Guest Post: Dan – Some thoughts on work safety

Safety on a job as a tradesman is a personal responsibility, this simple fact is in state and federal law. Yet the company is the one who pays Workcover. It is part of prospective employee questionnaires. My current employer questionnaire was 50 questions, 49 of which asked if I liked to smoke pot, or punch on in the pub. The one and only question that mattered was if safety is my – the employees – responsibility.

It’s the line manager and the company who have to constantly cover their arses because medical injuries and lost time injuries are real measured KPI’s. This intrigues me because from site to site there are differences as to what constitutes proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and, more importantly, what is best practice on the job.

Each supervisor has their own idea of how a job should be done. As a boilermaker, process is fairly set in stone regarding how to weld and fabricate. I’m talking about what you need to protect yourself. In ye old days, ya rocked up in clothes and your KPI was how fast it went out the door. Nowadays it’s spats, specific gauntlets, aprons, welding sleeves, separate grinding helmets, reflective tape on your pants and shirt, hi-vis coloured shirts, take-five training, specific GSM weight clothing, lace up steel toe or elastic sided. it goes on. A standard operating proceedure for the use of a hammer FFS.

The time lost changing PPE from task to task is noticeable. For some sites it can be as much as an hour lost per week. On the tight margins the industry is in, that is huge. Some companies need to process a tonne of steel in 19 hours to get a margin of 1.5%. The industry is crying out for athletes and all they get is potheads and rum drinkers.

As a business owner the costs of employment are huge. Wages, superannuation, payroll tax, workcover, providing PPE*, providing tools#, casual rates, and so on. The real hourly rate skyrockets. No wonder some firms analyse performance against KPI’s so strenuously. Recently, a casual employee got fired because he injured himself. What a world! A blokes meal ticket is gone because he works In a high risk industry and the company has to pay for it!

Personally, I would rather to be not be subject to the nuances of any site specific PPE because I’ve learned not to injure myself and I don’t appreciate some guy standing over me everyday making sure I don’t cut my finger. Equally, I don’t like my fellow employees cutting themselves and being told to go to a GP because they have to report it, which goes from a LTI (Lost Time injury) to an MRI (Medical reported Injury) which impacts our KPI and, most importantly, leads to a higher work cover premium on the business which impacts the viability of the company through decreased margins.

It seems as though employers are scared because employees are working under their roof. Regardless, every business pays an insurance premium and gets punished for individual behaviour.

Workcover should be the responsibility of the individual. No fucking about. The individual makes the choice to wear PPE, or not, and lives by that. Workcover Insurance premiums are made by the individual. You injure yourself, you pay for it. People would smarten the fuck up immediately if it came out of their wallet. This is an irrefutable law.

Could we do away with casual loading if workcover insurance was a personal responsibility? I think so. What if we did away with casual loading entirely and gave every employee four days sick leave regardless? I would be happy.

Perhaps, If we keep Super as an entitlement paid by the employer, then medical injuries can be paid out of that pool. Would the APS individual who claimed workcover for injuring themselves while shagging after hours be so ready to claim a payment if it directly impacted their own insurance premium? Or if it impacted their super? I doubt it!

Now what about incidents that involve death? Well, the premium the individual pays covers that. After all, it’s an interaction of two individuals. I don’t see how the employer is in anyway (or should be) responsible. If I had a social event at my home and two of my invitees decided to punch on, should I be liable? NO.

There was a stat going around a few years ago, everyday day two people die as a result of a accident with a forklift. Is that why accreditation went from $150 for an eight hour course to $1200 and upwards for a three day course? Talk about barrier to entry.

Basically, if we have laws that say safety is your own responsibility then the costs of that should be paid by the individual.

As an aside….
My brother lives in France and decided to buy a business so he could stop working for the man and instead earn a margin He had to pull out, not because the books were dodgy (even though they were) but because he needed to hire two people to grow the business which would have cost him €4000 per month per person before he has earned a dollar. I believe the company has now folded. That’s depressing news, but on a par with any first world country.

* – as a boilermaker companies provide welding gauntlets, leather aprons etc

# some companies provide tools for god knows what reason or even pay an allowance for bringing your own tools. There are tax deductions available.

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72 Responses to Guest Post: Dan – Some thoughts on work safety

  1. AP

    You forgot to mntion the reverse burden of proof in work health and safety prosecutions. The employer is automatically guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent – even if the employee was doing something blatantly stupid like horseplay. This is why there is so much paperwork. Evidence in case of prosecution. Arse covering.

  2. Ant

    I like what you’re saying, Dan.

    I mentioned in an earlier post today that OHS/WHS is one of the Left’s Trojan Horses which they use to assault and pillage private enterprise (the others being sustainability, gender equality and quality).

    If you argue against the ridiculous and unsustainable burden all of these idiocies put on business, you get attacked as being against safe work practices, against the environment, a misogynist and all for low quality crap.

  3. blogstrop

    I blame the unions. The preoccupation with worker safety has become one of the best levers the unions have in exerting power over the work sites of this country. Give that to somebody else, now.

  4. James

    I work at a Major Hazard Facility as a chemical engineer and I don’t agree with much of what you said. There needs to be a culture of safety (process and personal) at every workplace. Having people do whatever they want is a terrible idea.

  5. In the jolly state of Qld, the employer is obliged to ensure no injuries on the worksite.
    Thus guilt is already decided, mitigation is not possible – though you can try it. It is just a matter of how much trouble the employer gets into.

