Guidance can help but change needs a challenge

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) has released a guide for employers on managing sexual harassment in workplaces. It contains a lot of helpful information, but it also illustrates the self-imposed limits that business has on preventing workplace psychological hazards. To a lesser extent, it is downplaying the preventative role of occupational health and safety (OHS).

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Look at the verbs to identify leadership and commitment

On September 16 2021, the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, said:

“The first major initiative of AUKUS will be to deliver a nuclear-powered submarine fleet for Australia. Over the next eighteen months we will work together to seek to determine the best way forward to achieve this…”

The second line of this quote includes a specific timeline but less specific commitments – a combination of words that reflects much of the corporate-speak that is often used with occupational health and safety (OHS) duties and other pledges and obligations.

Morrison gives a deadline against which progress will be measured. He commits to working with the United Kingdom and the United States to meet this deadline. But then, he says they will “seek to determine” – they are not sure what they are doing, but they will look for it. And “the best way forward” for whom? And to what ends? We hope it will be to building a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, the current context.

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OHS is a key process for control of COVID

It is always important to note when those outside the traditional occupational health and safety (OHS) networks speak in favour of OHS and its critical role in business decisions.

On September 20 2021, ABC’s Mary Gearin spoke with Emeritus Professor Malcolm Sim of Monash University about the likelihood of mandatory vaccinations on the ABC Drive program. Sim said:

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Avoiding COVID-19 distractions is essential

Recently Australian law firm Herbert Smith Freehills conducted a webinar on mandatory vaccinations. (2,000 attendees = hot topic) This workplace issue is moving quickly in each Australian jurisdiction and almost every day. There was some helpful advice in this seminar that was, thankfully, not reliant on case law and the avoidance of occupational health and safety (OHS) liability. Below is a discussion of some of the self-analysis and risk assessment that all employers should undertake to manage their workforce through COVID-19.

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Off-centre perspectives can offer great potential

The Australian government has failed to follow through on its early promises to provide a framework for employers to prevent and reduce sexual harassment in their workplaces. This failure is being interpreted as revealing something about employers’ attitudes to occupational health and safety (OHS) and their own legislative duties.

Employers (and other groups on non-OHS issues) who look to the government for guidance on issues that already have legislative requirements are looking to avoid the social and legal obligations that have usually existed for years. Sexual harassment is an excellent example of a workplace matter getting some serious attention regardless of the government’s inaction. A recent podcast by Maddocks lawyers Catherine Dunlop and Tamsin Webster is part of that attention.

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Mandatory vaccinations without making vaccinations mandatory

In a little over a month, the Australian conversation about mandatory vaccinations at work has changed dramatically. In early August, food processing company SPC was treated suspiciously over its requirements for its workers, customers, and contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Recently, the New South Wales Premier, Glady Berejiklian, required vaccinations for workers to move outside of certain residential locations. And today, the Victorian Health Minister, Martin Foley, has all but made vaccinations mandatory for the construction industry.

As Berejiklian has shown, you don’t need to impose mandatory vaccinations to make vaccinations mandatory.

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“Too little, too late” but potential in primary prevention

On Australia’s Women’s Safety Summit, Wendy Tuohy contemplated, in The Age, after the first day;

“It may turn out to be too little, too late, but if there’s real commitment behind Morrison’s lines, we could conclude it’s a start.”

There are few signs of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s commitment. Women will continue to work in companies and workplaces where they are at risk of psychological harm from sexual harassment and physical harm from sexual assault. Occupational health and safety (OHS) laws offer a harm prevention option that nobody seems keen to consider.

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