Due diligence master class

On 6 April 2016 I will be facilitating a due diligence masterclass in conjunction with IFAP from 8.00am until 3.00pm at the Esplanade Hotel in Fremantle, Western Australia.

The program is suitable for all industries and size of business.

Drawing on legal precedents and major accident investigations from all around the world, I will consider due diligence in the context of health and safety legislation including harmonised, WHS legislation and “accessorial liability” provisions  in Western Australia, Victoria and the offshore oil and gas industry.

The program will focus on the practical and legal expectations on mangers to control health and safety risks in their business, and what day-to-day application of those principles might look like.

Places are limited and the program is already 50% subscribed.

You can access information about the program here, book here, or contact me – gws@nexuslawyers.com.au if you would like to know more.

When does the language of “zero harm” become unlawful?

I am not a fan of the language of “zero“, either as an aspiration or as a stated goal. It has never sat well with me, and seems so disconnected from day to day reality in both society and a workplace that people cannot help but become disconnected from, or dismissive of, the message behind the term. My view has always been that the language of zero actually often undermines the objectives it is trying to achieve (see this case for example).

If you are interested in this topic (and if you are involved in safety you should be) there are far more passionate, learned and articulate critics of the language of zero than me – See for example, anything by Dr. Robert Long.

However, recently I have been asked to do quite a bit of work around psychological harm in the context of occupational safety and health. In particular, how the legal risk management of psychological harm in the context of safety and health might differ from the Human Resources (HR)/employee relations context.

WHS legislation around Australia expressly includes “psychological” health within its remit and the Western Australian Department of Mines and Petroleum has acknowledged that they regard “health” as including “psychological” health, even though it is not expressly described in the State’s mining legislation.

What has emerged, at least to my mind, is the extent to which our policy, procedure and policing approach to safety and health, far from alleviating psychological harm in the workplace, might be contributing to it.

Safety management might be part of the problem.

In an ongoing Western Australian inquiry into the possible impact of fly in/fly out work on “mental health” the Australian Medical Association identified that the way health and safety is managed can contribute to a “distinct sense of entrapment” (page 43):

The AMA also expressed its concerns about this issue, noting that “[o]nerous rules, safety procedures and focus on achievement of production levels have been shown to create a distinct sense of entrapment in FIFO workers.”

The inquiry drew, in some measure, on an earlier report, the Lifeline WA FIFO/DIDO Mental Health Research Report 2013 which also appeared to note the adverse impact of safety and health management on psychological well-being. For example “[a]dhering to on-site safety rules” was identified as a workplace stress (page 77). Interestingly, the Lifeline report noted a sense of “intimidation” brought on by the number of rules and regulations associated with work on a mine, and :

This sense of intimidation was further mirrored in the outcomes of mining safety regulations which in theory were designed to care for workers but in practice led to inflexible regulation over genuine safety concerns (page 81).

Examples from the Lifeline report include:

… a participant recalled a situation in which a worker handling heavy loads required an adhesive bandage but was unable to ask someone to get them for him because he had to fill out an accident report first (which he was unable to do mid-job); hence he had to carry on working without attending to his cuts. Alternatively, another example of the application of safety rules in an inflexible manner was illustrated when a group of workers were reprimanded for not wearing safety glasses on a 40 degree day even though they could not see from them due to excessive sweating. Hence, safety rules themselves were accepted as a necessary part of work but their implementation in an inflexible uniform manner created stress as workers felt their impact hindered their ability to conduct basic work tasks safely and/or without attracting rebuke. Hence, site rules and regulations could translate into arbitrary and punitive forms of punishment, which undermined participants’ ability to fulfil jobs to their satisfaction and left them feeling insecure with their positions (page 81).

It seems, then, that we need to think beyond our own perceptions of what might contribute to workplace stress and understand the impact that our efforts to manage health and safety might actually be having. Again, as the Lifeline research noted:

… although past research has shown that site conditions and cultures, such as isolation and excessive drinking are problematic, this research shows that the regimented nature of working and living on-site also takes a toll on mental health and wellbeing. From the responses of many participants, it was apparent that following site safety rules (either under pressure of internal monitoring or in the perceived absence of adequate safety precautions by co-workers and supervisors) was a significant stressor. Participants felt unable to apply self-perceived common-sense judgments and also reported feeling vulnerable to intensive scrutinising, intimidation and threats of job loss (page 82) [my emphasis added].

