UK’s approach to OHS reform is flawed by short-term political strategy

England’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, has described OHS as a “monster” in a speech to small business owners on 5 January 2012. It is important to note the PM’s comments prior to his monster reference that have not been repeated in the mainstream press. He refers to

“… a great big machine of health and safety that has built up over years.”

Cameron feels that he needs to address an OHS regulatory system and enforcement strategies that have become too complex for, particularly, small business to comply with. Part of his solution is to exempt the self-employed, in some specific sectors, from OHS laws. This is a questionable decision as it effectively establishes a two-tier safety management regime and sets a precedent for other similar sectors to lobby for an exemption from other, perceived, onerous laws.

It may be that OHS laws in the UK have become overly complicated over time but the role of the media must be considered in that it has focussed on many absurd managerial decisions that have resulted from a skewed understanding of OHS and risk. Frequently the media reports have no relation to OHS laws and all to do with an increasing litigious society and the pursuit of money through, potentially spurious, public liability insurance claims.

In the 5 January 2012 speech Cameron states that

“…the key about health and safety is not just the rules and the laws and the regulations – it is also the culture of fear many businesses have about health and safety.” (emphasis added)

Cameron explains his answer for reducing this fear of health and safety, the capping of fees that lawyers can earn from legal action against businesses on behalf of their clients, usually, employees. There is no fear of health and safety, it is a fear of litigation. Cameron is not on about OHS law reform, his concern is about “unnecessary” litigation costs. This is unlikely to be reduced by cutting the budget of the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) which must reduce services as the HSE resources have been contracting for some time. Continue reading “UK’s approach to OHS reform is flawed by short-term political strategy”

Farmer rescued from rare tractor rollover incident

Tractor rollovers are far less frequent in Australia than in previous decades due, principally, to major safety campaigns and financial rebates for the compulsory fitting of rollover protection structures (ROPS).  This fact makes the near death of a Victorian farmer on 17 August all the more surprising.

The most detailed report on the rescue, to the moment, is by Channel 7 but additional information is available from the ambulance service and through an audio statement* with the responding paramedic.  The Channel 7 reporter states that the tractor had no ROPS and this is true, to an extent.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has been advised that there was a ROPS for the tractor available on the farm but it had been detached.

At his early stage of the man’s recovery and incident investigation it is difficult to extrapolate OHS lessons or issues but any investigation is likely to ask about the risks of , amongst others,

  • working alone
  • the absence of ROPS
  • the competence of the “hobby farmer”
  • the working environment/terrain
  • the use of a trailer with this tractor.

It is believed that WorkSafe will be undertaking an investigation.

Kevin Jones

*very interesting social media initiative from the ambulance services

Workplace safety challenges for the Coffice

What is a workplace?  In Australia, the easy answer is “wherever work takes place”.  This seems sensible and logical but think about it and the impact on businesses and community will be large.  The Sunday Age newspaper reports on one business that is setting down some ground rules for those who are running businesses from their cafe or, what the article describes as “coffices“. Continue reading “Workplace safety challenges for the Coffice”

Home-based businesses need OHS consideration

SafetyAtWorkBlog is largely produced from a home-based business and the issues of safety, mental health, work/life balance are real issues in this business.

In the development of OHS regulations, a “workplace” has been fairly generic.  For at least 50 years, our definition of “workplace” has reflected our individual experience of the places we have worked.  (Lately, in Australia, a “workplace” has been designed as a place where work is performed, which raises lots of difficult issues in itself.)  OHS regulations are rarely written by workers in  a home-based business and sometimes the regulations miss this important sector of the workforce and the community.

An article on women’s wages in the Australian Financial Review on 16 March 2010 (not available online without a subscription) includes one paragraph of interesting and relevant statistics: Continue reading “Home-based businesses need OHS consideration”

Good bullying advice needs grounding in prevention

Recently SafetyAtWorkBlog discussed the quality of media releases on OHS matters.  A very good one was received the other day from Firefly Marketing.  The noticeable quality of this release is that although its purpose is to promote a conference, the release provides fresh and unique comments that have stand-alone benefits.

The statement includes several comments concerning workplace bullying.

Regulator

WorkSafe Victoria‘s media manager, Michael Birt  says

“The death of Brodie Panlock has received the most media attention of any WorkSafe Victoria prosecution – ever.  The case was covered extensively by Australia’s national media but was even reported in countries from the Netherlands to Russia.  The details will stay on Google forever.  The actions of Brodie’s tormentors will follow them.” Continue reading “Good bullying advice needs grounding in prevention”

Public relations, OHS and a workplace death

In October 2009, Matthew Fuller was electrocuted while installing metal foil insulation in the roof of a house in Queensland.  He was a subcontractor for a registered insulation installation company called Countrywide Insulation.

Countrywide and its owner have been heavily criticised in the Australian media.  But Countrywide has “hit back” at critics with a media release on 16 February 2010, the only content on its webpage.  The release has a contact number for a representative of the Phillips Group public relations company.  The text of the release is below and is an interesting study in what is omitted and timing. Continue reading “Public relations, OHS and a workplace death”

Small business OHS shortcomings

The home insulation debate in Australia is fragmenting.  Workplace safety is one of the chunks of debate heading in an unknown direction (political safety goggles anyone?)  The Australian newspaper included an article on 19 February 2010 that, although coming from the insulation sector, illustrates a dominant misunderstanding by small businesses.

The proprietor has run many businesses in a range of industries but he clearly has little understanding of his OHS obligations as he denies any responsibility for the death Matthew Fuller, an employee of the firm he contracted to undertake insulation installations, QHI Installations.  The proprietor states the reason is that “we did not employ him.”   Continue reading “Small business OHS shortcomings”