    As it has been explained to me by very expensive counsel: Were a meteorite to fall through the roof and singe a worker’s tail feathers, the employer is at fault – thanks to that word “obligation”.
    Thanks Peter Beattie & ALP.

  6. tomix

    Until about 1990 [in qld], plenty of blokes did well on compo. The odd claims clerk didn’t do too badly, for a while. Then the medical profession woke up, as they already had in the southern states. Round about the same time the ALP got into power up here. A bloke could be off for six months with a soft tissue injury, get a lumpy, and go back to work doing the same job. Then do the same with the other shoulder/elbow/wrist/whatever next year.
    The change was dramatic. After 2 weeks: Off to a specialist, who would order x-rays, then book surgery. A period of physiotherapy followed, then back to work. That’s how it still is. Want to get between doctors and a shedload of money? Good luck.

  7. Tony

    Ant – “they use to assault and pillage private enterprise (the others being sustainability, gender equality and quality).”

    I hate to rain on your parade, but the route to high productivity & profit is through the intelligent pursuit of quality. I don’t know what “quality ” you are referring to tho – perhaps you could expand a bit please. Thanks

  8. MikeS

    Some time ago, worked as a self employed, contract design engineer. Had to insure myself for Workers Compensation. This included a loading for Dust Diseases Levy and regular reporting on how much money I actually made each month, even ‘though this was highly elastic. Took hours and I recall I had to get my accountant to sign off, since my say so wasn’t good enough.

    The bit which finally pissed me off too much was having to display my “Rehabilitation Policy” information poster conspicuously in my “workplace” (a spare bedroom at home). I gave up and went to work for someone else.

  9. Tel

    The preoccupation with worker safety has become one of the best levers the unions have in exerting power over the work sites of this country.

    Where “exerting power” roughly translates to ensuring those worksites leave this country.

  10. tomix

    In my experience as a safety officer in Qld, H & S problems are caused by fuckwits. Subbies fuckwits must be identified at the site induction. Dangerous/ malicious fuckwits won’t be able to resist making a comment about the company sexual/racial harassment policy, so make sure you read it out, even if you’ve got to make it up.
    Dopey fuckwits will always get themselves into trouble on site, and will give themselves away by questioning aspects of the site safety rules at the induction.
    Being forewarned means you won’t be caught by surprise and may be able to remove them from site
    [using the rules they have signed onto] before the inevitable happens

    Then there is the site manager fuckwit [usually a psychopath]. Avoid these people.

  11. Tel

    When they started requiring inspection tags for power cables on ordinary office equipment, it was kind of obvious they were looking for ways to provide “keep busy” jobs. Take a review of any economic context you like with one thought in mind, “Government lowers productivity and throttles supply.” It’s consistent in every area: minimum wage = throttle supply of labour,

    I can still remember my grandma’s jug cord and the plug that was shaggier than the average German Sheppard. The insulation (what was left of it) was made out of materials that don’t even show up on any commodities market: beeswax, goat hair, red ochre. No one said anything, just keep both hands in your pockets, you’ll be fine.

  12. Pauly

    Before I became a chef I had a long career in Workplace Injury insurance – commonly referred to as WorkCover.
    I will have a lengthy reply to this post later, disagreeing with some of the assumptions from the insurer’s perspective, but I am off to work now.

  13. Grigory M

    My current employer questionnaire was 50 questions, 49 of which asked if I liked to smoke pot, or punch on in the pub.

    Lost me right there, Dan. The BS meter ticked up to defcon 3 and I stopped reading.

  14. pete m

    An employer requires an incentive to exercise reasonable skill to minimise risk of injury.

    Claims on WorkCover for negligence only succeed where the employer is partly or fully at fault.

    Most injuries occur with0ut any negligence on the employee.

    The employer controls the workplace, the system of work, supervision and training.

    Your whole post is based on furphies.

  15. JABL

    Steve at the Pub was that advice pre or post Kirk. World has changed, a little, thanks to the High Court busting open the hitherto closed [shop] Industrial Court system.

  16. Rabz

    The employer is automatically guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent – even if the employee was doing something blatantly stupid like horseplay.

    There was an interesting workcover case settled several years ago where and employer was completely exonerated after an employee had an accident on tractor (or quad bike?) riding it down a ridge, thus recklessly endangering his health and safety. The employee had been specifically directed not to attempt to navigate that route.

    It was considered a precedent setting case at the time, but I can’t remember the details other than it was in NSW.

    Anyone?

    BTW, what happened to Lady Lardarse’s wondrous WH&S harmonization? It was supposed to lead to a sensible national WH&S regime, removing for example, the reverse burden of proof that exists in places like NSW and Victoria.

  17. Big Jim

    “I work at a Major Hazard Facility as a chemical engineer and I don’t agree with much of what you said. There needs to be a culture of safety (process and personal) at every workplace. Having people do whatever they want is a terrible idea.”

    So you’re a certified Thetan 10 Du Pont bot ensconced for now in a mega corp with barriers to entry like Edinburgh Castle. Congratulations. Now imagine yourself running a small enterprise; you’re an experienced, sensible tradesman, not some kind of Homer Simpson caricature… Think harder.

  18. tomix

    IMO, if the law was changed to allow optional self- insurance, it would be a big improvement. Many people would insure themselves and the great majority never make a claim in their lives.

  19. Big Jim

    The other problem with topics like this on a libertarian blog is conflict of interest, what with half the commenters being ambulance chasers.

