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WorkSafe Victoria, the government watchdog charged with overseeing workers’ safety, is being accused of having a bullying culture within its ranks.

There are accusations that WorkSafe is not setting a good example, and some staff are even taking legal action against the regulator.

WorkSafe watches over thousands of workplaces across the state and investigates bullying complaints.

Source: www.abc.net.au

An Australian psychotherapist is urging employers to watch out for workplace psychopaths, who he says are more common than generally thought.

Doctor John Clarke says workplace psychopaths exist in most large organisations and can isolate and mentally destroy the staff around them.

Speaking at the Tasmanian Work Health & Safety Conference, Dr Clarke said the only way to win the war against these psychopaths is to refuse to tolerate their damaging behaviour.

“When people think of psychopath, they think of a serial killer or a rapist. And they are fairly similar things,” he said.

Source: www.abc.net.au

HUNDREDS of companies across NSW will face charges under Labor’s former occupational health and safety laws despite Barry O’Farrell changing them last month.

The O’Farrell government will not intervene in 67 cases involving 170 small businesses and major companies before the Industrial Relations Commission when his workplace reforms passed parliament.

Those firms were charged under a system whereby employers are seen as guilty until proven innocent if a worker suffers a workplace injury.

Finance Minister Greg Pearce last night refused to support retrospective help for the firms before the IRC.

As it was, Mr O’Farrell’s reforms were diluted in the upper house by the Shooters and the Christian Democrats. Mr Pearce warned last night that funding promised by the federal government if the state passed harmonised OH&S laws had been put at risk by the upper house.

Mr Pearce last night blamed former union heavy and Labor leader John Robertson for the weakened legislation.

"The amendments that have enabled the unions to retain the right to prosecute is out of step with the harmonised legislation and could impact the promised $144 million in federal government grants for harmonising occupational health and safety laws," Mr Pearce said.

"John Robertson should be held to account. NSW is now the only state whereby unions retain the right to prosecute."

NSW Business Chamber president Roger Hood said the new laws, aimed at giving employers more rights before the Industrial Relations Commission, were not perfect. The unions can no longer act as "bounty hunters" and claim a 50 per cent refund for prosecuting employers on behalf of their members.

But they can still target employers and drag them through the legal system.

"It should be, and will be under the new Act, a shared responsibility," Mr Hood said.

"There are some areas where employers do want clarification from government.

"We are for example, concerned about regime picking between the courts and the IRC and do want some clarification how it will exactly work.

"We have also concerns about inconsistencies with appeal rights."

Malcolm Davis, an expert in workplace law who represents the city’s biggest employers, said it would be difficult to postpone current cases because they were prosecuted under the previous legislation.

The warning is based on evidence that intensive use of mobile phones and other wireless devices might lead to an increased risk of glioma, a malignant form of brain cancer.

WHO’s the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that the radio frequency electromagnetic fields generated by such devices was “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.

WHO had previously said that there were no ill-effects from mobile phone use.

A team of 31 scientists from 14 countries made the warning after assessing hundreds of published studies into the potential cancer risks posed by electromagnetic fields.

The scientists said there was not enough evidence to conclude that radiation from mobile phones was safe, but there was enough data to show a possible connection to tumours.

Evidence of harm

Jonathan Samet, who chaired a meeting of the scientists in the French city of Lyon, said: “The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cellphones and cancer.”

The WHO has put mobile phone radiation on a par with about 240 other agents for which evidence of harm is uncertain, including talcum powder, working in a dry cleaner’s, pesticide DDT, petrol engine exhaust and coffee.

Two studies in particular, the largest conducted over the last decade, provided evidence that mobile phone use was associated with higher rates of glioma, “particularly in those that had the most intensive use of such phones”, Dr Samet said.

A number of individuals tracked in the studies had used their phones for 10 to 15 years.

“We simply don’t know what might happen as people use their phones over longer time periods, possible over a lifetime,” he said.

Brain cancer

There are about five billion mobile phones registered in the world. Both the number of phones in circulation, and the average time spent using them, have climbed steadily in recent years, the working group found.

The IARC cautioned that their review of scientific evidence showed only a possible link, not a proven one, between wireless devices and cancers.

“There is some evidence of increased risk of glioma” and another form of brain cancer called acoustic neuroma, said Kurt Straif, the scientist in charge of editing the IARC reports on potentially carcinogenic agents.

“But it is not at the moment clearly established that the use of mobile phones does in fact cause cancer in humans,” he said in a telephone press conference.

The IARC does not issue formal recommendations, but pointed to a number of ways consumers can reduce risk.

Widely criticised

“What probably entails some of the highest exposure is using your mobile for voice calls,” Dr Straif said.

