Archived News for OHS Sector Professionals - June, 2012
The Federal Government’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal has commenced operations this week, with the body set to start setting pay and conditions for truck drivers in a bid to reduce pressures forcing them to try and meet unrealistic deadlines.
Minister for Workplace Relations Bill Shorten said the move will significantly reduce the road toll associated with trucks, which currently sees around 250 people killed per year and over 1,000 suffer serious injuries in accidents involving trucks.
“We know some truck drivers are pressured to cut corners on safety and maintenance and feel they need to take illicit substances to keep them awake just to get to destinations on time,” Mr Shorten said.
Parliamentary Secretary for Workplace Relations Jacinta Collins said the work of the Tribunal will reduce the economic incentives for drivers to make unfair and unrealistic deadlines, cut corners on safety and maintenance, or take illicit substances to keep them awake to get to destinations on time.
“The Tribunal will make a real difference in improving road safety for truck drivers, their families and all Australian road users,” Senator Collins said.
“Research and an evidence-based approach will be used to determine pay and working conditions that do not encourage unsafe driving. All stakeholders with an interest in a matter before the Tribunal will have the opportunity to put their views forward.”
The Victorian Government has claimed success in reducing costs for thousands of Victorian businesses with significant reduction to the cost of WorkCover premiums that took effect at the start of the week.
Overwork is significantly impacting the mental health and wellbeing of Australians, a Flinders University labour studies expert has warned.
Professor Sue Richardson, a Principal Research Fellow at the Flinders-based National Institute of Labour Studies, said overwork was an issue that must be taken “much more seriously”.
“We hear a lot about unemployment and underemployment but we don’t hear nearly enough about overemployment,” Professor Richardson said.
“There’s a strong language about how hard work and long hours are somehow morally superior but I think that conversation needs to be reconsidered,” she said.
“Instead of making it seem like it’s a macho commitment to the job we need to work on the language and the way we present it to reduce the pressures to work longer hours.”
Her comments come amid the findings of a four-year research project, funded through a $1.3 million National Health and Medical Research Council grant, which have revealed the impact of overwork on the mental health of Australia’s workforce.
Professor Richardson said a quarter of the 8,000 employees surveyed in the annual Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey were working more hours than they wanted and, as a result, displayed “significantly” lower levels of mental health.
“We do have overtime but the issue arises when people don’t get paid for the extra hours they put in, and since longer hours are producing more stressed workers and reducing mental health, it suggests the labour market isn’t working well.
“Employers need to think very carefully about what they’re asking of their workers and whether it’s manageable in the time available.”
The research was part of a wider study, conducted in partnership with researchers from Flinders Southgate Institute and the University of Melbourne, to determine whether casual, contract and part-time employment were harmful for mental health.
Despite a growth in flexible work arrangements, with about 40 per cent of the Australian workforce employed in casual and part-time positions, Professor Richardson said the high level of protection for these workers in Australia meant there were no mental health ramifications.
In fact, she said many workers were choosing more flexible terms of employment to escape the burden of overwork and inflexible work hours.
“Australia also has a unique industrial relations regime which insists people on casual terms get paid more per hour than their full-time equivalents, and other employee benefits are the same whether you work full-time or part-time,” she said.
“Quite a few workers actually like casual work, partly because of the pay provisions and partly because it gives them greater control over their hours of work – for many workers it suits them to work part-time if they’ve got important other demands in life because they avoid the pressure.”
The Federal Government has introduced legislation before Parliament aimed at improving rail safety. The Transport Safety Investigation Amendment Bill 2012 will establish the country’s first rail safety investigator by tasking the Australian Transport Safety Bureau with responsibility for investigating safety events on all metropolitan passenger and freight rail networks.
Employees take fewer sickies if they have more control over their jobs, according to a new study undertaken by a researcher and orthopaedic surgeon into long work absences due to lower back pain.
Associate Professor Markus Melloh, from the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research and The University of Western Australia, was lead author on the internationally collaborative report: "Predictors of Sickness Absence with a New Episode of Lower Back Pain in Primary Care".
He found the best way to prevent long absences from work (up to six months) due to lower back pain was to give employees a sense of empowerment and to ensure that their GPs followed up with them on a regular basis after their first appointment.
Associate Professor Melloh said patients with first-time lower back pain should see their doctor again after six weeks, otherwise their risk of long-term sickness absence could be missed by their GP and interventions, such as modifying their work situation, would not be implemented.
The study showed that workers with high job control had fewer days of sick leave when suffering from a new episode of back pain than others with lower job control, he said.