  20. JABL

    Rabz that was Kirk v Industrial Relations Commission (NSW); Kirk Group Holdings Pty Ltd v WorkCover Authority of (NSW) (Inspector Childs) — (2010) 239 CLR 531; (2010) 113 ALD 1; (2010) 262 ALR 569; (2010) 84 ALJR 154; (2010) 190 IR 437; [2010] HCA 1; BC201000230

    Big change in that type of law in that the prosecuting authority needs to particularize the actual act or omission on the part of the Defendant which caused the breach. No longer is it injured worker + work place = guilty employer

  21. Leigh Lowe

    “I work at a Major Hazard Facility as a chemical engineer and I don’t agree with much of what you said. There needs to be a culture of safety (process and personal) at every workplace. Having people do whatever they want is a terrible idea.”

    I know of someone who works at a Major Hazard Facility. Last Christmas a safety Nazi banned employees of a contractor from getting their gift from their employer (a Christmas pudding) because it contained alcohol. Safety has become a fundamentalist holier-than-thou religion for zealots. Oh, by the way, the same plant had a police raid weeks earlier over much more dangerous “party materials” being kept and dealt on site …. heads in the sand on that one.

  22. Biota

    I followed a van today that had a large sign beside the closing side of the back hinged door “DANGER PINCH POINT”. So you need to be warned not to get your fingers caught in a door. I thought every kid learned that early after getting fingers jammed in the car door. It’s a silly world in many ways.

  23. Rodney

    As an employer I read this with interest.
    I went to school before education was modernised and I find the OH&S regime to be incomprehensible. No government agency feels the need to put up a website explaining the regulations, which I believe change frequently anyway.

  24. tomix

    Rodney- here is a<strong> link to the Qld Regs – a mind numbing read.

  25. nerblnob

    Over-reliance on procedures diminishes the individual’s capacity for judgement.

    That’s a risk that needs to be understood. Safety culture reaches a point where it reduces safety.

  26. yackman

    James: There needs to be a culture of safety (process and personal) at every workplace.
    Pete M:The employer controls the workplace, the system of work, supervision and training.

    My experience in large scale manufacturing confirms the above quotes but I am now retired and relieved I no longer have to work under the strict liability regime such as exists in NSW. It must be very difficult to operate in a small business situation without the resources I had access to.
    Changing a safety culture in a factory is hard graft and has to involve those doing the work to be successful.
    Workers compensation is another matter altogether. In Victoria pre Kennett it was almost impossible to get a person back to work if they did not wish to return.

  27. nice post, I will get to it properly later.

    what about compensating differentials? the additional insurance costs are offset by lower cash wages?

    As Viscusi noted:

    Wage premiums paid to U.S. workers for risking injury are huge; they amount to about $245 billion annually (in 2004 dollars), more than 2 percent of the gross domestic product and 5 percent of total wages paid.

    These wage premiums give firms an incentive to invest in job safety because an employer who makes the workplace safer can reduce the wages he pays.

    Liability should lie with whomever can avoid or minimise the workplace risk at less cost.

    To quote Viscusi again on compensating differences:

    Every 10 percent increase in people’s income leads them to increase by 6 percent the price they charge employers for bearing risk.

  28. Mick Gold Coast QLD

    “I work at a Major Hazard Facility …”

    Do people really talk like this without being laughed at? Is this type of meaningless description now spoken – in lowered tones, conspiratorially, through a nose and mouth shield, from behind a gloved hand?

    Years ago if you worked at Lithgow Small Arms factory, well, that’s where you said you worked. Same with British Paints, Shell’s Clyde refinery, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals at West Ryde, Amaroo Park Raceway and Anzac Rifle Range.

    Bernard’s fabulous restaurant in Rowe Street Eastwood was more major hazardish than any of these places because Bernard would get half pithed, blow up out in the kitchen and then storm in amongst his customers. He burst in and got into me one night for my appalling choice of conflicting entree and main tastes, then prepared what he reckoned (and he was right).

    Is there such a thing as a “Minor Hazard Workplace Hub Facility”? Or a “Moderately Hazardous Facility Facility”? Does “Nah, Not at All Hazardous Facility Place Thingy” have a place in the lexicon?

    The young, and the diamond ear studded soft brained older, have fair dinkum been sucked in to a stilted, artificial and unrealistic language to have us believe we should be afraid of things which occur in normal daily life. They use the amusingly unnecessary terminology as if it has rigour and import.

    In this more enlightened progressive world would Bernard’s (attractive blonde) missus have to employ a Cert IX fire extinguisher operator to stand near while she is lighting the candles on the dining tables, in case the match box malfunctions?

    I can just see today’s omniscient educated young diners nodding knowingly to each other as they watch and murmur “Yes, yes, the precautionary principle, quite appropriate. Yes. …. hazard … facility …”

  29. Infidel Tiger

    “I work at a Major Hazard Facility …”

    Ball bearing factory?

  30. JohnA

    James #1231649, posted on March 19, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    I work at a Major Hazard Facility as a chemical engineer and I don’t agree with much of what you said. There needs to be a culture of safety (process and personal) at every workplace. Having people do whatever they want is a terrible idea.

    I think you have mis-understood the point being made, that there is a fiscal and legal imbalance in NSW and Vic at least between the employer, who ALWAYS carries the guilt, and the employee, who has to actually operate machinery or perform procedures.

    Yes, there are negligent employers, they manage to get prosecuted, and pay for it. Then the precedent is set, and other employers fall into line.

