Vulnerability and arrogance

“How can this be allowed to happen nowadays?” the distressed wife of a seriously injured worker asked me recently.  Her husband was sitting next to her, his eyes still victims of the recent terror that nearly killed him.  She saw that and struggled to join him in his very dark and personal space.  This now would become a life time job for her.

This meeting captured for me one of the most fundamental factors at most workplaces.  That workers’ most common feeling at work is that of vulnerability.  Of course many workers find comfort and pride in their job.  Of course it feeds them and their families.  Of course it can provide personal identity and purpose.  And of course there are many managers who understand all this.

But it’s also true that much too often this is not the case.  That’s one reason why when suddenly factories or mines close, or car manufacturers ‘shed’ 200 workers, or car part factories go bust workers are not only shocked, but it substantiates their sense of vulnerability, “What a shock, I thought they loved us!”

Not only is this painfully evident when a negligently poor H&S standard results in crippling a worker for life, but is typically present on a daily basis.  Permanent fear of job loss results.  The fact that a worker can be disciplined or sacked for a number of events that can be defined and redefined by creative managers feeds that feeling.  That’s another reason why so much bullying and humiliation occur and so much stress is experienced. Continue reading “Vulnerability and arrogance”

New book on OHS laws challenges current understandings of workplace safety

With the change of political heart from some of Australia’s state governments over the harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws, many academic and legal publishers revised their book plans as the national market was less national. However, some continued to publish understanding that although OHS harmonisation had a political deadline of 1 January 2012, refinement of the laws would continue for several years.

Federation Press has released a new book by prominent labour lawyer, Michael Tooma, and academic, Richard Johnstone, called “Work Health & Safety Regulation in Australia – The Model Act“. The title states an immediate limitation that other publishers squibbed at. The book is based on the Model Work Health and Safety Act and not, necessarily, the versions of the Act implemented at State level. Production timelines are responsible for this but it makes it even more important to follow the writings and research of Johnstone and Tooma to understand developments.

The Social Context of Safety

The authors reiterate an important element of the WHS Act in their introduction:

“[the laws] are no longer workplace or occupationally based, nor predicated on the employment relationship; rather the laws protect persons involved in ‘work’ in a business or undertaking, and, in addition, protect ‘others’ whose health and safety is affected by work. Consequently the scope of the Model Act is limited only by the imagination of those entrusted to interpret them and to enforce them.” (page 3)

This paragraph summarises well the elements of the laws that are causing so much fear in the Australian business community. Continue reading “New book on OHS laws challenges current understandings of workplace safety”

An Olympic first really worth celebrating.

Just over a coupla years ago I waved optimistically in the Twitterverse with “14 Athens, 6 Beijing, 43 New Delhi. How about the London Olympics uses the slogan: “No one had to die to make this happen Games”?

Well, they done it! No work oriented fatalities recorded and a record-breaking drop in injury rates. (I did see that there was a death of a crane driver on one of the sites, but it seems it was subsequently revealed the chap died of a heart attack.)

A fantastic achievement, and the British Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is justifiably proud of their role; and bravo to them.

Better still, you can find a whole bunch of research and analytical papers based on the things learned from the very deliberate and measured work safety approaches used.

I’ve only had time to have a quick squizz through the host of papers available. But it does seem that the use of a systematic approach to managing contractors, support for supervisors, a major engagement of workers to improve safety outcomes – all those things contributed to an excellent safety result. In other words, they implemented the work safety principles that have been bandied about for years, and it worked beautifully.

Here be a bunch of handy links on the outcomes and findings, there’s lots to use in this stuff:

Lessons for industry from the HSE site:

A news release from the British Institute of Occupational Safety and Health; a handy summary of outcomes with other links:

Col Finnie

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’”

Safety is unlikely to improve without a transformational conversation

As the relevance of Leadership encroaches on the workplace safety discipline, so do supportive concepts and techniques such as transformational conversations.  There is little doubt that such concepts are applicable to improving safety management and worker safety, even if, to some extent, these concepts are old wisdom rebranded into modern lingo.  Safety conversations can, and should, be transformational but don’t think that this type of conversation is new or unique.

Transformational conversations have been integral elements of the language used by  OHS consultants, and small business people, (and frauds) all the time, mostly subconsciously.  By answer the phone or asking “how can I help?” you indicate that you are available to be supportive and helpful. It also throws the emphasis back on the customer/employer to be more forthcoming with information and reinforces that you are not providing/imposing solutions but helping the client to develop or refine the solutions themselves.

This is a crucial element of OHS law that the business community still struggles to appreciate. Continue reading “Safety is unlikely to improve without a transformational conversation”

Bullying Hansard provides hope, despair and extraordinary claims

On 12 July 2012, SafetyAtWorkBlog described Moira Rayner as the “stand out speaker at the public hearing into workplace bullying conducted in Melbourne Australia.  She was always on topic and spoke of her own experience of being accused of bullying.  The Hansard record of that hearing is now available online and deserves some analysis to illustrate Rayner’s points but to also to expand our understanding of workplace bullying and the Committee’s operation.

Moira Rayner

As a representative of the Law Institute of Victoria, Moira Rayner, questioned the existing definition of workplace bullying favoured by Australian OHS regulators and said that the definition requires case studies and examples of workplace bullying so that people understand the application of the definition in reality.  Many case studies are available in the bullying/OHS/HR literature but these are rarely communicated to community except by labour lawyers through bulletins or by media releases from OHS regulators that rarely gain attention beyond the media editors.

Rayner addressed the confusion in the workplace bullying definition from its reliance on “unreasonableness”:

“It seems to me that unreasonableness or the claimed reasonable purpose of the behaviour needs to be, again, spelled out. You hit on the crux of the matter, Madam Chair, when you say that it is Continue reading “Bullying Hansard provides hope, despair and extraordinary claims”

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”