"For the first time, the risk of prolonged sick leave for people complaining of back pain can be averted by simple short-term measures such as talking to their supervisor, changing work hours and modifying work breaks. Long-term measures include greater empowerment within a job, such as more decision-making by the worker.
"Sickness absence due to an ongoing pain condition is a hot topic in Australia and throughout the world for a number of reasons," Associate Professor Melloh said.
"Australia has a shortage of skilled workers. Prolonged absence may lead to unemployment and reduced employability of a worker, and also indirect health care costs increase when workers are absent for too long."
The study monitored 310 patients who went to their GPs with back pain and took days off work. They were interviewed during the initial visit then followed up at three, six and 12 weeks and six months. At six months, 164 people were still participating and seven per cent were still on sick leave.
Associate Professor Melloh said back pain was a very important issue in Australia because the back was the most common site of pain for people of working age, from young to middle-aged adults.
The research has recently been presented at the World Forum for Spine Research in Helsinki.
A survey of health workers, including nurses, doctors and community service workers, has found that they are less confident about their workplace safety than construction workers.
Fall prevention specialist Workplace Access and Safety has announced a series of free workshops at the Western Australian Safety Show aimed at better explaining changes to the fall prevention code of practice.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) has released an Injury Prevention and Management System aimed at assisting employers maintain effective safety protocols within their company.
The New South Wales Government has passed controversial changes to its workers compensation through the State’s Lower House. In a bid to lower the company’s $4 billion budgetary blowout, the legislation will see major changes to out of work compensation allowances, including the removal of compensation for transit injuries.
Accountants and auditors should recognise that a company's culture and 'tone at the top' can have a profound impact on operational safety, risk-taking, and ultimately, financial position, according to Professor Russell Craig, Head of Victoria University's School of Accounting and Finance, and his co-researchers.
In a paper published in the New York State Society of CPAs in the CPA Journal, Professor Craig, Professor Joel Amernic (University of Toronto), and Professor Dennis Tourish (Royal Holloway, University of London), argue that a company's corporate culture – and its impact on safety operations – must be assessed and given due acknowledgement if audited financial statements are to be fair and accurate.
Using BP's 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill as a case in point, the researchers say that auditors should broaden the notion of what an audit is, so that operational risks generated from a company's culture and management tone are factored into potential liabilities.
The researchers present evidence to suggest that BP's 'tone at the top' and corporate culture (and consequently its management and operational systems) were dysfunctional. Not only did the company have a poor safety record, but another disaster appeared almost inevitable.
"A close examination of BP's tone at the top and consequent culture reveals a high likelihood that a major man-made safety-related disaster would befall BP every few years...[Yet] no acknowledgement of the company's susceptibility to disaster was included in the company's financial reports or was identified by conventional auditing procedures," the paper notes.
"In such circumstances, in the interests of fairness of presentation, we submit that a provision for disaster should have in fact been made in the accounts."
The absence of a "provision for disaster" in BP's financial statements – one that would take into account the array of environmental and legal costs that would follow a future major disaster – meant that BP's audited financial statements did not comply with the "fairness of "presentation" objective outlined in International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), the researchers argue.
Professor Craig said that while it would have been impossible for BP to predict which of its operations would be the site of a future disaster, "there was a strong case that a liability existed and was growing by the year".
If financial statements are to be the fair presentations that they claim to be, he said, auditors needed to take a more holistic approach and scrutinise more than just the numbers.
"These things have an impact -- a corporate culture that over-values cost-cutting to the detriment of safety will more than likely have financial consequences down the line -- so they should be taken into account by auditors if the provision of fair and accurate financial statements is the goal," Professor Craig said.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has released a report into traffic related injuries, finding the rate of people suffering major injuries on the country’s road is rising, while the rate of those injuried in train related accidents is declining.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has released a report into the health of the country’s male population, finding notable discrepancies in health based on geographical location.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has lost its bid to prevent an employer from conducting mandatory drug and alcohol tests of its employees, with the presiding judges finding that it will help the company meet its workplace health and safety obligations.
The Joint Select Committee on the NSW Workers Compensation has announced a suite of key recommendations to reform the scheme in a bid to address its increasingly dire financial situation.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has concluded that diesel engine exhaust is undeniably carcinogenic after a week-long of international experts was held in Lyon, France. The WHO now classifies diesel exhaust as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning it is now undeniably harmful to humans.
The Federal and South Australian Governments have taken the next step to establishing a National Safety Regulatory framework after the appointment of Rob Andrews as the country’s inaugural National Rail Safety Regulator.
WorkSafe Victoria has announced it has identified 27 separate safety issues at 43 sites following a 24-hour safety blitz in the northern Victorian town of Wodonga.