The common criticisms of the language of “zero” seem to me to go directly to the factors that have been identified in this research as contributing to psychological harm in the workplace. The pressure to comply with rules, fear about reporting incidents, the inability to exercise individual judgement on how to manage risk and the inflexible application of process are all side-effects of the language of “zero“.

Up until this point the debate around “zero harm” and its utility (or otherwise) as the headline for safety management has been relatively benign. Apart from the advocacy of people like Dr Robert Long “zero harm” seems to have been perceived as a relatively neutral strategy, insofar as people believe that it “does no harm“, and “what’s the alternative?”.

It seems, in fact, that much harm may be perpetuated in the name of “zero“, and at some point the behaviours that it drives will be found to be unlawful.

It is also going to be interesting to see how health and safety regulators, often the champions of “zero harm” oversee its potential impacts on psychological harm in the workplace. Indeed, it would be very useful to see what risk assessments, research or other measures were taken by regulators prior to introducing “zero harm” style campaigns or messages to understand the potential effects of their interventions, or any subsequent research to understand the potential harm they may have done.

Gallifreyan_20150512223239

Comcare v Transpacific Industries

Comcare v Transpacific Industries [2015] FCA 500 is an interesting case that looks at the liability of an employer for the death of a non-employee in a motor vehicle accident. In February 2011 a Transpacific employee driving a garbage collection truck ran into a vehicle killing the driver. Subsequent investigations revealed that the truck had faulty brakes.

The case provides some very interesting insights into the “illusion of safety” where it appears that, notwithstanding regulator approval and a routine maintenance regime, the high risk of poorly maintained brakes on a garbage truck was not identified.

There is also an interesting point raised in the case about the extent to which an employer should monitor the work of an employee who has been issued a warning for safety related breaches. Should an employer monitor the employee until they are satisfied that they are working in accordance with the safety requirements?

A short video presentation about the case is available here.

You can access a copy of the case here.

Western Australia’s proposed WHS legislation

On 23 October 2014 the Western Australian State Government released a draft or “Green” Bill, the Work Health and Safety Bill 2014 (see: https://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/worksafe/work-health-and-safety-bill-2014)

The Work Health and Safety Bill 2014 is Western Australia’s version of harmonised health and safety legislation. The Bill is open for public comment until 30 January 2015, and details on how to submit a comment can be found at https://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/worksafe/work-health-and-safety-bill-2014

You can access a copy of the Bill from the websites above, however, we have also added a copy to Lawstream (www.lawstream.com.au) and access to the Lawstream database it is available for access at no charge. Simply log on at:

www.lawstream.com.au

Username:           Trial User

Password:            LStrial123

When you click on the “login” button you will see two options, “client” and “trial“. Click on “client” to access your account.

Over the next few weeks we will be adding commentary about sections of the proposed Bill in the “mapping” section of the Lawstream database; simple follow the blog for more information about when updates and commentary are added.

Case discussion: Capon v BHP Billiton – Part 2 the appeal

Early in 2013 BHP Billiton was convicted and fined $130,000 following a fatality at one of its facilities in Port Hedland. They were also ordered to pay $300,000 in legal costs.

Amongst the reasons for the conviction was BHP’s apparent failure to implement and enforce its own requirements for supervision and risk assessments by workers.

A video presentation and discussion about the case is available by following the link below:

Capon v BHP Billiton Iron Ore PH 1917/11

On 28 July 2014, the Western Australian Supreme Court allowed, in part, an appeal by BHP against the conviction. A key finding was that, while BHP did not enforce or supervise its own processes in relation to JHAs or Take 5s, that failure did not “cause” the fatality.

You can access a copy of the case here:

BHP Billiton Iron Ore Pty Ltd v Capon [2104] WASC 267

You can also see a video presentation and discussion about the case by following this link:

BHP Billiton Iron Ore Pty Ltd v Capon [2104] WASC 267 – discussion

(There is also an App available if you want to download the presentation to your device and view it later – iSpring Mobile Player)

A key question that comes out of the case – and one that I think has had some relevance for a number of years now is, what value does the JHA process add to our safety management system, and is there a case for removing them from our day to day processes?

At least, it seems that there is an arguable case that the JHA process should not be adopted with such lemming like dogma, and we can consider front line risk assessment processes that actually add value to our business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contractor Safety Management: Waco Kwikform Ltd v Perigo

A recent NSW Court of Appeal decision has examined the very interesting (and vexed ) issue of how the actions of a Principal can create liability, by taking over responsibility for a Contractor’s safety system of work.