“If you use it for texting, or as a hands-free set for voice calls, this is clearly lowering the exposure by at least an order of magnitude,” or by ten fold, he said.

A year ago the IARC concluded in a major report that there was no link between mobile phones and brain cancer, but the review was widely criticised as based on out-of-date data that did not correspond to current usage levels.

The new review, conducted by a panel of 31 scientists from 14 countries, was based on a “full consensus,” said Robert Baan, in charge of the written report, yet to be released.

Exposure data, studies of cancer in humans, experiments on animals and other data were all evaluated in establishing the new classification.

The IARC ranks potentially cancer-causing elements as either carcinogenic, probably carcinogenic, possibly carcinogenic or “probably not carcinogenic.” It can also determine that a material is “not classifiable”.

Cigarettes and sunbeds, for examples, are rated as “group 1”, the top threat category.

AMA says no need to panic

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dr Gino Dr Pecoraro said people shouldn’t panic and it’s really “early days”.

“I think it’s very interesting. I’ve only read an excerpt… it’s not worth creating hysteria or panic about it, we don’t want people becoming unnecessarily afraid,” Dr Pecoraro said.

“If they’ve said there’s some evidence then people need to be aware of this but we need to point out that the link is too weak to claim any clear recommendation at this stage.

“We need to be aware of it and if the WHO said there is some evidence we need to listen to them, there’s not enough clear evidence to take action.”

Dr Pecoraro said people should think about using their mobile phone and use hands free or text where possible.

“My understanding is the concern is around radiation and heating associated with the transmission of the signal,” he said.

Mobile Phone Risks

June 1st, 2011
With the World Health Organisation update on cancer risks, it is timely pointer for OHS Managers to review the organisation’s Policy on Mobile Phones.

Given the range of issues and risks associated with mobile phone and mobile technology (IPads, Tablet Devices, GPS), the policy should be reviewed from the perspective of cancer concern and also the operational impacts of this new technology.

There are sad but true stories of people being lost using their GPS or worst still driving of the road, trying to work out or operate the GPS system.  In reviewing the mobile phone policy, the message of driving safety and new technologies, should also be reinforced.

Cancer is just one of the OHS risks of mobile phone use.  The risk of injury or damage increases when people are distracted when driving or walking.  Some work areas in particular are “no go” for mobile phones and consideration may need to be given for separate warnings for mobile technology fitted with mobile technology.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has updated its position on the cancer risks of mobile phones.

The news report on this change in position can be accessed here.

For general background information on mobile phones and risks associated with mobile phone use while working (driving, at a work site or in high hazard areas) see the Guidance Note from WorkSafe ACT.

World Day for Safety and Health at Work – 28 April 2011

This is an international campaign to promote safe, healthy, and decent work. is the International Labor Organization’s (ILO). This year’s theme “implementation of an Occupational Safety and Health Management System (OSHMS) as a tool for continual improvement in the prevention of workplace incidents and accidents.”

http://www.ilo.org/safework/events/meetings/lang–en/WCMS_153617/index.htm

The ILO has a number of publications around this theme including, a report (ILO Report) poster (ILO Poster) and promotional materials for the occasion.

The observance of this day has two main objectives:

  • to promote and create awareness of OHS both nationally and internationally
  • to elicit cooperation and support of employers, and employees and the general community in improving OHS in Australian workplaces.

Australia ratified ILO convention 155, Occupational Safety and Health,1981, on 26 March 1994. The Australian Government supports the ILO in its efforts to improve OHS outcomes for workers throughout the world.
The winners of the national Safe Work Australia Awards are announced on 28 April to coincide with the ILO International Day for Health and Safety at Work. See link

6th Annual Safe Work Australia Awards – 28 April 2011

The 6th Annual Awards will be held in Canberra on Thursday 28 April 2011. (6th Annual Safe Work Australia Awards)

National Safe Work Activities – April 2011

Safe Work Australia Week

Work Safe Australia has announced the categories for the national awards. The award categories are:

Best Workplace Health and Safety Management System – 2 awards

  • Private Sector; and
  • Public Sector

Best Solution to an Identified Workplace Health and Safety Issue
Best Workplace Health and Safety practice/s in Small Business
Best Individual Contribution to Workplace Health and Safety – 2 awards

  • An employee, such as a health and safety representative; and
  • An outstanding contribution by an OHS manager or a person with responsibility forwork health and safetyas part of their duties

Your State’s 2011 Safe Work Nominations Details

State

Date Open

Date Closed

Agency

WebSite

Qld

4 May

N/A

DEIR

www.worksafe.qld.gov.au

WA

N/A

N/A

Commerce / WorkSafe

http://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/WorkSafe/

NSW

2 May

N/A

WorkCover NSW

www.workcover.nsw.gov.au

VIC

11 April

N/A

WorkSafe Victoria

www.workcover.vic.gov.au

SA

May

N/A

SafeWork SA

www.safework.sa.gov.au

Tas

29 April

1 July

WorkSafe Tasmania

www.workcover.tas.gov.au

ACT

4 April

24 June

Safe Work ACT

www.worksafety.act.gov.au/

NT

N/A

N/A

NT WorkSafe

www.worksafe.nt.gov.au

National OHS endorsed

April 5th, 2011

Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council endorsed the draft model act, which was titled the Model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act. The next step is for each jurisdiction to pass the laws enabling the common OHS Laws.