    But there are also negligent employees, who never have to wear the financial and legal consequences of their failure to obey operating instructions (until we get to something egregious, and then we finally get a Kirk’s case).

    But a Kirk’s case can only be run by a large employer with deep pockets. Small businesses with hands-on owners can’t afford the stress or cost of conducting such a defence and have to make commercial decisions to fold their case, wear the guilty verdict and move on. It has taken my brother 5 years to “live down” such a verdict, when a young witless individual disobeyed a direct order and injured himself using a machine. The medical care stuff took two years to achieve “full recovery” (yeah, right!).

  31. twostix

    I blame the unions. The preoccupation with worker safety has become one of the best levers the unions have in exerting power over the work sites of this country. Give that to somebody else, now.

    I was interested in the prominence that the CFMEU website gives to OH & S on their website.

    I thought it would be the sort of thing that would anger and annoy these supposed hard men of industry – having to answer to white collar, soft handed nancy boy public servants. Yet they seemed to revel in it, which put the “isn’t that interesting” antennae up, I wondered what the rort is. I remembered that “safety” is a regular staple of the CFMEU thug in the various news items when they’re shaking down a company…

  32. Motelier

    FMD people. Here I go again and willing to be keybashed.

    No fvck it. It is worth the bother.

    For all of the legislation that claims to WH&S, there are a dozen ambulance chasers willing to dig through the injuries to find a cause. Pro Bono of course, unless there is a win. Then if there is a win, the injured party gets very little and the ambulance chasers get the majority of the payout.

    We had a case (we won by the way) where an employee collapsed on a set of stairs and claimed the injuries and the incapacity to work on our Workers Compensation Insurance. Somehow Slater and Gordon became involved. I did not ask them to become involved.

    18 months of medical reports came back to say the said employee had, had a stroke and, that the fall caused by the stroke, was what caused the injuries.

    All good you might think. Here is the rub. S&G came back at us claiming that the work procedures that we put them through caused said stroke. This was under the Beattie/Bligh governments, all employers are guilty until proven innocent. Oh by the way, said employee had only been on the payroll for 125 days.

    So we stood our ground. At this stage we now had Workers Compensation Qld on our side.

    We asked for causal proof from S&G for a link between published workplace procedures and said stroke.

    We also asked for full financial disclosure of the finances of the stroke victim and his wife.

    It appeared that they were a victim of the collapse of the Storm Financial collapse.

    Oh by the way. All of our legal fees where paid by those claiming against us.

    The motto is : if you an employer of anyone, check their history including financials, declare a line in the sand and be prepared to fight for a long time. Our legals at one stage were close to 50K in defending this.

    I agree with unsafe workplace procedures being penalised, but there must be a proper investigation.

  33. what is wrong with ambulance chasers? that is the market at work?

  34. Mick Gold Coast QLD

    From blogstrop at 8:02 pm:

    “I blame the unions. The preoccupation with worker safety has become one of the best levers the unions have in exerting power over the work sites of this country. Give that to somebody else, now.”

    Oh fat chance blogstrop! Who is going to give “it” and who will they give “it” to?

    “I blame the unions” is a part of a convoluted whole, involving the unions and everyone from the industrial courts, the State and Federal authorities, members of parliaments, the major contractors and wealthy individuals. It really is a case of “follow the money.”

    The Cole Royal Commission 12 years ago, like Costigan 20 years before it, didn’t even get close to running down all the participants let alone prosecute them. I say they never will.

    Civil and building construction are as corrupt as any business activities one could name and everyone is in for a dig. For that reason it is well protected and those who profit are well able to conceal what is happening from the most empowered and most zealous inquirer.

    There are occasional casualties, for window dressing purposes. Several senior construction people managing the desalination plant here came close to gaol time for the massive backhanders they crafted. It took a couple of years of investigation, there was minimal publicity about it and I’d venture the master and his apprentice from that imbroglio found new top end similar employment when it was all over because such practices are normal, not detested.

    I heard just today of expensive re-saleable materials gone missing, a fabulously lavish Christmas pith up – fully paid for, and the easy preparedness of the most senior managers of a major contractor to sit as three wise monkeys, simply ignoring the coincidence and blithely ordering replacement materials at the client’s expense. The materials, the cast of characters and the plot are well known on the project.

  35. So we stood our ground. At this stage we now had Workers Compensation Qld on our side.

    Most unlike Qld Workcover. The stars were shining on you that day Mote.

  36. what is wrong with ambulance chasers? that is the market at work?

    An ALP “jobs for the Labor Lawyers” programme (otherwise known as the Queensland Worker’s Compensation Laws) is many things.

    But it is most definitely not “the market at work”.

  37. Splatacrobat

    There is a huge amount of waste and overkill with safety PPE.
    Refective tape on clothing to Australian Standards doubles the cost. Originally the standard was set for road workers to be visible to oncoming traffic travelling at 100kph. It is mandated on mine sites where the maximum speed permisible is about 20-40km.
    A lot of mines issue safety footwear and clothing on an annual basis and they get an allocation whether they need it or not.
    Go to Gladstone or Mackay and if your into fishing look at all the workers wearing company issued Bolle’s at $30 a pop and hi vis fishing shirts in their $50,000 Haines Hunters.

  38. Chris M

    It’s a common mistake to think Worcover is insurance – it isn’t.

  39. It’s a common mistake to think Worcover is insurance – it isn’t.

    This may depend upon the jurisdiction (& thus the entity that is named “Workcover”). There seems to be some confusion above regarding Qld law and NSW case history.

