Is Safety Leadership for everyone or just the executives?

At last week’s Asia Pacific Occupational Safety and Health Organisation conference, I bumped into Jen Jackson, a young creative thinker on occupational health and safety (OHS) and the author of “How to Speak Human”. We had a quick chat about OHS leadership and gender issues. Below is an edited transcript with a link to the raw audio.

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Some good presenters, some great, but OHS conferences need more work

What was missing most from the recent conference of the Asia Pacific Occupational Safety and Health Organisation was a strong Asia-Pacific voice. Certainly, there were presentations by Asian OHS professionals and some westerners working in Asia, but the keynote speakers were almost from Anglo-European cultures. This made it hard to understand if the conference was designed for Asian safety and health professionals to learn from us or for Australians to learn from them. Perhaps it was just for all of us to learn as a profession.

Some of the keynote speakers offered universal suggestions for improving the management of workplace health and safety, but perhaps these were so universal as to be generic or safe. For instance, one of the greatest challenges for the Asian region, in particular, is ensuring the safety of migrant workers. There was one mention of the deaths of the World Cup construction workers, and that was in passing.

Below is a summary of the conference and some of the occupational health and safety issues (OHS) raised.

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Will WorkSafe need to become a VicSafe to address climate change?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals are largely aware of the latest international standard for OHS management systems, ISO45001. This is the core standard for businesses to assess their safe systems of work. Others will be aware of the supplementary guidance to ISO45001, like ISO45003 -guidelines for managing psychosocial risks at work.

Recently Phillipe KL Lai Choo spoke about some of the other OHS guidances due for release or development. One of those relates to climate change which could create unexpected changes to how OHS is regulated and enforced.

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OHS conference – Opportunities for Improvement

This week the 36th national conference for the Asia Pacific Occupational Safety & Health Organization (APOSHO) was held in Melbourne, Australia. Given that occupational health and safety (OHS) conferences are still finding their feet, the first day of the conference was informative but with some problems. An auditor might say there were plenty of opportunities for improvement.

Some concerns illustrate potential cultural challenges in the year prior to Australia hosting the next World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in Sydney in November 2023, in particular parochialism and patronisation.

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Old working hours concepts persist as subtext in new debates

One of the most contentious occupational health and safety (OHS) elements of industrial relations negotiations is the issue of working hours. And one of the most effective ways to prevent physical and psychological harm is by talking about working hours. The evidence for harm from excessive and often unpaid hours is clear, but some assumptions crop up in the debate every so often.

Two recent books, one by David Graeber & David Wengrow and another by Daniel Susskind, offer reminders of these issues and are useful adjuncts to the Australian research on precarious work by Michael Quinlan, Phillip Bohle and others. ( A Guardian review of Graeber & Wengrow is available here with one from The Atlantic here, Susskind here and here)

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Will firewalking become the norm?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) will have little effect on reducing the pace of global warming. Still, OHS will definitely need to assist in changing how we continue to work in future weather extremes. SafetyAtWorkBlog has previously written about working in extreme heat, but a new multimedia report from the New York Times (paywalled) illustrates the challenges in some uncomfortable ways.

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You don’t have to talk about OHS to talk about OHS

On November 16 2022, Tony Burke, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, spoke at the National Press Club in Canberra. Although his portfolio has occupational health and safety (OHS), workplace health and safety was mentioned only once in passing. In this instance, that’s okay because he is trying to pass a major piece of industrial relations (IR) law. But some of his speech raised issues related to work or how businesses are managed, which do have important OHS contexts.

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