Australian senator sees OHS consultation as “collusion”

In response to correspondence from an Australian safety professional, Senator Eric Abetz, Federal Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, has displayed his ignorance of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.  In the  email response, reproduced in full below and dated 26 April 2012, Senator Abetz, accuses “big Government” “big unions and big business” of colluding on the development of Codes of Practice.

Abetz shows his misunderstanding of the status of codes of practice in the regulation of OHS.  He also uses a DRAFT  code of practice to illustrate the absurdity of new OHS laws, a draft that is having a contentious route but is expected to be considerably changed in the final version.

The draft code he chooses is workplace bullying and the senator tries to illustrate how silly this code’s suggestions are by hypothesizing a small business.  He chooses a two person plumbing firm.  How different his perspective could have been should he have chosen a real small business workplace bullying case that resulted in a worker killing herself.  How convenient to avoid the Cafe Vamp example. Continue reading “Australian senator sees OHS consultation as “collusion””

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”

Upcoming cancer in the workplace seminar

In November 2010 Geoff Fary left his role with the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) to chair the Asbestos Management Review. On May 3 2012 Geoff Fary will join other keynote speakers in a full day seminar in Melbourne called “Cancer in the workplace – a forum on practical solutions for prevention“.  This event has been jointly organised by the ACTU and the Cancer Council of Australia.

Australia’s trade union movement has a good record in asbestos- and cancer-related seminars but rarely do they gain much traction outside of their sector.  The cooperation with the Cancer Council will broaden the appeal of the seminar into more general workplace health consideration, particularly with a speaker from the United States, Lucille Servidio of Capaccio Environmental Engineering.  Local speakers are not overlooked with, probably, Associate Professor Tim Driscoll being the most recognisable participant to OHS professionals.

With the increasing attention to workplace health, concern over cancer clusters and breast cancer risks in nightshift workers, these very affordable seminars often give terrific value – not something that one always gets from the seminars that cost of $A2000 a day.

Kevin Jones

Victoria’s analysis of OHS law costs is unhelpful politics

The Victorian Government has released the PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) assessment of the potential economic impacts of the introduction of the national Work Health and safety laws.

The government media statement accompanying the report states that

“The proposed laws do not deliver on the intent of the COAG reform agreed to in 2008 which aimed to reduce the cost of regulation and enhance productivity and workforce mobility,” Mr Baillieu said.

“Victoria already has the safest system, the most effective system, the lowest rate of workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths of all states, and the lowest workers’ compensation premiums in the country.  It is estimated that it will cost Victoria $812 million to transition to the new model and $587 million a year in the first five years in ongoing costs to businesses.  Most of those costs will be borne by small enterprises which make up 90 per cent of Victorian businesses…,”

This media statement needs to be seen as, largely, political posturing. PwC has produced a report that confirms many of the suspicions that the conservative politicians in Victoria have held for some time. Continue reading “Victoria’s analysis of OHS law costs is unhelpful politics”

Is OHS harmonisation a dead parrot or is it just pining?

In The Australian newspaper on 3 April 2012, Judith Sloan presents a useful summary of the status of the OHS harmonisation process.  Many of her criticisms are valid but she has not realised that the new Work Health and Safety laws stopped being occupational health and safety laws some time ago.  It is easier to understand the proposed changes if one accepts that these laws have broadened beyond the workplace to operate more as public health and safety laws.

It is possible to accept Sloan’s assertion of the “demise”of OHS harmonisation but if seen in the light of an integrated public/workplace health and safety law, the harmonisation process may be a welcome beginning to a broader application of safety in public and occupational lives.

The acceptance of this interpretation provides very different comparisons and linkages.  For instance, the shopper tripping on a mat in the vegetable section of a supermarket was likely, in the past, to receive recompense through public liability insurance. Now it could equally be under OHS laws.  The regulation of potential legionella sources was through the Health Department, even though many of these are in workplaces and often affect workers first.  Should cooling towers have been assessed by hygienists or occupational hygienists?  Should these be managed under an employer’s OHS management system or through the facilities manager or landlord?
Continue reading “Is OHS harmonisation a dead parrot or is it just pining?”

Union protest is a dry run for Workcover Review and Workers’ Memorial Day

The next stage of a union campaign over the management of workers’ compensation premiums in Victoria occurred in late March 2012.  Trade unions are angry that the Liberal Government of Premier Ted Baillieu has chosen to remove almost $A500 million from the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA) fund to be allocated to general revenue.  On the steps of Parliament several hundred union members and interested parties were told to “keep their hands off workers’ money”.  Some of this hyperbole needs a little analysis.

Several unionists stated that the workers’ compensation fund is “workers’ money”.  Yes and no.  Yes in that almost revenue created by business comes from labour but when workers’ compensation is required, by law, to be paid to the Workcover Authority by employers, the ownership is a couple of steps away from workers.  Also Workcover takes the premiums as an economic base to invest in the hope of increasing the total fund through dividends and other returns.  The total fund includes premiums and returns on investment, over which workers have no influence. Continue reading “Union protest is a dry run for Workcover Review and Workers’ Memorial Day”

Innovative thinking needed if Australia is to save lives and improve the economy

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) advocates for workers’ rights and entitlements with occupational safety being one of those entitlements but sometimes the safety message from ACTU is a little narrow.

On 14 March 2012, the ACTU issued a media release responding to the release of important workplace safety data by Safe Work Australia.  The release quotes ACTU President Ged Kearney emphasising very important data:

“This report has found that the cost of each workplace incident is around $99,100 and of this workers pay $73,300, the community $20,800 and employers $5100…”


“We think we are a clever country but it isn’t so smart to forgo almost 5% of our nation’s GDP on the cost of preventable workplace injury and illness…”

But what does the ACTU propose to address this economic cost of poor safety management? Continue reading “Innovative thinking needed if Australia is to save lives and improve the economy”