On the eve of its 2015 Budget, the Australian Parliament was debating an increase in enforcement powers of the Fair Work Building and Construction inspectorate and the resurrection of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Occupational health and safety (OHS) is rarely mentioned in these debates but not so on 11 May 2015. Excerpts from yesterday’s safety-related comments are worth noting, particularly as no mainstream media has done so or is likely to..
Senator Cory Bernardi (Liberal Party) attacked a recent video from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) saying that
“For too long the unions have falsely cried safety as a lazy defence for their unlawful and unethical industrial conduct. They have cried wolf so often that they can no longer be believed.”
Over the last few months some in Australia’s trade union movement have renewed calls for the introduction of industrial manslaughter laws in various jurisdictions. The issue has appeared both on television and online.
Curiously the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) seems to have dropped the “industrial manslaughter” terminology it has used in the past. In a 28 April 2015 media release, the ACTU stated:
““Strengthening OHS laws to make negligent companies and individual directors liable sends a clear message to employers that they must ensure people are safe at work.”
“Current laws need to be strengthened so that companies and company directors are liable for our safety at work.”
It seems that the charge has been left to the South Australian Greens Parliamentarian, Tammy Franks, who has proposed amendments to the SA Work Health and Safety laws in Parliament on 6 May. But what does Franks expect to achieve with this Bill? Will it reduce harm or is it a heartfelt cry of frustration? More…
On 7 May 2015, Senator Doug Cameron (Australian Labor Party, pictured) launched a new book written by John Bottomley (pictured, centre) called “Hard Work Never Killed Anybody – How the idolisation of work sustains this deadly lie“. Cameron acknowledged the uniqueness of the book as ranging
“…across, theology, Marxism, the Protestant work ethic, and the Enlightenment.”
This combination is rare in the field of occupational health and safety but Cameron said that Bottomley provides evidence that
“…the promise of industrialised society that hard work brings its own rewards is a lie”
and that this is a necessary and important challenge to the current political consensus. More…
The Victorian commemoration of International Workers Memorial Day has held on28 April 2015 and was a major improvement on previous memorials. The politics was muted by the speakers. There was no tray truck of angry unionists yelling through tannoys and heading off half way through the event to a protest rally that they see as more important than remembering the dead. There was a good level of dignity and solemnity …… finally.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) is inextricably linked to everyday life and everyday politics but it is treated as somehow separate, even by those who are experts in OHS. This is not the case with industrial relations which is much more grounded in the political realities.
Industrial relations has been pushed by the trade union movement that has always seen workers’ rights as a social issue. The OHS profession and its associations have been content, largely, to live within the factory fence. Until recently OHS laws related solely to the workplace and OHS professionals had the luxury of a clear demarcation for its operations.
But new OHS laws acknowledge the responsibility for the effects of work on those other than workers, and those who are neighbours to workplaces. Australian OHS professionals have been slow to embrace the social role that has been foisted on them. There seems no excuse for this.
Recently, a hearing of an Australia Senate Committee spoke with the CEO of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, Peter Tighe. The discussion illustrated some of the social, political and economic risks of this long-known workplace hazard. More…
Barry Naismith has followed up his first report into WorkSafe with a second that analyses the workplace deaths in Victoria since 1985.
One of the attractions of Naismith’s analyses is that he considers the broader context to the data. His first report looked at WorkSafe Victoria’s actions and policies in relation to the executive and board complexion. In this report he looks at the frequency of deaths with WorkSafe campaigns and enforcement response.
The analysis may not have the authority of a fully-funded research program from an academic institution but the level of detail he has collected from official sources is impressive, and in the absence of any other analysis, Naismith’s work deserves serious attention.
Whether one believes that the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption is a political witch-hunt or a genuine attempt to clean up a corrupt industry sector, the Royal Commission seems to have revealed an abuse and exploitation of occupational health and safety (OHS) – an exploitation that has received next to no attention. The release of the Commission’s interim report allows for a quick analysis of this situation.
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was a particular target of the Commission in relation to a “slush fund” established by her then-boyfriend, Bruce Wilson, commonly referred to as the “AWU affair“. The “slush fund”, known as the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association, was developed, according to Gillard
“… to support the re-election of union officials who would campaign for workplace reforms including better occupational health and safety.” (Interim Report, Vol 1, page 99)
At a remembrance service in December 2014, the founder and outgoing deputy director of the Creative Ministries Network (CMN), John Bottomley, explained his refusal of funding from the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) for CMN’s work-related grief support services (now called GriefWork). VWA has a different take on his comments.
In discussing the relevance of the Book of Isaiah to the motivations of the CMN to help people, Bottomley said that
“… it is God’s response to injustice and suffering that has planted this same spirit at the heart of our endeavours to transform work-related harm.
So CMN rejected VWA’s contract in April this year, after WorkSafe had funded our agency for over ten years to provide grief support services. My reason for rejecting the new contract was that VWA wanted to hide bereaved families grief from the public domain of injustice at work. The contract brief treated grief as an individual psychological problem to be addressed behind the closed doors of a clinic shut off from the rest of society. The contract wanted to treat work-related grief like an illness, and treat grieving families as sick and lacking the ability to ‘cope’. This heaps injustice upon injustice.”
I am very proud to receive recognition from LexisNexis again in 2014 for my work on the SafetyAtWorkBlog. On 16 December 2014 LexisNexis Legal Newsroom Workers’ Compensation named the SafetyAtWorkBlog as one of the Top Blogs for Workers’ Compensation and Workplace Issues. It is a great honour for a blog that is self-funded and written in my spare time.
LexisNexis has described some of the articles as “insightful and entertaining” and reflective. One article in particular was a discussion spurred by the writings of Terry Reis and would not have been possible without his initial article.
I thank LexisNexis for this unexpected honour and feel very proud to be amongst the other honourees for 2014. It is good to see new ones on the list and encourage all those OHS professionals who feel they have something to say, to say it. The more voices the OHS profession has, the richer our debates and the greater our state of knowledge.
There seems to be an increasing trend for the principles of occupational health and safety (OHS) to be applied to matters outside the workplace. OHS principles were created to reflect the values of society in the 1970s and 80s and, although the laws have changed to reflect economic needs, the principles remain basically the same. A major legal change has been the move away from preventing harm “at the source” to one of reasonable practicability and this can reduce the overall level of safety available to workers and others.
It is interesting to note that statements on the current Ebola outbreak argue the sense in dealing with the outbreak “at the source”. Why do we accept a reasonably practicable control measure for harm at work but expect a stronger preventative measure for public health threats? Shouldn’t we be aiming to reduce all harm “at the source” regardless of the type of harm? More…