    Qld Workcover call themselves “the insurer” in communication with me. However given their somewhat…er… spotty history of probity, I’m not taking that definition to the bank.

  40. Motelier

    Most unlike Qld Workcover. The stars were shining on you that day Mote.

    Steve at the Pub,

    Our idea of standing our ground came about because Workcover said we should settle. We never settle.

    When the legal lass from Workcover realised that small fact she started to work for us. It became a win win situation for both Workcover and us.

    The only damage at the end to us was time spent filling in forms and affidavits.

  41. Motelier

    what is wrong with ambulance chasers? that is the market at work?

    You have to be kidding me.

    I now employ my legal firm on a yearly retainer. It is actually comparable to my insurance policy.

    Ambulance chasers only succeed in eventually inflating the insurance premiums that all of us have to pay in some form or another.

    If you think an accident chasing legal firm is working in your best interests, please have a look at a mirror and wonder at the beauty of you mind. Because I will not.

  42. because Workcover said we should settle. We never settle.

    Yep, that’s Workcover. I’ve had ‘em settle astronomical “injury” cases, where the injury doesn’t pass the smell test, and it is patently obvious the injury has been faked.
    It was done over my dead body. I’m not sure who got the biggest spray, the ambulance chasers, Workcover (for settling), or Workcover for spinning around and with a straight face stating that as a result of “this case” I now have a “bad management history” my premiums must go up to recognise my “bad injury record”

    Workcover premiums are now something north of $60,000 per year for me.
    It has made me quite sparky whenever Workcover are on the phone, and god help anybody from (insert any of the usual suspect ambulance chaser law firms) who identifies themself when I’m carrying a gutful of rum.

  43. Ant

    Tony

    I’m referring to quality standards imposed on consultancies mainly. They’re imposed by many government agencies as a prerequisite for placing submissions and obtaining work, based on adherence to, or certification to, ISO 9001.

    This places a significant overhead on offices who can afford to go down that path, with dubious quality/value benefits (at best), while freezing out smaller competitors who have no hope.

    I can well appreciate the enormous benefits QA has had on manufacturing industries going way back to the immediate post war years, particularly in Japan, but what we’re increasingly being forced into doing is nonsense; useful for enriching the certification organisations but little else.

  44. Motelier

    SatP, Your statement

    I now have a “bad management history” my premiums must go up to recognise my “bad injury record”

    Was why we went as hard as we did. The fear of watching our premiums go through the roof scared the shit out of us.

    I have to say however, everything that happened was suggested either Mrs M or I. Workcover was always willing to get out of this as fast as possible.

    The items that won it for us was the medical history reports and the financial history of the employee, along with the limited time he had worked for us.

    S&G tried every trick in the book to withhold disclosure, but buy then we had the little Workcover lassie working for us.

    Maybe we where lucky, but we dodged a bullet that year.

  45. Motelier

    Anyhow I have to go to bed.

    Breakfast at 6.30 tomorrow. 8 serves of sausages and eggs. All at 6.30

  46. Nice that Workcover got on board with you Mote. I’ve never had that. They’ve laid more obstacles than I’d ever imagined in front of me.
    It starts with a sneering “If you don’t like the way we do things, you’re free to engage your own medical experts, barristers & stuff, then fight the case yourself sir”
    In such circumstances it is near impossible to get anywhere.

    However I’ve noticed that as the money is now running out, Workcover is becoming more inclined to bail up and not pay on the more obviously faked cases.

  47. Pauly

    (1) Personal responsibility for insurance.
    Worker’s Compensation came about because in the good old days (pre 1920s) people who were injured at work had to sue their employer for negligence in order to be reimbursed for the costs. So systems of mandatory insurance were introduced to cover no fault payment of defined (statutory) benefits. Basically if someone is hurt at work their lost wages and medical bills get paid.

    As a trade off there restrictions were placed on the right of workers to sue their employers, whilst the mandatory insurance ensured that employers would have insurance cover when their employees sued them for injury. This is a good thing because a small to medium injury would easily be wiped out by the cost of a serious injury.

    By removing the mandatory insurance and making it the worker’s responsibility the employer is no longer protected by the Worker’s Compensation insurance. What the insurer of the worker would do would be to turn around and sue the employer for their losses incurred by the negligence of the employer. Kind of like how in a multiple vehicle collision the separate insurers will fight amongst themselves over the costs. What this will do is expose employers to more litigation and more costs. For employers as a whole this will be a negative outcome.

    For workers they will have the problem of having insurers trying their hardest to wheedle their way out of claims, like the horror stories that get passed around about survivors of natural disasters getting chiselled by insurers. When the insured are employers who know and stand up for their rights better than individual workers it is harder for insurance companies to chisel legitimate claimants out of benefits. For employees as a whole private insurance will deliver poorer outcomes.

  48. Pauly

    (2) Individual responsibility for PPE
    Individuals lie to get jobs. They lie about their experience, they lie about their qualifications, they lie about their health hisyory. Basically they will say anything if they think it will help them get a job they want.
    Now if you only have one employee, then its only his life and well being he is endangering. But when other employees are put at risk then it is not OK just to say it is a matter between the employer and the employee. More than that if you also have 3rd parties like the general public, visiting tradies etc. whose life and well being is also put in danger.

    When you are talking about other individuals the emploer is forcing that risk upon them, and quite often they don’t have the knowledge or awareness of the potential danger that is being forced upon them without their consent or agreement.

