How revolutionary could the Work Health and Safety Act be?

In April 2010, the Australian Government is busy negotiating a new health reform package.  It is likely that the next stage of the reforms will be in the Australian Senate which brings Nick Xenophon into the negotiations.  On 21 April 2010,  The Australian reported Xenophon saying:

“…he had “an open mind” on the deal brokered by the Prime Minister yesterday but wanted to ensure it had a strong emphasis on preventative health, which was the ultimate “test of the health system”.”

Senator, Nick Xenophon, provides a good example of how personal ideals cross social boundaries and professional disciplines.  His focus on the prevention of harm covers public safety and workplace safety illustrates the interconnection that an ethical stance can bring social issues that are governed under different laws and expectations.

This reflects many of the beliefs of safety professionals who find themselves restricted into silos established by the needs of their employers.  Yesterday I spoke with an old colleague of mine who is the safety manager in a large and high risk workplace.  Every safety initiative she has proposed has required “authorisation” by the company’s legal counsel.  As a result safety has not improved greatly since I visited the site to advise on  first aid equipment in the mid-1990s.

The new model Work Health & Safety Act removes those silos in the thinking of safety professionals.  Michael Tooma, on 21 April 2010, urged participants at the Safety In Action Trade Show to return to their workplaces and not look at the physical structure or layout but at the work being undertaken.  Tooma says the impending laws will provide a major shift from bricks and mortar to people and the tasks they undertake.

Xenophon, and many other passionate safety people it must be acknowledged, will soon have legislation that mirrors their belief that a person’s safety at work or at leisure is equally important in reducing pain and suffering to the individual and the impact of this on the family.  This legislation has the potential to increase the pressure for the prevention of injury and illness by meshing the (often competing) “disciplines”  of public safety, public health, health promotion and occupational health and safety.

The planets may be aligning further when one considers the appointment of the next President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Ged Kearney.  Only yesterday as the Federal Secretary of the Australian Nurses’ Federation, Kearney was in favour of  “….robust policy in primary and preventative health, hospitals, mental health, aged care and community health.”  She said

“We applaud the historical achievement reached today and support the federal and state governments in their bid to revolutionize health in Australia…. But now it’s time to discuss the true objective of this discourse and that is how to keep people healthier and out of hospital? And what is the best way to achieve all this? We look forward to hearing more policy on these significant issues.”

Once the major associations and bodies in these sectors realise the potential impact of the replacement of occupational law with the more broadly applicable Work Health and Safety Act, there is going to be disputes over turf, confusion over strategies and, probably, a rationalisation of the organisations.

The Work Health and Safety Act has the potential to realise Albert Einstein’s Unified Field Theory in the context of personal health and safety.  Or maybe the changes will be seen as the “nanny state” of social engineering.

Kevin Jones

2 thoughts on “How revolutionary could the Work Health and Safety Act be?”

  1. What a load of Pure Piffle.

    Every one is fighting everyone for their own identity, bad luck for the poor blue singlet, pair of stubbies and steel cap workers who never get to go to high brow meetings, or are not members of a union.
    The workers are still being injured, they are still being made ill and they are still dying at work.

    Change the name of the process as many times as you like, but first face the reality that at the coal face workers are being broken, maimed and killed, not cocktail event or Federal Senator or incoming union boffin will make any difference until they get out of their own comfortable surroundings and talk to the very people they are making stupid decisions about.

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