerns, principally, with increased union powers, as reiterated in the Australian Financial Review on 14 April 2012 (not available on-line).

WA Premier Colin Barnett is quoted as saying that:

“There are three or four sections we don’t agree with and the principle one of those relates to right of entry [for trade unions]… We see that as an industrial issue.  Right of entry, it is was applied to OH&S, in all probability would be used by the unions to shut down the Pilbara iron ore operations…”

This is further evidence of the political dominance of the mining sector in Western Australia, if it was ever needed.

Victoria does not have the same excuse as the right of entry has existed for many years and almost totally without any industrial relations problems. Continue reading “OHS is Dead. Long Live WHS.”

Is OHS harmonisation a dead parrot or is it just pining?

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In The Australian newspaper on 3 April 2012, Judith Sloan presents a useful summary of the status of the OHS harmonisation process.  Many of her criticisms are valid but she has not realised that the new Work Health and Safety laws stopped being occupational health and safety laws some time ago.  It is easier to understand the proposed changes if one accepts that these laws have broadened beyond the workplace to operate more as public health and safety laws.

It is possible to accept Sloan’s assertion of the “demise”of OHS harmonisation but if seen in the light of an integrated public/workplace health and safety law, the harmonisation process may be a welcome beginning to a broader application of safety in public and occupational lives.

The acceptance of this interpretation provides very different comparisons and linkages.  For instance, the shopper tripping on a mat in the vegetable section of a supermarket was likely, in the past, to receive recompense through public liability insurance. Now it could equally be under OHS laws.  The regulation of potential legionella sources was through the Health Department, even though many of these are in workplaces and often affect workers first.  Should cooling towers have been assessed by hygienists or occupational hygienists?  Should these be managed under an employer’s OHS management system or through the facilities manager or landlord?
Continue reading “Is OHS harmonisation a dead parrot or is it just pining?”