WorkSafe hands Southern Ports two Improvement Notices after bullying and harrassment investigation

Esperance Port. Photo: Supplied.
Esperance Port. Photo: Supplied.

WorkSafe have issued two Improvement Notices to Southern Ports following an investigation into bullying and harassment at the company.

The recommendations were for Southern Ports to ‘identify and implement controls’ and ‘provide information and training’ as far as practicable to prevent employees being exposed to ‘psychosocial hazards’.

On Monday, August 13 the company was issued two notices in relation to each port at Esperance, Bunbury and Albany. 

The investigation had covered a three-year period from 2015.

Inspector Justine McGillivray said employees could be exposed to “acute and cumulative psychosocial hazards in the work environment due to autocratic leadership styles from the executive leaders and managers, poor support from managers and supervisory staff and inappropriate and unreasonable behaviours such as harsh and unreasonable performance management, yelling, name-calling, racial comments, derogatory comments of a sexual nature, gossiping and creating rumours.”

Inspector McGillivray also found the potential for employees to be exposed to “lack of role clarity from outdated or non-existent position descriptions, sustained high work pressure, inappropriate and unreasonable behaviours such as harsh or unreasonable performance management, not providing adequate information or resources to perform the work, derogatory comments and threatening behaviour.”

The Improvement Notices did not state these actions had occurred but found there were insufficient controls to prevent them from occurring.

The notices stated practical steps included providing training, reviewing work design, available resources and workloads, providing realistic time frames, transparent and timely communication about changes and ensuring equitable application of policies and procedures. 

The company was deemed to have contravened section 19(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1984 and was required to remedy the situation by no later than 5:00pm on December 17, 2018.

Southern Ports interim chief executive officer Alan Byers said Southern Ports had a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination, bullying and harassment, including on the basis of gender or race.

“All allegations raised with Southern Ports in relation derogatory comments or harassment of a racial or sexual nature have been investigated and dealt with,” he said.

“I hope any staff member who has experienced inappropriate behaviour feels comfortable coming forward.

“Southern Ports has a ‘fair and just’ safety culture, resulting in increased reporting of workplace illness and injury yet decrease in serious incidents.

“This has resulted in a safer workplace.”

Mr Byers said it was appropriate that this culture was extended to reporting of discrimination, bullying and harassment and the company had the processes in place to deal with the matters.

In a memo sent to all Southern Ports staff, Mr Byers said while Southern Ports was aware of the general nature of the investigation, the details of which employees were spoken to and what they said to WorkSafe was not revealed to the company.

“Southern Ports does recognise there are issues to urgently address,” he said. 

“That said, Southern Ports is of the view that the inappropriate and unreasonable behaviours described in the Improvement Notices do not apply to every employee, including those in supervisory, management and executive roles.

“The Improvement Notices provide an opportunity to remind all staff to be mindful of their behaviour in the workplace, and engage with each other with dignity and respect.”

Mr Byers said he was pleased the notices recognised the work Southern Ports had done to improve workplace safety.

He said this included leadership and mental health awareness training, cultural engagement, policy and procedure updates, and providing information on standards of behaviour and values.

“The requirement to prevent employees being exposed to psychosocial hazards provide a road-map on a direction for the future,” Mr Byers said.

“This gives us an opportunity to move forward together, as a team.

“I expect, through the notices, Southern Ports will further strengthen its processes and procedures to deal with all workplace safety hazards, be they psychosocial or otherwise.

Mr Byers said Southern Ports may request clarification from WorkSafe about the notices to ensure they could most effectively and efficiently map their next steps in the process.