OHS law and safety management

Regular readers will be aware that SafetyAtWorkBlog holds the belief that OHS legislation is not the same as managing workplace safety.  Safety can be managed without recourse to law (this is what many mean when they say that “safety is just common sense”) but legislation provides some parameters in which that management occurs.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has issued a call for tougher OHS laws and used workplace fatality statistics as the basis.  Tying the two issues together serves a political purpose but avoids the fact that a range of economic, political, social and even environmental issues can affect how workplaces manage safety.

The media statement issued on 11 December 2009 says:

“A sharp rise in work-related fatalities last year shows that proposed new workplace health and safety laws need to be strengthened, not watered down, say unions.

There were 177 fatal injuries in workplaces in 2008-9, according to newly released statistics from the national regulatory body, Safe Work Australia. This is an 18% increase from the previous year…. [hyperlink added]

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said the increase in fatalities was disturbing at a time when proposed changes to Australian workplace safety laws would result in a weakening of protections and rights.

“A double-digit increase in workplace fatalities in one year is shocking,” Mr Lawrence said. “Each of these victims is someone’s partner, parent, son, daughter or friend.  The Federal, state and territory governments will make significant decisions about new national health and safety laws today.  If any evidence was needed that requirements for employers to provide a safe workplace need to be toughened, this is it. We urge the federal and state governments to make workers’ safety their highest priority.”

The ACTU is doing what it should by serving the needs of its members but the push for union prosecutions of OHS breaches is only one part of its social charter.  The aim of improving safety can be best achieved by motivating union members and establishing a dialogue with the general community, which includes business, small and large.

Is the day far off when we may see joint statements from unions and employer groups on the issue of workplace safety?  Can politics be put aside for the benefit of improving safety?  Comments welcome.

Kevin Jones

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