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Kevin Jones

OHS largely overlooked in National Outlook Report

The National Australia Bank and the CSIRO have released their National Outlook Report for 2019. It should be no surprise that the only mention of occupational health and safety (OHS) in this report is in relation to “employee wellbeing” – reflecting the current corporate approach to OHS in Australia. The discussion on employee wellbeing in this report is selective and could have been stronger in its recommendations for change.

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Agent Orange and Glyphosate

Discussions about the work-related risks of glyphosate exposure have calmed down until the next court case but it is useful to remember that there have been battles in the past about exposure to agricultural chemicals. Questions in the Western Australian Parliament on 13 June 2019, illustrate the situation in relation to one chemical – 2, 4, 5-T (2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid), a component of the wartime defoliant, Agent Orange.

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The potential of undocumented safety

SafeWorkSA’s CEO, Martyn Campbell, is fast becoming the highest profile occupational health and safety (OHS) regulator in Australia, partly because he has committed to communicating with stakeholders. Recently on the SafetyOnTap podcast Campbell, spoke about non-paper-based compliance. Given the current attention to safety clutter by David Provan and Greg Smith, his comments deserve some brief consideration.

Campbell was speaking about the importance of formalising OHS investigations through ICAM or root cause analysis and how proof of safety compliance comes through paperwork:

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Language, labels, thoughts and restraints

Carsten Busch is a committed voice for improvement in occupational health and safety (OHS) and our understanding of it. Recently he published a research paper entitled “Brave New World: Can Positive Developments in Safety Science and Practice also have Negative Sides?” (open access). The paper is of note for several reasons, not including the use Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel “Brave New World” a book about a dystopia that many Australian high school students in the 1970s were required to read.

Dystopian novels suit the study of OHS as the structure often reflects a character with new experiences of an unfamiliar culture or an awakening or realisation of their place in the world. Brave New World fits the former and George Orwell’s 1984, the latter. OHS professionals often step into a workplace culture that is foreign to what they have understood to be the norm. They evaluate the new culture, find it wanting and suggest repairs, if they can. Over time some OHS professionals, often through an epiphany, realise that they have not achieved what they expected and either leave or turn on the OHS discipline. Some OHS professionals are able to blend both these experiences and perspectives.

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Tough but short-term

A toxic fire in an industrial district creates plumes of dangerous smoke billowing up into the air as seen from behind a near by warehouse building, 2019. Credit:Christopher Freeman

Melbourne, Australia has recently suffered several notable factory fires that resulted from unsafe storage of chemical wastes. These fires have resulted in toxic fumes across residential suburbs, environmental damage to local waterways and some injuries to workers. Victoria’s Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy has responded by increasing penalties for breaching occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. This is a good short-term measure and indicates to the community that their government is doing something but is not a sustainable prevention strategy.

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