Matthew Knott’s article in the Australian newspaper (21 July 2008 ) included telling comments from Barry Willis, a 64-year-old former maintenance worker at Amberley air force base. The article says
“workplace health and safety was non-existent: open cans of chemical sealant were stored in the refrigerators where the men kept their lunch.”
I have been critical of the military in the past as they are usually well-sourced on OHS and often speak proudly of their approach to safety. Yet just as with the BlackHawk Inquiry findings criticising the safety culture, Barry Willis saw no safety culture in the 1970s.
At the risk of sounding like an old grump, working in that decade was under a different set of cultural rules. Modern OHS legislation was being considered by most Western jurisdictions and industrial diseases were coming to the fore. In the early 1980’s I worked in industrial relations concerning award restructuring. One of the first elements to be restructured was allowances, many of them accurately described as “danger money” – removing roadkill, working at heights, confined spaces and a range of other hazards.
It can be argued that modern salary levels incorporate allowances for hazardous work but the issue of immediate compensation for a dirty or hazardous job, hopefully, has had its day.
Sadly, for people like Barry Willis, the consequences of a hazard, known or discounted, continue and the struggle for acknowledgement and compensation continues.