Australian Government moves on quad bike safety

Just before Christmas in 2009, Dr Yossi Berger speculated for an information network about the safety of quad bikes.  He called it QuadWatch.  Over two years later, on 13 July 2012, Australia’s Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten announced his own QuadWatch.

In the 2009 Croaky Blog, Dr Berger suggested

“a network could be called QuadWatch and it would become a clearing house for all needs related to quad bikes, particularly in relation to safety standards.  All training needs, advice about accessories, advice about the correct machine for a certain job or terrain could be handled by such regional cells.”

Shorten described the new QuadWatch as

“… a community based network bringing together farmers, community groups, emergency services and local government.

Shorten’s QuadWatch is broadly consultative but is a little different in its communication strategy.  Establishing websites in support of a political strategy have not had the greatest success in the last few years under the Federal Labor Government and QuadWatch is not the end point in the safety debate.

It is worth deconstructing the Minister’s media release a little.

Continue reading “Australian Government moves on quad bike safety”

Workplace bullying inquiry followed the script, mostly

The Melbourne public hearing in support of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying has concluded after over an hour of personal impact statements that were confronting, saddening but, overall, defiant.

The hearing began more sedately and predictable. The employers’ association, ACCI, says that workplace bullying is a broad social issue that needs broad social control measure. In rough translation, “it’s not our problem”. The employers also see everything in terms of industrial relations so prevention of harm rarely features in recommendations.

The ACTU stressed that workplace bullying IS a workplace issue and therefore should be principally “managed” under occupational health and safety laws. Continue reading “Workplace bullying inquiry followed the script, mostly”

Workplace bullying in the police force illustrates the challenges of change management

There are two newspaper reports in Australia on 21 June 2012 about the Victorian Police Force that illustrate a fractious safety culture and a major organisational and ideological impediment to reducing workplace bullying.

The Australian article ” OPI concedes failure against force’s culture” (only available to subscribers) states that:

‘The Office of Police Integrity has conceded it and other corruption fighting measures have failed to root out the entrenched culture of reprisals and mateship in pockets of the Victoria Police that seriously harms the force….”

“The OPI says current law fails to deal with why whistleblowers are targeted. ‘‘The legislated protections against retaliation do not address the root cause of reprisal — a workplace culture of misguided loyalty,’’ it argues.  “The protections are individualistic and short-term, tending to ‘look after’ victims and potential victims of reprisal rather than address why reprisal occurs.’’

“Despite the subsequent formation of the OPI and the beefing up of the Ombudsman’s powers, police still struggled to break free of the shackles of loyalty and the so-called brotherhood.’

The Age article, “A fifth of police bullied at work“, reports on a government survey circulated to 14,000 people.

‘The figures, provided to The Age, mean about 1250 of the 4200 police staff who completed the survey have seen bullying behaviour, while nearly 900 say they have been bullied.’ Continue reading “Workplace bullying in the police force illustrates the challenges of change management”

Who would buy asbestos?

A busy mum, two little kids playing on the carpet in the corridor.  She is busy pulling out an old gas heater from the cavity in the wall.  Dust everywhere.  She wants to recreate the old fashioned open fireplace that was there.  The job will take a few days, she’s not in a hurry.    Then the neighbour asks her gently, “Have you checked, we had asbestos behind our fireplace?”  Mum’s blood goes cold.  She looks at the kids.

‘Who in their right mind would buy asbestos?’  you may ask.  After all the publicity, the growing numbers of tragic mesothelioma sufferers in Australia, the lung cancers, the famous court cases, the Hardies’ debacle.

There are three main ways you can still buy asbestos in Australia.  First, a small number of components used in industry and the defence forces still contain asbestos in sealed conditions.  For example, a shock absorber in the front wheel assembly of an aeroplane may contain an asbestos gasket.  Certain specialised gaskets used in segments of the chemical industry may contain asbestos.  The risk to workers and the general public is very small.

