Is OHS part of Labour Law?

The question in the title of this article came about from the release of a fabulous new book by LexisNexis- Butterworths – Australian Labour Law – Text, Cases & Commentary, 5th edition.

Through my introductory look at the book, it seems that occupational health and safety gets around half a page in a book of over 1200 pages.  As an OHS reader I was disappointed, as I believe that OHS is an important subset of labour law.  My belief is echoed by some Australian publishers who include, usually, a chapter on OHS in their labour law titles.  LexisNexis has never been a publisher of OHS information with the market leader being CCH but with Federation Press holding the more quality and original sector.

One possible reason for the lack of OHS is that the authors, Marilyn J Pittard and Richard B Naughton are lecturers in labour law at Monash University and OHS does not feature in their program.  Another could be that the book is a monolithic volume already and, perhaps, OHS could not be given adequate attention without adding a couple of pounds to the book and generating a manual handling risk.

It is hoped that LexisNexis realises there is a market opening for authoritative and fresh writing on OHS in Australia, particularly in this period of change due to harmonisation.  The morphing of OHS in the areas of due diligence and risk management are particularly interesting to watch.

Another area of disappointment for me is the lack of content on the role of human rights and international law on labour law in Australia.  Human rights does not even gain a mention in the index.  International labour law may inhabit a different discipline in academia but with Australian law firms increasingly expanding into the Asian and Middle East regions, even in relation to the Pacific, more on the ILO obligations, standards and human rights would have been welcome.

But if I am disappointed in the OHS quotient, how come I described the book as “fabulous” above?  This book shows the amount of effort and thought that has gone in to its creation.  The book has been written in a period of rapid change in industrial relations in Australia.  In a short period of time Australia’s labour law structures have gone from a rigid awards system to WorkChoices, to WorkChoices Lite and now an era of Fair Work.  Whether this is progressive or circular depends a little on one’s politics.  But good books on industrial relations minimise the politics and focus on the law.  Labour Law does this very well.

Being a 5th edition usually allows for an update of existing information with a lot of content already written.  The IR flux seems to have not allowed for this time-saving process and much is new, as it needed to be.  The 5th edition is almost twice the size of its predecessor.

Its size is one of its greatest achievements.  Throughout the text are extracts and cases, many over several pages.  Some of these extracts are from publications that have been difficult to access in their original and so, although the book is cumbersome and heavy, it is authoritative.  The extracts are not limited to LexisNexis-Butterworth tomes but draw on information from a broad range of journals and publications.  This is a substantial achievement for the authors and a great boon for the student readership.  The text-book price of over $A160 could easily be justified through the extracts and referencing.

There must have been a temptation to follow other legal publishers who provide a thinner book but one supported by an online library.  Many academics say that their students do not read books and urge greater online content.  The dual model is still being refined in Australia and it would be surprising if a company like LexisNexis, with such a strong international online presence, would not consider the dual model.

I am not in a position to say this is a definitive labour law book as I inhabit a small section of this vast discipline and I have only had the book for a short while.  Labour Law seems to be ideal for its intended audience and it lifts the bar in some areas.  We will need to wait for that elusive OHS textbook.

Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones regularly receives review copies from Federation Press and CCH Australia.  LexisNexis provided a review copy of Labour Law.

Kevin works part-time in the news and business division of LexisNexis Australia, a division that does not involve publishing.

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories book, law, lawyers, OHS, research, safety, UncategorizedTags , , ,

5 thoughts on “Is OHS part of Labour Law?”

  1. Kevin

    Thanks for your feedback about the new publication and for the discussion point around OHS and Labour Law.

    We\’re listening to what you\’re saying and will take your views and other people\’s comments on board for future publications.

    If you want to look me up in the office I\’d be happy to discuss this further.



    LexisNexis Online Community Manager

  2. Kevin, while I appreciate there is a common theme between labour law and workplace safety law, I really think that it is essential that emphasis on Safety Law is our concern and should be our entire focus in the provision of safe working environments.

    Our concentration as professed professionals should always be to have OHSW law as the overriding law taking precedent in terms of obligation and penalty to all other laws relating to worker safety.

    I evidence the Basic Fatigue Management Certification and rules for heavy transport drivers, which in effect, can allow employers to place drivers and other road users at unacceptable risk – in this type of case, OHSW law must prevail if risk is identified – Harmonisation has a very very long way to go.

    1. Tony

      I support an integrated approach to the application of all relevant laws and obligations in workplaces. I have seen, and been involved with, battles where Quality is more \”important\” than Safety, Risk is more important than Safety, and then Environment jumps in to gain attention. Integrating all of these (sometimes) competing elements into an effective management system is, I think, the only way that a business can progress successfully.

      I do believe that safety of workers should be the first concern of any business but I also realise that my belief is not always shared.

      I also think that too many safety professionals mix up safety law with safety management and I have been guilty of this in the past. Safety law is the basis for safety management but it is certainly not the only consideration in achieving a safe workplace. Industrial issues, operational issues, environmental matters from the local community and many other matters all affect how safety is managed in a workplace. The challenge for the safety professional is to juggle all of these issues into a workable process for their employer or client.

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