Can OHS achieve change in a neoliberal world?

The operation of the European Union is a mystery to everyone outside the EU and to most people in the EU.  Any organisation that juggles the legislation of over 20 countries has a thankless task but some of the work being undertaken by occupational health and safety (OHS) advocates provides a clarity on power relationships between employers and workers. I never tire of reading articles and editorials by Laurent Vogel of the European Trade Union Institute. Below is an excerpt from his editorial in the Autumn-Winter 2015 edition of HesaMag: Continue reading “Can OHS achieve change in a neoliberal world?”

John Darley speaks to SafetyAtWorkBlog

Independent Member of the South Australian Parliament, John Darley, provided SafetyAtWorkBlog with some background to the package of amendments he has for that State’s Work Health and Safety laws currently before Parliament.

Darley acknowledged that he delayed the Work Health and Safety Bill since December 2011 and admitted that the Bill looked like common sense but his approach is to jump ahead an consider how the Bill would look as an Act and determine its social impact.  The opposition parties in South Australia believed the Bill was so bad that it should have been defeated before it proceeded to the committee stage but Darley knew that could imply that he was not interested in workplace safety.  Darley believes that the reassessment of the WHS Bill over such a long time indicates his commitment to the safety of workers.

Darley said that union right-of-entry was not an issue of concern in December 2011 but he came to see the significance of the  issue after delegations and meetings with people affected by workplace deaths but who were also very dissatisfied with the operations of the OHS regulator, SafeWorkSA.  The union OHS representatives offered an alternate but Darley felt that union access needed Continue reading “John Darley speaks to SafetyAtWorkBlog”

New workplace safety laws set to pass in South Australia in October

South Australian Independent Member of Parliament, John Darley, has been negotiating on that State’s Work Health and Safety laws for many months.  On 17 October 2012, according to a media release from SA’s Premier Jay Weatherill and Workplace Relations Minister Russell Wortley, Darley agreed to support the passing of the laws after achieving some amendments.  Those amendments involve changes to

  • height limits,
  • duty of care,
  • the right to silence, and
  • the right of entry.

Tammy Franks, a Greens MLC, was able to achieve an expansion of the number of days available for OHS representative training.

A spokesperson for John Darley told SafetyAtWorkBlog that another change was for any WHS codes of practice to undergo a small business impact assessment in consultation with the Small Business Commissioner.  Darley’s spokesperson said that the MP had met with Business SA after it changed its position on the WHS laws.  The amendment above is likely to address the small business concerns that BusinessSA raised in its letter to its members earlier this month.  The flip-flopping of BusinessSA on workplace health and safety laws was always curious and it is likely to put the organisation at a negotiating disadvantage once the laws passed.  It may try to claim a mini-victory through the small business change but the change appears to have occurred due to Darley’s efforts and not through any relationship with the South Australian Government. Continue reading “New workplace safety laws set to pass in South Australia in October”

Safety culture change through a regulatory-based market mechanism

In late August 2012 at a breakfast seminar, the Director of Construction Code Compliance, Nigel Hadgkiss outlined the 1999 Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry, which complements a 1997 National Code, and recently released implementation guidelines being imposed on many Victorian construction companies by the Liberal Government. The Code and implementation guidelines are ostensibly about industrial relations or, as Australia is increasingly calling them, workplace relations but do contain some interesting safety elements.

An intriguing element of the Code and guidelines is the introduction of a workplace culture through contract obligations and how this may affect workplace safety.

Hadgkiss stated, according to a copy of his presentation, that

“Where a party tenders for public work called for after 1 July 2012, the party is required to comply on any subsequent privately funded work.”

This quote means that any company that applies for a Victorian Government contract, of specific costs and other criteria, must comply with the Code.  Any client is entitled to impose their own contractual conditions. The obligation that  “the party is required to comply on any subsequent privately funded work” means that even if the contractor or party fails to win the contract it tendered for its management of  any subsequent project, even one from non-government funding, must also comply with the Code.

One of the four priority elements of the Code is occupational health and safety, so OHS requirements will spread from principal contractor, or tenderer, to contractor, sub-contractors and sub-sub-contractors like a virus or an “ITI”, an industry-transmitted infection.   Continue reading “Safety culture change through a regulatory-based market mechanism”

Inside Australian PM’s political problems is a nugget of workplace safety

Prime Minister Gillard (centre) and others at Government House Canberra in March 2012

The Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has been under intense media pressure over an issue concerning her conduct as a lawyer around 17 years ago.

It involves legal work for unions, her personal relationship at the time with a union official who has been described as “dodgy” and of most relevance to this blog, workplace safety.

Missed in all the debate is that the workplace safety issue seems to support the assertions of many in the business and industry associations that OHS is frequently used by trade unions as an excuse for action in other areas.  These other areas are usually industrial relations but in this instance OHS was used to mask a unionist’s alleged misuse of member and industry funds. Continue reading “Inside Australian PM’s political problems is a nugget of workplace safety”

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’”

John Darley’s delay on Work Health and Safety laws is unproductive

South Australia still has not passed the Work Health and Safety legislation that would bring it into line with most of the other States of Australia.  A major obstacle to the Bill’s progress in the South Australian Parliament is the “dithering” of Independent MP John Darley.

On 28 June 2012, Darley spoke to the WHS Bill in the Legislative Council (page 1641).  Darley reviews the status of WHS laws in Australian States, mentions Victoria’s flawed PricewaterhouseCoopers costings report but without expressing an opinion on it and acknowledges the support from major industrial and employer associations for the laws, but he seems very sympathetic to minority views on workplace safety.

Darley refers to the views of the Housing Industry (HIA) and Master Builders’ Associations (MBA) on “control”, two groups he acknowledges are “the most vocal opponents” of the Bill, and states

“Any person who does not have direct control of a risk should not have responsibility for eliminating or minimising the risk”.

Consider this position in relation to workplace psychosocial hazards.  A bully would be breaching OHS laws by bullying another worker but those executives who establish the culture of a workplace that condones the bully’s actions would not be facing any penalty.  This scenario seems to contradict a dominant safety principle that compliance and respect stems from the active example shown by an organisation’s leader.  How will the legislative obligation for a “positive duty of care” in workplaces apply with in-direct control? Continue reading “John Darley’s delay on Work Health and Safety laws is unproductive”

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