Recently, occupational health and safety (OHS) has been given a “bad press” in the electronic media in Australia with many examples of how an activity or behaviour has been stopped or excluded on the “unreasonable” grounds of OHS.
Recently in my local supermarket I asked a worker in the vegetable section whether the store had loose-leafed baby spinach. He responded that they only have packaged spinach. On asking why I was told that it was because of OHS requirements. I contacted an OHS representative within the supermarket’s head office who told me this was not the case. He told me that the packaged option was more likely to be on the grounds of food safety and hygiene.
This example highlights a major challenge to OHS managers and organisations. WorkSafe and unions have been very successful over the last decade in raising the community awareness to issues of workplace safety, to the extent that OHS has a higher profile than the issues that the supermarket and others are applying.
Food safety and hygiene has been revolutionised with the introduction of HACCP, the legislative requirements for food preparation. Public liability has increased for school excursions, council garden maintenance, small business, retail outlets and everywhere else it seems. These two issues are being misunderstood as workplace safety matters because OHS has a higher general prominence. HACCP requirements are only relevant to the food industry and impinge on the public, usually, only when we ask for a doggy bag. Public liability is a cost to business and councils but doesn’t affect the public unless someone suggests that you take action after tripping on a cracked footpath.
In Victoria in 2007 there were four workplace fatalities in ten days. According to WorkSafe:
- On April 19, a truck driver died when his tip truck hits power lines on a farm near Nhill while making a delivery.
- On April 20, a man died after being crushed between the hydraulically operated door of a machine and a rail earlier on 13 April.
- On April 22, a man died after suffering an electric shock while changing light bulbs at Coburg North car yard on 18 April.
- On April 23, a man died on a property near Wodonga when a tree he was cutting down with a chain saw fell and hit him.
The whole aim of OHS management and legislative obligations is to avoid death and injury. As we move to the international day of mourning for those who die at work, in late April, we need to remember that safety should always be seen in the context of its relation to people. People should not be sacrificed for profit or corporate peace of mind.