Uninspiring discussion on OHS in Tasmania’s Parliament Reply

On 28 April 2015, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, the Legislative Assembly of the Tasmanian Parliament discussed the significance of that day as a Matter of Public Importance. The discussion cannot be described as a debate but it does provide some insight to the ideologies of the political parties in that Parliament, which is almost a microcosm of Australian politics, and the general quality of understanding of occupational health and safety (OHS) management.

One of the fundamental pieces of information for such a day would be an accurate number of workplace fatalities. The Leader of the Opposition, Bryan Green (Australian Labor Party), made a basic faux pas by stating that the total number of workplace fatalities for 2014 was 44 when the figure was for deaths occurring in 2015 (the official figure for 2015 is now 51).  Later that evening, he corrected himself saying that this did not change his argument about the importance of inspectors but it does, and it was embarrassing.

Green listed the number of inspectors lost from Workplace Standards (WorkSafe Tasmania), Tasmania’s OHS regulator. The inspection capacity of an OHS regulator is relevant to any discussion on OHS but Green overstates the role of the regulator, as most Labor Party and trade union speakers do.  OHS and Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws clearly state it is the employer of Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) who has the principal OHS duty.  Workers have a similar responsibility.  The regulator is not a dutyholder for anyone other than its own employees according to WorkSafe Tasmania’s Guide to WHS Act. More…

Dignity and solemnity at Workers’ Memorial Day 3

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.

More…

Business report is contradictory on OHS 4

cover of small_business_taskforce_fa_lr_r2The Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) has released its small business blueprint.  The document continues the misunderstanding of industry and business groups in respect to occupational health and safety (OHS) and red tape.

The “Small business. Big opportunities” document continues to show OHS as a burden rather than an opportunity.  The chapter that discusses “high level of
labour market adaptability and flexibility” includes this recommendation:

“Simplify existing workplace relations legislation applying to small business, without removing the intent of regulations to provide safe, fair, productive and successful workplaces.

Small business currently needs to comply with numerous
substantial pieces of legislation (for example, taxation,
superannuation, OHS, equal opportunity and corporations law) that can act as a major disincentive to growth, employment and investment.” (page 10)

Previous SafetyAtWorkBlog articles have highlighted how inaccurate and unfair it is to include OHS obligations with other laws, such as taxation, as they have fundamentally different origins.  OHS laws are not a “major disincentive to growth, employment and investment”.  More…

Podcast of interview on OHS reviews 3

The recent article into the review of SafeWorkSA caught the attention of the Your Rights at Night radio program and led to an interview on 9 April 2015.  The podcast of that interview is now available online.

Interviews are odd experiences, particularly when they are over the phone.  Although there is a reason someone wants to talk with you, you usually do not know the questions beforehand.

For the interview above, I was in the bedroom, away from noises, with printed blog articles, media releases and OHS statistics across the pillows.  I thought the spread of information was important to have at hand to make sure the information I provided was accurate but one can still get caught out when the pace of the interview has settled. The last question asked in the interview could have been answered better.  Neither of the reviews announced have a fixed end date, regardless of what I said, in fact you can hear the shuffling of papers while I looked for the SA government’s media release. Oh well.

Kevin Jones

“The regulator should be respected, but not feared” 8

cover of Transforming Work Health and Safety Performance FINALHow different can occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators be? A review into WorkSafe Victoria was announced in February 2015 but the review into its equivalent in South Australia, SafeWorkSA, is more progressed and has released a public discussion paper entitled “Transforming Work Health and Safety Performance“. Its suggestions should be noted by James Mackenzie the reviewer of WorkSafe Victoria.

Maybe not surprising to many, the future is a reworking of the past. More…

Union backflip on drug testing presents huge opportunity for change Reply

In late March 2015, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) dropped its objection to drug and alcohol (D&A) testing on Australian construction sites.  There seems to be several reasons for this change and the evidence for D&A testing of construction workers remains scant but the opportunity for enormous change on this public health and occupational hazard should not be missed. More…

OHS and public health at The Coal Face 1

The Hazelwood mine fire has faded from the memory of most Victorians following the Parliamentary inquiry but not so for those who continue to live in the Latrobe Valley and with the health consequences of the fire.  Tom Doig has written a short book on the incident and its consequences that will put pressure on the Andrews (Labor) Government to honour its election promise and reopen the inquiry.

Doig’s book, The Coal Face, summarises many of the issues raised by the inquiry by looking at a selection of personal stories from residents, neighbours and firefighters.  It is a short book of just over 100 pages but it is an important reminder that the consequences of the mine fire are still being felt. More…

OHS issues from over the horizon 1

seaOn 18 March 2015, the Melbourne office of Herbert Smith Freehills conducted a breakfast seminar that doubled as a launch for the latest edition of the CCH Wolters Kluwer book Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide (reviewed recently).  The seminar had three of the book’s authors talking about emerging occupational health and safety (OHS) and work health and safety (WHS) issues for Australia.  These included

  • The growth of WHS/OHS “Assurance Programs”
  • The potential implications for the safety management from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Free Trade Agreements.
  • The OHS trend in the European Union for “Supply Chain Safety“.

The first two of these topics are discussed below. More…

OHS professionals should be more politically active 6

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…

WorkSafe Victoria heads roll 2

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has spoken publicly about the removal of the CEO and Chair of WorkSafe Victoria describing them as liars and incompetent.  As Jon Faine pointed out in the radio interview, the Premier has established a high level of accountability.  Hopefully this results in an increased diligence on OHS matters by government departments and authorities.

The Industrial Relations Minister in the Andrews Government, Robin Scott, was a regular critic of WorkSafe’s operations and decisions while in Opposition and it is no surprise that he went hard on the CEO, Denise Cosgrove, at least. More…