Impediments for OHS enforcement

In  letter published in the October 2011 edition of the American Historical Review (page 1257, and not available without a subscription [I got there through EBSCOHost]), Donald Rogers responded to a review of his book Making Capitalism Safe.  He said that

“Quoting reformers, the book argues that OSHA had truly “radical” potential to raise work safety standards and address previously neglected health hazards, but adds that OSHA’s promise “crumbled in the conservative political reorientation of the 1970s,” largely due to narrow court decisions, weak state cooperation, and drastic funding cuts during the Reagan years (pp. 175, 181)”.

Two out of those disappointments – “conservative political reorientation” and “weak state cooperation” – should sound familiar to those Australian safety professionals involved with OHS harmonisation.

Kevin Jones

Latest Andrew Hopkins book focusses on engineering decisions

The latest Andrew Hopkins book steers clear of analysing corporate leadership, and this is a good thing.  Australian National University sociologist, Andrew Hopkins, has established an international reputation for his enlightening analyses of the failures of organisational culture in major disasters but his latest book, Disastrous Decisions: The Human and Organisational Causes of the Gulf of Mexico Blowout, purposely leaves leadership out.

This may disappoint many but Hopkins says that

“The critical role of top leaders in accident prevention cannot, however, be overstated.  It is they who must learn from major accidents and, unless they do, nothing can be expected to change.

There is one group of decision-makers that has received rather less attention in accident investigations: office-based engineers.” (page 8) Continue reading “Latest Andrew Hopkins book focusses on engineering decisions”

Safety leadership and culture require accountability

At the recent Safe Work Australia Awards, the Minister for Workplace Relations had a dig at “safety culture“, according to an article from the National Safety Council of Australia.   Bill Shorten said :

“It is not the systems or the fancy talk about culture that will save people’s lives.”

This has been interpreted by some as Shorten disparaging the advocates of safety culture.  I agree that safety culture can be used as a euphemism for “Act of God” and therefore take no preventative action but safety culture is not designed by Gods, it is designed and implemented by Chief Executive Officers and Boards of Directors, often under the rubric of “leadership”. Continue reading “Safety leadership and culture require accountability”

Favourable progress could be achieved on OHS if the current reality is accepted

The issue of “control” in Australian OHS law continues to be discussed as industry associations bristle against the introduction of Work Health and Safety laws, frequently on flawed or dubious costings.

Australian safety laws have been moving from the prescriptive tradition for decades. This has been due to various reasons including new workplace hazards that cannot be controlled in defined ways, diminished enforcement resources and confused roles in OHS regulators, the change in labour force dominance from blue- to white-collar occupations but, most of all, repeated demands from business associations for increased flexibility and autonomy on managing workplace safety.

Certainly the degree of control has varied from State to State with New South Wales being considered as having the most business-unfriendly OHS laws but most States are now running under a different set of OHS rules and criticizing the current laws by referring to now-repealed OHS laws in the most extreme State of New South Wales, as Ken Phillips does in today’s The Australian newspaper, is almost sophistry. Continue reading “Favourable progress could be achieved on OHS if the current reality is accepted”

Just workplace hardship

Yossi Berger writes:

We’re all familiar with the notions of focus and attention, and selective attention.  We’ve all experienced how difficult it can be to attend to target information when background noise is distracting.  The issue can be referred to as the signal-to-noise ratio.

I often find its effects in discussions with managers and workers during workplace inspections.  That is, I hear animated discussions of hazards, of risks, of risk assessments and risk management and various systems and theories.  The conversations over flow with these concepts whilst most of workers’ daily problems aren’t even raised, they don’t reach the level of a signal.

Thankfully in most workplaces, most managers and most workers have not experienced any fatalities.  By far most of them will not have experienced or witnessed a serious injury or serious disease.  Nor have most experienced their local hazards actually seriously hurting anyone.

But most workers will have experienced some dangerous working conditions, mostly not mortally dangerous, but dangerous.  Continue reading “Just workplace hardship”

New Tooma OHS book augurs well for the rest of the series on due diligence

Tooma is a leading figure in Australia’s analysis and application of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.  He has also been a regular author for publisher CCH.  His latest book on workplace health and safety is entitled “Due Diligence: Duty of Officers”. 

The process for harmonisation of OHS laws in Australia continues to be a rocky one but there are some elements emerging that, even if the laws are not applied in each State, will change the way that OHS is perceived in workplaces.  The increased involvement and accountability of senior managers has been a prominent concern through the review process and is a valid starting point for this new series of books.

Tooma writes in the Preface that the series is designed for the “busy executive” (Is there any other kind?) as an explanation for the tone and structure of the book.  The book is what has been traditionally described as an “easy read”.  I take this as meaning a clean, well-spaced font, minimal footnoting and cross-references.  There is a good use of graphics and tables but sometimes the short case studies or examples break up the page too much in such a small formatted book. Continue reading “New Tooma OHS book augurs well for the rest of the series on due diligence”

The synchronicity of safety and environment

There has always been a moral similarity between the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession and the environmental advocates.  One focusses on the immediate safety of humans and the other on the long term safety of humans.  This similarity can create challenges for organisations and industries that have workers in both environmental settings such as forestry and mining.  This type of challenge is currently being faced by Dr Nikki Williams of the Australian Coal Association.

In an article in the Weekend Australian on 10 March 2012 Dr Williams expressed concerns over a Greenpeace campaign against coal mining.  (Significantly the newspaper included no quotes from either Bob Brown of the Australian Greens or from Greenpeace.  ABC News did on on March 6 2012)  She inadvertently compliments the campaigners by saying the campaign shows a “a very high level of planning”, is “sophisticated” and “very detailed”. Continue reading “The synchronicity of safety and environment”