Then you can buy asbestos when you purchase gravel made from crushed masonry from demolished buildings that contained asbestos.  Some 10 million tonnes of such bricks and concrete are recycled every year in Australia.  Continue reading “Who would buy asbestos?”

NSW inquiry into workers’ compensation illustrates short-termism

UnionsNSW are campaigning strongly on OHS issues during an inquiry by Joint Select Committee on the NSW Workers’ Compensation Scheme into workers compensation.  They make the point that a focus on the reduction of injury is the most effective way of rendering a workers compensation scheme “profitable”.  By neglecting worker safety, injuries increase and there is a higher demand on compensation and rehabilitation resources.

A major concern in the campaign is that the government is focussing on reducing costs and, in workers’ compensation schemes, that often results in fewer resources for injured workers and their families.

Tim Ayres, Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald:

“If NSW employers want to save money on workers’ comp premiums, they should focus on reducing their premiums by providing safer workplaces where workers don’t get injured and killed.”

But a draft submission, seen by SafetyAtWorkBlog, by the International Governance and Performance Research Centre (IGPRC) of Macquarie University provides some balance into the rhetoric. Continue reading “NSW inquiry into workers’ compensation illustrates short-termism”

Victoria’s Workcover Minister reveals more of the “secret” inquiry into Workcover and the Transport Accident Commission

The terms of reference of the Victorian Government’s review of the Victoria Workcover Authority and the Transport Accident Commission remain hidden in the inquiry by the Essential Services Commission but some hints about the review are appearing in the press and official records.

The Australian Financial Review of 21 May 2012 reported that the Victorian Minister for WorkCover, Gordon Rich-Phillips would not rule out the option of merging the two organisations.  A reading of the transcript of the budget estimates inquiry conducted by the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) illustrate the reasonableness of Rich-Phillips statement – an inquiry has commenced and he should not pre-empt the inquiry findings.

Rich-Phillips said that the inquiry will be looking at

“how [the functions of both organisations] can be improved and how the two agencies can work together better.”

The concerns, principally raised by the Shadow Finance Minister, Robyn Scott, seem to be over potential changes to the TAC, including the use of private insurance companies to manage injuries from motor vehicle accidents, and not about the VWA or WorkSafe. Continue reading “Victoria’s Workcover Minister reveals more of the “secret” inquiry into Workcover and the Transport Accident Commission”

Motivation needed from Prime Minister on OHS laws

In July 2010, Prime Minister Julia Gillard mentioned OHS harmonisation in an election debate.  She said that OHS harmonisation was one of her achievements but less than two years later, at the Australian Council of Trade Union (ACTU) Congress, there is no mention of harmonisation in her speech.  The only mention of safety was in terms of truck drivers:

“And we’ve moved to protect the rights of cleaners.  We’ve moved to improve the laws for outworkers. We’ve moved so that a truck-driving cabin being a workplace […] can be a safer workplace, so that truck driver gets back home that evening.”

The Prime Minister audience was trade unionists and perhaps they need motivation and support and acknowledgement for their efforts in difficult economic and political times but there is a big move from harmonising the OHS laws across a country to determining a truck cabin as a workplace (which it has been for decades in some States).

The 2012 ACTU Congress included industrial manslaughter on its agenda.  Its OHS and Rehabilitation policy stated:

“Congress  affirms  that  industrial  manslaughter  should  be  an  offence  under occupational health and safety legislation or other legislation as most appropriate. The elements of the offence should be:  A worker dies in the course of employment or  at a place of work or is injured or contracts a disease, injury or illness in the course of employment and later dies;  The  conduct  (by  way  of  act  or  omission)  of  a  person  caused  the  death,  injury  or illness; and  The person was reckless or negligent about causing serious harm or death to the worker.”

Industrial manslaughter seems a poisoned political concept but it remains a potential motivator in Australia even though it is a reality in the UK.  Without motivation from the Prime Minister, other issues will fill the void.

Kevin Jones