Union view of OHS harmonisation and data on the social cost of workplace safety

The national OHS Officer of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Deborah Vallance, provided her perspective on the tweaking of Australia’s OHS laws to the StickTogether radio program on 25 April 2010.  (The interview is at the 16 minute mark in the podcast)

Vallance says that the complexity and overlap of laws is often overstated but that there are benefits for licencing systems related to workplaces.  She casts doubt on the significance of the reforms leading to a “seamless economy” regularly spruiked by government ministers.

Overall, Vallance believes that the government has made a bit of a mess of the process but does acknowledge the magnitude of the challenge.  She points to the loss of WHSO in Queensland and a weakening of measures on principal contractors in that State but acknowledges the advantages of better HSR roles and powers in New South Wales.

Social Cost

Vallance’s submission to the national OHS review is available online and her individual comments on pages 20 – 24 are very useful.  The stand-out reference is the breakdown of costs of OHS that appears regularly in various OHS statements but should be noted by anyone who disputes the social cost, or social impact, of workplace safety.  A 2004 report from the National OHS Commission states that

“In terms of the burden to economic agents, 3 per cent of the total cost is borne by employers, 44 per cent by workers and 53 per cent by the community.”

The 2009 report provided an update of that ration:

“In terms of the burden to economic agents, 3 per cent of the total cost is borne by employers, 49 per cent by workers and 47 per cent by the community. This distribution is considerably altered from the previous study, where workers bore 44 per cent of the cost and the community bore 53 per cent. This difference is mainly accounted for by the growth in average weekly earnings and the effect this has on human capital costs and the distribution between worker and community.”

Kevin Jones

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