Law firms have been producing newsletters and case summaries for a long time. Ostensibly these are for marketing purposes but occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals have benefited from these potted histories and examinations, even though the perspectives are often limited to the legal precedents. Over the last few years though, law firms have been…
In May 2016, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) and Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) held their annual safety breakfast. The speakers were the usual blend of WorkSafe representative, SIA, Herbert Smith Freehills and remuneration survey results but there is always bits of useful information for the old hands and a lot of information for new entrants in the occupational health and safety profession. Continue reading “Breakfast seminar provides OHS tidbits”
The investigation into workplace deaths associated with Australia’s Home Insulation Program (HIP) was refreshed yesterday with the publication of some of the terms of reference for a new Government inquiry into the program. The HIP deaths is an enormously politically charged issue in Australia and the politics, and associated media attention, could derail an inquiry that has the potential to provide important occupational health and safety, risk management and governance issues.
Greg Hunt, Environment Minister is quoted as saying that
“The Government is committed to a full inquiry into Kevin Rudd’s home insulation scheme that was linked to the tragic loss of four young lives,….”
According to the Courier-Mail newspaper on 27 October 2013 there will be ten elements in the terms of reference but only four are mentioned:
- The process and basis of government decisions while establishing the program, including risk assessment and risk management;
- Whether the death of the four men could have been avoided;
- What if any advice or undertakings given by the government to the industry were inaccurate or deficient, and;
- What steps the government should have taken to avoid the tragedies.
These four seem reasonable aims but this information has been leaked, the full terms of reference have not been released and a person to head the inquiry is yet to be announced.
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.
On the evening of 2 June 2009, the ABC TV show “Lateline Business” ran a short item on the business continuity issues associated with Australia’s swine flu outbreak. Not much that was said was new but it proposed an interesting scenario for those people who manage aged care facilities where a potentially virulent illness could harm residents who it may be difficult to isolate or quarantine.
Michael Tooma of Australian law firm, Deacons, spoke briefly to remind viewers that health and safety were important legislative obligations that relate to illnesses, such as swine flu. Interestingly he provided a rule-of-thumb scenario on business continuity. He asked whether a business could continue to operate with 20% less staff, a 20% reduction in logistics services and 20% less customers, if the swine flu realises its potential.
Most of the speakers spoke from the current position that Australia is suffering from a “mild” case of this virus. The story would be considerably different if Australia suffered its first swine-flu fatality, as have other nations. One death and the terminology will change.
A video of the segment is available to view online.
According to the Communiqué of the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council on 18 May 2009, the following issues should be considered when drafting the new OHS legislation
“Application of the primary duty of care to any person conducting a business or undertaking
The panel recommends that the primary duty of care should be owed by any person conducting a business or undertaking. The objective of this recommendation is to move away from the traditional emphasis on the employment relationship as the determiner of the primary duty, to provide greater health and safety protection for all persons involved in, or affected by, work activity. Care needs to be taken during drafting to ensure that the scope of the duty is limited to matters of occupational health and safety and does not further extend into areas of public safety that are not related to the workplace activity. “
The first part of this is recognition of the variety of workplaces Australia now has, the number of people within worksites who are not employees and the previous issues of OHS and unpaid volunteers. It seems to expand to matters of public liability but then, curiously, pulls back to emphasise occupational health and safety. As Michael Tooma has noted, circumstances seem to have passed beyond the arbitrariness of the occupational categorisation. Continue reading “The OHS recommendations the Australian Government rejected”
Last week, I had the pleasure of being interviewed byElanor McInerney of the 3CR radio program, Stick Together. The interview concerned the harmonisation law in Australia and my thoughts on the risks and impacts it would have on Australian business and workers.
The radio program is now available as a podcast (My part is around the 19 minute mark.)
Please let me know if I am totally off the beam with my applications of the OHS laws and the political issues.
I thank Elanor and the producers of Stick Together for making this available so soon after the broadcast on 17 May 2009.