WorkSafe Identification Scams

See link: Worksafe identification scams

 

National OHS Reforms

The link below from will take to WorkSafe Victoria with a list of answers that provide useful background on the National OHS process and objectives.

Common Questions

 

The link below from will take to WorkSafe Queensland with a useful background presentation on the National OHS process and objectives.  Please note this is general information about the future.  You will need to obtain specific information and advice once the laws are passed.

http://www.deir.qld.gov.au/workplace/resources/pdfs/implementation-national-whs-laws.pdf

The Liberal Party of New South Wales won last Saturday’s State election in a landslide. The New South Wales employer associations are jubilant but the jubilation masks some confusion over OHS reforms.

The new NSW government is being urged to act promptly on OHS reform issues particularly by the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) and the NSW Business Council but the media statement of the AICD illustrates the confused understanding of the national OHS reforms. It says

“Reforms should include reducing the burden on business of excessive regulation, re-committing NSW to participate in the national reform of occupational health and safety laws and reducing the excessive liability burden imposed on company directors by state legislation.”

“The new government must move decisively in its first term to reduce unnecessary regulation and red tape, which is strangling business.”

It is acknowledged that the introduction of new OHS laws will substantially increase the need for paperwork in order to produce the evidence required to support compliance, due diligence and positive OHS duties on managers. It seems impossible to achieve OHS reforms with also accepting the increased documentation.

It is also noted that the new due diligence requirements are likely to increase costs though informing executives of the new OHS context of these obligations. It may also require additional OHS professionals to guide the company through these new obligations and, it seems, these professionals are no longer cheap.

The AICD also says the new state government

“…must seriously address the problem caused by the plethora of state laws imposing personal liability on individual directors for corporate misconduct, which are stifling business, investment and job creation.”

It will be intriguing to watch the government support this call while there is an increased attention in the OHS law on the rights and responsibilities of company officers. Certainly the quote above relates to state laws but the removal of one current state law is likely to be replaced by another OHS law through the State’s new commitment to national OHS reform.

The comments of the AICD reflect the confusion of the business community, particularly in New South Wales with the excitement of the election win, but also in other Australian states. It seems employer groups want their cake and the ability to eat it. But the Federal Government will remain a non-conservative government for several years yet, barring parliamentary tragedy or mishandling, and it needs to operate with other non-conservative parties (The Australian Greens) and a mix of independent members.

Until more state Labor governments fall, the advantage remains with the Federal Labor Government who is, after all, implementing OHS law reform firstly advocated by the former Liberal Prime Minister, John Howard.

OHS harmonisation is back on track in NSW following the loss of Kristina Keneally’s labor party to Premier-Elect Barry O’Farrell’s liberal party at the NSW state elections last weekend. 

As the Premier of NSW for the next four years, O’Farrell has said that one of his priorities is to support the adoption of the Model Work Health and Safety laws.

“If elected we will immediately sign up to the harmonisation of occupational health and safety,” said O’Farrell last month.

A spokesperson for O’Farrell has already indicated that he will be seeking a meeting with Prime Minister Julia Gillard to discuss the overturning of the former state labor government’s opposition to OHS harmonisation.

Stephen Cartwright, CEO of the NSW Business Chamber, said Kristina Keneally’s decision to pull out of the national harmonisation of OHS represented the worst in government decision making.

“It was a decision rightly attacked by Prime Minister Gillard and we support NSW signing up to this national process.”

Workplace safety should be above politics, according to Cartwright, who said both the Prime Minister and Premier O’Farrell are “showing the way forward”.

However, Unions NSW did not welcome the new Premier’s position on harmonisation.

“By entirely adopting the national harmonised OHS model New South Wales working people will lose key safety provisions, ones that they have enjoyed for years,” said Mark Lennon, secretary of Unions NSW.

Under the nationally harmonised OHS laws, he said employees in NSW would lose important rights, including the right to be represented by a union during prosecutions and the reverse onus of proof, in which it is the responsibility of an employer to prove it did everything correctly to create a safe working environment in the event of a workplace accident.