In Waco Kwikform Ltd v Perigo and Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer [2014] NSWCA 140, the Court found, in part, that by developing a Safety Work Method Statement, Waco had taken primary responsibility for the safe system of work out of the contractor’s hands.

You can see a video presentation about the case by clicking here.

And apologies, but there has been a little bit of a glitch in the sound quality – there is sound but you might need to turn it up.

I also need to let you know that there is a new app available to make watching these video updates easier. You can find it by clicking here.

The app will allow you to watch the presentation, or download it so you can watch it offline later.

Best Regards.

Do we need to rethink safety prosecutions?

I have seen a number of recent posts and comments on various sites, noting where company executives have been prosecuted and jailed for health and safety breaches. The general tone of the observations has been that this is an approach that should be adopted in Australia, and that the relevant authorities should be far more active in pursuing these types of prosecutions.

Set out below is an article that I did for IFAP in Western Australia. It appears in the December issue of SafetyWA.

The article suggests that there might be more to a prosecution approach than meets the eye, and perhaps even an argument that safety prosecutions could undermine the end goal of trying to achieve “safe” workplaces.

I am not trying to suggest a “correct” approach, but like so much that we do in safety, we should not just assume that a prosecution approach is right. Perhaps it is time for the genuine debate and critical thinking that was missed during the harmonization process.

The value of safety prosecutions in Western Australia

Criminal prosecutions for safety and health breaches are generally regarded as an important element of effective regulation of safety and health behaviour. Part of that is the commonly accepted belief that the higher the penalties for health and safety breach, the more effective the deterrent effect of prosecution is likely to be.

I, for one, am not entirely convinced that prosecutions are in fact an effective measure for improved safety performance (ironic from a lawyer, I know).

Some studies have suggested that criminalising safety breaches can have an adverse effect on safety (See for example, International Journal of Applied Aviation Studies, Volume 10, Number 1, 2010, page 31 on).

Australian studies have shown that the vast majority of prosecutions of “Company Officers”, have been of small businesses – directors who are “hands on” in the business (see for example Foster, N. (2005) Personal Liability of Company officers for Corporate Health and Safety Breaches: Section 26 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 (NSW). 18 Australian Journal of Labour Law, 107). This obviously calls into question the equity of offences aimed at Company Officers.

Anecdotally, my own experience is that the response of many organisations to increased legal liability for safety and health breaches is not improved safety risk management, but improved legal risk management. Just witness the harmonisation debate over the last 5 years – a debate that has been lead almost entirely by legal commentators, not the safety profession.

The psychology here is also interesting.

A number of years ago, while working as principal safety advisor at Woodside Energy, some people far cleverer than me in the area of safety culture advised that to change human behaviour, the best strategies were to ensure that consequences for individuals were:

  • Certain;
  • Immediate; and
  • Positive.

If people always got immediate, positive feedback whenever they did the right thing for safety, then this would drive the right behaviour.

The least effective way to drive change? Consequences that are uncertain, delayed and negative (think safety prosecutions!)

Leaving aside for one moment broader philosophies about safety prosecution in general, what value do they provide to the understanding of safety management

In October 2013, BHP Billiton Iron Ore and HWE Newman Services were convicted and ordered to pay a total of $363,000 in safety fines and costs, after a mobile maintenance supervisor was killed while working on the tyre of a heavy earth mover in Western Australia.

The worker was fatally struck by a tyre handler device, which sprung off the tyre when it was overinflated.

The incident occurred in August 2008

There is a well-worn saying that justice delayed is justice denied. Similarly, safety lessons delayed are safety lessons lost, and in this case the lessons learned are not available to us until 5 years after the event? Except that they aren’t.

The prosecution occurred in the Magistrate’s court, and decisions are not freely available or published. There is no published judgement that we can look to, to understand the safety management failures behind the event. It seems that the sum total of information that might have generated valuable insights into important safety management failures around risk management, contractor safety management or other critical safety management elements is – zero

I have been involved in safety law and safety management for the best part of 24 years. There are some things I know, and an enormous number of things that I do not know. But one thing that I do know to an absolute certainty is that organisations do not examine their safety management systems with anywhere near the level of rigour that they are subject to in legal proceedings. For all its faults, the legal process has the potential to offer some genuine insights into the failure of safety management, but clearly, that potential cannot be realised where cases take years to finalise, and there is no record of the findings to review.

Perhaps it is time to re-examine the role of prosecution and inquiry in safety management and to think differently about what the response to safety failures ought to be. Certainly, the current approach cannot be blindly accepted as adding value.