    I’ll be first in line to say that most of what passes for safety is theatre and a sham, but ensuring that correct PPE and safety equipment, and training is up to standard is the responsibility of the employer and not one that can be passed off by relying on the say so of a someone wanting into a job.

  49. Pauly

    (c) Being able to sue a negligent employer is a good thing
    It took doing some work in NZ for me to realise this.
    In NZ they have the ACC, which is a generalized no fault insurance scheme. The trade off for which is that the populace of NZ have effectively lost the right to sue for damages for negligence causing injury.
    In NZ if you comply with the gov’t regulations then there is essentially no penalty for causing injury to a person. It is routine for NZ doctors to prescribe medication that has been proven to be carcinogenic because the gov’t hasn’t got around to banning it yet. In Australia the doctors stop prescribing faulty medication the instant they know about it because they are afraid of getting sued. The same goes for workplace safety, all what OHS in NZ is about is complying with the gov’t regulations, there is little actual emphasis on identifying and reducing actual risks.

  50. I live under ACC. It is the workers’ comp and the car insurance you are familiar with plus cover for accidents anywhere else.

    it is stingy: compensation is based on current income, not potential income, so do not have an accident while young, studying or out of the workforce raising kids. so sexist is ACC!

    you cannot sue rather than $1 for $1 claw-backs of any insurance payout on any damages won in court as in some places

  51. boy on a bike

    I spent the better part of a year on a major building project. Management took safety very seriously (and as one of the clients, so did we).

    Workers – very mixed bag. Some were quite safety conscious, but many seemed to go out of their way to work in the riskiest way possible. The foremen were always bailing them up, but they kept repeating their stupidity daily. They couldn’t be kicked off the site as the unions would call a strike.

    Example.

    Site used a swipe card entry system so that it was known exactly who was on site at any time. It was critical that you left by the same door or gate that you entered. Tradies who wanted a quick smoke or a sausage roll would ignore this routinely, leading to chaos during fire drills. This caused havoc when Barangaroo had the fire last week – they didn’t know who was where. The union came straight in the media out and blamed Lend Lease. I blame the unions for threatening to strike on other projects when workers were threatened with disciplinary action for ignoring safety policies. Not only did the unions not take safety seriously when it came to the crunch – they actually actively undermined it when it came to the crunch.

  52. Chris M

    Steve at the Pub

    in my state at least for an employer Workcover is not an insurance scheme despite being sold as such. It is a simply state tax on employment.

    If you have an injury claim Workcover will then significantly increase your fee in order to recover that cost from you over a period and for a significant injury will likely also hit you for a larger lump sum fee on the basis of being ‘negligent’ – they hold all employers as being negligent if an accident of any type occurs.

    If you want actual workers insurance you need to purchase that separately on the private market.

  53. boy on a bike

    I was interested in the prominence that the CFMEU website gives to OH & S on their website.

    hahahahaha

    I almost had a prang one morning riding past Barangaroo. The CFMEU were picketing the site and had setup camp outside one of the gates. They had erected CFMEU banners and a tent etc. Trouble is, they had positioned their banners in the bike lane, and the unionists were standing around those banners. I was pounding along in the dark and almost ran into a dozen fat organisers as they stood around in the bike lane in their intimidating black CFMEU T-shirts. I had to weave between them at 30+ km/h. Scared the crap out of everyone concerned.

    I thought afterwards about ringing Workcover and complaining about an unsafe worksite and demanding that the union organiser who arranged that setup should be hauled before the courts – because a picket line is a place or work for an organiser. It’s amazing to think that they deliberately created an unsafe environment for their members. Common sense isn’t that common.

  54. jupes

    Safety has become a fundamentalist holier-than-thou religion for zealots.

    Correct. I once attended a Safety Supervisors course and the zealot instructor told us that the only way to fail was to blame stupidity on the part of the injured in the hypothetical scenarios presented.

    Blame an idiot for sticking his hand in a meat grinder – fail.

    Stick a big sign stating ‘Danger Electricity’ above a power socket – pass.

  55. rickw

    I have worked as a Safety Manager in the Oil / Construction Industries both in Australia and in Third World Countries, currently working in PNG. I don’t ever want to work in Australia again in that capacity.

    There are really two aspects to safety management, Personal Safety and Job Safety. In my view Job Safety is primarily the responsibility of the company, essentially provision of safe procedures and practices and the right tools and equipment to get the job done safely, the workers still however have a great deal of responsibility, particularly with respect to procedures and practices. Personal Safety is the responsibility of the individual, correct use of tools, avoidance of risk taking, use of PPE etc.

    The work in PNG is currently running at about 1/10 the typical incident rate for Australia and the US. In fact I know of one project here that has completed over 70 million man hours without an LTI. Why the difference?

    Job Safety:
    Overall, I would say that Australia has some of the best equipment and procedures and practices in the world with respect to managing safety. Most of the world operates with far worse equipment and and yet almost always delivers a far better safety result. The equipment we are currently using in PNG is of quite a high standard as most of it has been sourced from Australia.

    Personal Safety:
    In most Third World Countries, you have the ability to deliver a far better safety result than in The US and Australia, PNG is no exception. Why is that the case? In Third World Countries workers start with the premise that Safety Is Their Responsibility! If you are in a Third World Country and you get injured or killed on the job, there is NO HELP for you or your family. The solution to this is that you must Personally be responsible for your safety. That of course leads to a mind set change, if I request that workers address a particular risk on the job, they are highly responsive to that. In Australia if I make the same request, I get told to get *#cked, I know what I’m doing, often ultimately I have to deal with the same individual after they have injured themselves.

