Reduce deaths and injuries to achieve a sustainable industry

Agriculture is one of the most dangerous workplaces in Australia and other countries. This reality is supported by many statistics and over a long time.

Agriculture is, perhaps, at the forefront of changing production methods to ensure sustainability in a world that is changing in ways that no farmers have had to face in the past. Agriculture therefore needs to be both a safe and a sustainable industry.

So why is workplace health and safety not being given a top priority in the Victorian Government’s Smart Farms program?

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Focus on the hoops and not the holes

There is a confluence of investigations into mental health and suicides in Australia at the moment, and most of them overlap with occupational health and safety (OHS).  Each of these increases the understanding of the relationship between work and mental health but no one seems to be connecting the threads into a cohesive case.  This article doesn’t either, by itself, but hopefully the threads of the issues are identified through the themes of various SafetyAtWorkBlog articles.

Recently Tim Quilty of the Liberal Democratic Party addressed the issue of suicide in relation to his contribution to the debate on Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws in the Victorian Parliament.  His assertions seem a little naïve:

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Sex Work review includes many OHS matters

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The Victorian Government has announced a review of the regulations pertaining to sex work. It will include several areas related to occupational health and safety (OHS):

  • Workplace safety including health and safety issues and stigma and discrimination against sex workers
  • Regulatory requirements for operators of commercial sex work businesses
  • And the safety and wellbeing of sex workers, including the experience of violence that arises in the course of sex work and as a consequence of it, and worker advocacy for safety and wellbeing

Consumer Affairs has carriage of the Sex Work laws but the breadth of the review would have been better served if the announcement had been a joint one with the Minister for Workplace Safety and Minister for Health.

This review should offer a real challenge to Victoria’s OHS laws, the OHS profession, consultants, advocates and critics.

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Do workers have a real choice about their safety?

I apologise for spending so much time recently writing about Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws, but the discussion of these laws is illustrating many of the interpretations of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws and management.  For instance, the recent IM debate in Victoria has repeatedly mentioned the need to apply IM laws to the acts and decisions of employees, as if employees have an unfettered choice to put their safety before the wishes of their employer – a nonsensical myth.

On November 26 2019 in Victoria’s Parliament Rod Barton MP of the Transport Matters Party acknowledged that the IM laws may focus the employer’s attention on ensuring truck drivers do not work while fatigued (an obligation already required by the OHS Act).  He then said:

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What is needed is a discussion of the “safe system of business”

By the time you read this, one of Australia’s States may have Industrial Manslaughter laws. One sad part of all of the IM argy-bargy is that it has focused on the penalty of going to jail rather than on the enhancement of occupational health and safety (OHS) which can prevent harm. Part of this seems to be because people are uncertain how to talk about OHS. For instance, some arguing against IM laws have started talking about making these laws fair. But fair to who?

Recently the Australian Industry Group released a media statement titled “Industrial manslaughter legislation must be fair“. Firstly, although the IM Bill is a piece of legislation, it is not an Act or Regulation in itself. It is an amendment to the existing OHS Act. But this Act and its Duties hardly gets discussed in the current debate, which is a bit curious but convenient.

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