In December 2009, SafetyAtWorkBlog reported the comments by the English Conservative leader, David Cameron, on some concerns he had about the direction of occupational health and safety in England and how the newspapers were reporting OHS.
On 15 March 2010, The Independent published an article by the CEO of the Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH), Rob Strange. [IOSH says it is a personal opinion piece] Strange’s article is not a rebuttal of Cameron’s speech but is an important statement in the dialogue, or debate, that must occur if workplace safety is ever going to be treated with respect.
Strange must deal with the notorious English tabloid press and some of his article shows that no matter what relationship one may wish to have with a journalist, there is no guarantee that the journalist or editor will run your perspective, argument or rebuttal. His struggle shows how important it is to establish a respectful relationship with the media producers. His example should be followed by safety professional associations elsewhere.
Sadly the Australian experience is that OHS professional associations remain distrustful of the independent media even when they have not had to deal with the tabloids. These associations of professionals do not seem to understand that journalists and writers are also members of a profession and are obliged to operate in a professional manner. The degree of media suspicion, sometimes fear, in some OHS associations is phenomenal and illustrates a level of insecurity that would render most associations moribund or, perhaps, defective.
There are almost no OHS associations in Australia currently that would have the intelligence, confidence or presentation to match what Rob Strange has written in The Independent. And this is a major worry.
Australia has yet to hit the “anti-OHS crusaders” to anything like the extent IOSH and the government’s Health & Safety Executive has had to face. Thankfully some of the fundamentalist media commentators remain focused on climate change. But the risk is high.
2010 will be the year that the national OHS Act begins to be implemented at State Government level and after this next weekend, Australia is unlikely to have the Labor Party dominance it has “enjoyed” for the last few election cycles. Conservative State Governments will be able to follow the lead of the Liberal Party‘s WA Premier Colin Barnett and his industrial relations minister, Troy Buswell, in being suspicious and belligerent on the harmonisation of OHS laws. It could be argued that without the political acumen of the federal Workplace Relations Minister, Julia Gillard, national OHS laws may not have got this far, at least, so quickly.
The potential political instability that this restructure creates exposes the fragility of workplace safety and the potential for ridicule. The laws must be supported by a detailed enforcement policy and the ability to respond quickly to any chance of the program going off the rails. The prompt action by Gillard on union right-of-entry reported in The Australian newspaper on 17 March 2010, is a good example of the supervision that is required.
And where are the intelligent safety professional associations who can authoritatively comment on the politics of OHS? They are not even on the radar.
Strange sets out the important OHS issues that require action. Most are the same issues faced by OHS professionals in Australia. Strange says
“Far beyond all this tomfoolery are the “real” health and safety issues that demand action. Like fighting to prevent the looming spectre of more cancer caused by asbestos, a time-bomb that currently sees thousands of workers dying each year from past exposure. Like tackling the personal, social and economic tragedy of people stuck on incapacity benefit when, with the right help and opportunity, they could be in the workplace, fulfilling themselves, supporting their families and contributing to the economy. And getting better health and safety support to small and medium-sized businesses, which create nearly 60 per cent of private sector jobs and half of UK turnover but sadly, in manufacturing for example, can have double the rate of deaths and amputations in large workplaces.”
Asbestos, incapacity benefits, small- and medium-sized business needs as well as reducing death and illness from work activities!? Australian OHS associations are all but silent on these issues.
Has Rob Strange ever considered emigrating to Australia? Former IOSH president John Lacey has been out here enough to qualify for citizenship, Strange is unavailable.