    So what is ultimately most important to delivering a safe workplace? It is Personal Safety! As the experience in Australia clearly demonstrates, you can give people the best equipment in the world, but if individuals don’t care about their Personal Safety, then you can still end up with a terrible Safety Record. In Australia I spent plenty of time investigating serious injuries achieved in ways that defy belief, never under estimate the danger of a 1/2″ difference in the height of a piece of concrete!

    There needs to be a quantum shift in Australia with respect to where the burden of responsibility for safety lies. It needs to move significantly towards the worker.

  56. Token

    It’s amazing to think that they deliberately created an unsafe environment for their members. Common sense isn’t that common.

    It is amazing how often it happens when someone else is paying.

  57. Token

    In Third World Countries workers start with the premise that Safety Is Their Responsibility! If you are in a Third World Country and you get injured or killed on the job, there is NO HELP for you or your family.

    Sounds like the difference between owners/employees of small to medium and big businesses. As organisations remove the responsibilities from people, poor attitudes and attentiveness to risk results.

  58. boy on a bike

    heh. On the same job, workers had to go to the site facilities to have a crap.

    Some could not be bothered. They’d find an office, close the door and shit on the carpet in the corner.

    I kid you not.

  59. Eddystone

    Of course, all good OH&S departments include a psychologist, in case of circumstances such as the following, apparently true*, story.

    Mickey O’Flynn worked in an Irish pickle factory. For many years he had a powerful desire to put his penis in the pickle slicer.

    Unable to stand it any longer, he sought professional help from the factory psychologist. After six months, the therapist gave up. He advised Mickey to go ahead and do it or he would probably never have any peace of mind.

    The next day he came home from work very early. His wife, Mary, became alarmed and wanted to know what had happened. Mickey tearfully confessed his tormenting desire to put his penis in the pickle slicer. He went on to explain that today he finally went ahead and did it, and he was immediately fired.

    Mary gasped and ran over to her husband. She quickly yanked down his pants and shorts only to find a normal, completely intact penis. She looked up and said, “I don’t understand. What about the pickle slicer?”

    Mickey replied, “I think she got fired, too.”

    *It was on the intenet.

  60. Peter

    Classic example happened to another farmer, locally.

    Employee decided – of his own initiative – to hang something up and climbed on a chair to do so. He then fell off the chair, injured a leg and claimed compo. Employer was blamed and his premiums went up to glory.

    The incident quoted earlier involved a quad-bike and the death of the employee. The employer was initially held accountable, despite the fact that he had (a) provided a safe road around the slope that the employee chose to ride down and (b) had made it a part of the job expertise criterion that the employee/manager knew far more about riding quads than the employer did.

    In both cases, the default was to assume the employer to be responsible for employee stupidity.

    One thing that continues to raise my ire are those who claim that employees are effectively helpless in the face of an employer request that they do something “dangerous”, yet the same employees will walk off the job over a couple of dollars per hour and a tea break. If it is important to you, you will act accordingly. If you don’t, we are entitled to call bullshit.

    Incidentally…. I work as a volunteer in an emergency service. By definition, we enter dangerous environments and take risks so that those who are less able to deal with those risks can be safer. OH&S mentality has taken over to the point that the bureaucracy would rather see a dozen members of the public killed than one of ours. That ethos is damaging to morale and recruitment, but it covers the arses in the office.

    I hate it…. Peter.

  61. Fibro

    Good post Dan.

    Years ago I ran a company that supplied portable toilets. I won’t scare the Cats with some of the PPE stuff that I had to ensure they had. I was cool with that because that was the environment, and if they chose to shortcut it, well fool them. Rarely happened. What was taken very seriously was 2 days third party training on crane operation and maintenance.

    The thing that buggered me was a guy who decided to try and tackle power lines with a truck mounted crane. Not once, twice within a month. Good fortune and rubber tyres are the only reason it wasn’t a death. Cost $25K each time to fix though. I sent the guy to a GP, then referred to a specialist to make sure that he had all the cognitive skills because I started to doubt that he did. Vision and distance perception in particular. Result- nothing wrong, just a dickhead so I let him go.

    Good move? NO.

    This got to WorkCover. WorkCover got to the company. Reams of paperwork later, we were issued fines. What the fuck for? The training company was reccomended by WorkCover in the first place and I had certicates of competency. Any recorse from them, not a chance. Then the Union come in (no union prior), I get sued for unfair dismissal and the premiums for insurance are then ten-fold.

    Net result. Laid off 6 drivers in 2 states. Just couldn’t afford it.

    I would bet my last dollar that Power Man has found a new way to main/injure or kill himself by now, and I wonder how many employers he took along the way.

  62. rickw

    “heh. On the same job, workers had to go to the site facilities to have a crap.

    Some could not be bothered. They’d find an office, close the door and shit on the carpet in the corner.”

    A mate of mine worked on the Marina Bay Sands project, random crapping around the site was a big issue. He distinctly remembers on one site tour trying to maintain the attention of the gorgeous reps from Fendi, so they wouldn’t turn around and see the squatting / smiling / dumping Bangledeshi worker one level up and only about 10 metres away!

  63. thefrollickingmole

    My background is mines medic and OH&S..

    Ive seen extreme stupidity, and extremes of procedural failure, both can get you killed or injured.

    Heres a few stupid ones..

    Area is chained and barricaded off with “danger unsupported ground” in place, multiple people from multiple crews begin using it as a storage cuddy for equipment.
    Surface drillers are cold and have a fire drum in place, one unit manages to set his head on fire pouring diesel into it.
    Road is wet and greasy, fitter is coming back from town with an unsecured 1/2 tonne of titres in the back of the ute, going too fast, and hasnt engaged 4WD.. Rolls and totals ute.
    Ive got dozens and dozens more… in all those cases cause is “fuckwit”.

    One of the most sewrious near fatalities involved experienced shotfirers leaving a new chum to water down a freshly fired heading.. He began to feel dizzy after a couple of minutes and fortunately walked away from the area before collapsing. There had been no effective ventilation after the shot and Carbon Monoxide poisoning nearly got him. Again, inexperience and stupidity (not his, he didnt know any better) nearly killed a miner.

  64. LABCR-TV

    I just love those American reality TV shows with guys doing all sorts of workshop processes, without barely the minimal amount of personal protective equipment. You know what I mean: angle grinding with a pair of glasses only and not being aware of their fellow worker nearby, Mig welding without the helmet tipped down, holding the job with hands only on the drill press, with the inevitable out of control spin before the camera switches off. So funny!

    It reminds me of the ultra funny ‘Kenny Everett Video Show’ TV show from many years ago. Remember the belt sander on the coffee table scene? So funny!

    Seriously, having spent a career instructing students in OH&S, I am fortunate to claim that the most serious injuries were a wood chisel nicked finger, and a lightly disc sanded finger tip. Whew, glad I got out of that job with my non existent court record intact!

  65. Rick Taylor (Rickety)

    I work in the Pilbara, been in and out since 76, unions ran the show then, at different times I was a shop steward CUC delegate and so on., we were told…taught (I was young and naive) make the issue be what it may and you have the company by the balls end of storywe get what we want.I ended up bailing out of Tom Price in 79 I think it was, 10 week strike, Pilbara went abit quiet unions were pushed out, safety became a company matter and HR / HSE was born God help us all, with all that means, no I don’t agree wuith going to work pissed and stoned, I worked on the big projects Kimberleys Southwards, pair of footy shorts boots n singlets, I honestly do not remember “major” incidents / deaths, we looked after each other, not “bruvvers” but your mates, now the swing has swung and the whole HSE crap is out of control, but now blokes (blokettes) on site rely on their JHA’s take fives and inductions, one size fits all, dumbed down to the lowest common denominator people don’t look after each other anymore…..but when an accident / severe incident occurrs the bruvvers are all over it, its the comapanies fault never the poor bastard thats hurt, I was taught during my apprenticeship there is one person for responsinle for my safety and that is me

  66. Big Jim

    “The work in PNG is currently running at about 1/10 the typical incident rate for Australia and the US. In fact I know of one project here that has completed over 70 million man hours without an LTI. Why the difference?”

    I think you’ll find a more obvious answer. Follow the money. The workum mine fella cuts his finger, he runs some cold water over it and wraps some cloth around it and goes back to work. In Australia, people would be fired for such a flagrant coverup of an incident. The database is hungrier here. And it’s in everyone’s interest to rort (I was trying to type ‘report’ and that’s how it came out, so I left it.)

  67. Price fishback wrote a book on the spread of workers’ compo from 1900 to about 1940 in the usa,.

  68. See http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/P/bo3625336.html for fishback’s book.

    , rather than being an early progressive victory, workers’ compensation succeeded because all relevant parties—labor and management, insurance companies, lawyers, and legislators—benefited from the legislation.

    See too http://eh.net/encyclopedia/workers-compensation/

  69. Tony

    Ant

    I agree with you totally – one is quality and the other is “quality”.

  70. There is no presumption that workers should be especially liable for accidents.

    That is for the market to sort out through Coasian bargaining.

    The party to the nexus of contracts that make up any firm who can bear the risk, reduce the risk or monitor risky behavior at a lower cost will carry part of the risk of workplace accidents and of monitoring employer and employee behavior.

    Payment of the insurance insurance will be the responsibility of the party who can do at least cost.

    Central to the Coase theorem is accidents are always caused jointly. To quote David Friedman:

    “Coase’s first point is that externalities are a joint product of “pollutor” and “victim,” and that a legal rule that arbitrarily assigns blame to one of the parties only gives the right result if that party happens to be the one who can avoid the problem at the lower cost…

    The second step in Coase’s argument is to observe that, as long as the parties involved can readily make and enforce contracts in their mutual interest, neither direct regulation nor Pigouvian taxes are necessary in order to get the efficient outcome. All you need is a clear definition of who has a right to do what and the market will take care of the problem.”

  71. rickw

    “I think you’ll find a more obvious answer. Follow the money. The workum mine fella cuts his finger, he runs some cold water over it and wraps some cloth around it and goes back to work.”

    PURE BULLSHIT:

    Do you think Supervisors, Safety Officers and Management walk around with their eyes shut? Hiding safety incidents or downplaying safety incidents will get you fired within the hour. The Safety Management Process is exactly the same as you will find in Australia and the US.

    In fact I would say that the reporting process I have observed in PNG is far superior. Workers report injuries almost immediately, they then get appropriate treatment. In Australia workers will typically do no initial reporting, only to advise you a few days later of the injury, and that in fact the injury has escalated and that it is now serious.

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