Australian PM mentions OHS harmonisation in election debate

On Sunday 25 July 2010, during the first debate of Australia’s election campaign, Prime Minister Julia Gillard used OHS harmonisation as an example of an achievement that she has been able to introduce that has benefited the Australian people.

The process is in a public hiatus at the moment that began before the election was called.  Much of the public discussion on harmonisation has concluded and now the stakeholders are developing drafts regulatiosn, codes and guidances behind the scenes in Canberra.

Prime Minister Gillard’s mention of OHS harmonisation should reassure that the government leaders have not forgotten that the process is occurring.  However it is highly unlikely that this issue resonates with the general public but, on this issue, that was not the audience.  Harmonisation was one of the few policy issues that is focussed on business concerns, business costs and has the wide support of the business community.  It does not involve taxes.  It does not (directly) involve industrial relations.  It does not rely on unions for implementation.

The fact that harmonisation has been mentioned in an election campaign debate is reassuring but nothing more than that.  It is an issue that could be used and that few would argue against because if one did, one would be arguing against the safety of people, at least in the understanding of the general public.

The mention is a footnote in the debate and is unlikely to get any mention in the press on Monday morning.  Indeed it is unlikely to get another mention in the election campaign, but it was, and we need to be content with that small win.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories campaign, Gillard, government, law, OHS, politics, safety, UncategorizedTags , , ,

12 thoughts on “Australian PM mentions OHS harmonisation in election debate”

  1. Rosemary,
    This is dealing with a delicate, and due to recent circumstances, A fast changing action proceedure, Its a situation!! Minimum advertising and a low profile are not the way to implement such a possible structral framework change.To gain desired results, rather than make this a drawn out buricratical prosses the people should know what the argument is!!! OHSW needs to be a two way street, its not that hard if it is implemented properly, by professional people with qualifications in the area. At present any goose with $1500.00 can get a cert IV qualification and have no clue what they are doing!! Most dont even understand what they are required to do!
    frustrated, contact for further opinion.

  2. Marian thank you for your response, the media has no interest in the reporting of OHSW, just like the media has no interest in reporting on WorkCover. It is only of interest to the people who inhabit the industrial relations world.

    I see every day the failures that have come from the direct lack of OHSW.
    I put \”Bags of Love\” emergency food hampers into the homes of injured workers.
    I attend the conferences where the guest speakers are highly paid to trot out the latest new concept.
    I stand at the funerals of those who have taken their lives via suicide.
    I attend the case conferences where case managers and rehab recite verbatum the rules and regulations and requirements of the legislation or the system modelling.
    I stand side by side with the injured and the grieving and I wonder just what it is going to take before the OHSW industry actually gets its collective head out of the clouds, stops coming up with bright shiny new concepts and starts to talk to the injured and the grieving families.
    Not all learning comes out of the universtity\’s that dot over the industry.
    The best learning comes from sitting on the floor with a nurse so injured that she can no longer sit on a chair or walk standing straight. It comes from talking to long-distance driver with a broken back, crushed hips and broken heart. It comes from talking to the teachers who want nothing more than to return to the class room, it comes from talking to the computer tec who can no longer climb ladders to pull cables through the cramped spaces. I could go on.

    Put the W back into OHSW as an industry, then you may see some changes.
    Welfare is vital in every person I work with, it Welfare had been vital in the workplace the outcome for injured and non-injured workers may be different.

  3. Rosemary,

    Please let me clarify that I\’m not talking about the communication of OHS at the workplace level but, specifically, the entirely different skill of generating mainstream media interest. If I understood it correctly, that was the subject of Kevin\’s post. And, yes, we certainly do need at least one strong spokesperson to do that.

    I\’m also not saying that OHS is bureacracy-gone-mad hoo-ha. That\’s what most Australians (journalists included) think and that\’s why we need to give it a greater media profile. To date, that has not been achieved, perhaps precisely because it requires a different approach.

  4. OHSW is far from technical gone-mad who-ha, it is what ensures that all of us no matter where we work are as safe as it is possible for each of us to be. We are safe because we understand that our safety and welfare is dependant on others around us also being safe and their welfare cared for.

    I do agree it is hard to get OHSW into mainstream media to focus any valuable time or space to the untouchable intangible aspects of workplace safety.
    Yet the media will scream from the highest building in regard to breeches of the OHSW process.

    Whilst Professor Fels did do a wondrous job in getting the ACCC into mainstream media, I do not agree that it takes \”1\” strong spokesperson to do the same for OHSW. It is my belief that it will take a team of people who are dedicated to ensuring that OHSW goes into the normal work day not end after the initial orientation/training.

    OHSW is not sexy, it is not a tangible, seeable, touchable item.
    OHSW is a way to be, it is a focus and a focal point.

    Lack of OHSW results in workplace injuries and workplace illness/disease and workplace suicides and workplace deaths.
    Lack of OHSW means that broken people come to me with the hope that some how I will have a magic wand to rebuild them to pre-injury status.

  5. Disclaimer to begin with: my business, Firefly Marketing, has often worked on the media communications for the SIA\’s conferences but aren\’t responsible for other SIA communication.

    It is very tough to get the mainstream media interested in OHS. Like much of the population, they consider it to be technical, bureacracy gone-mad stuff on one hand and just commonsense on the other. It\’s not inherently sexy.

    Having said that, it is possible. Firefly has arranged interviews on national radio for conference speakers on several occasions, garnered publication in the national mainstream press and even had an OHS client on TV.

    It is essential, as Debra says, to continually offer the media timely comment. It is also critical that the comment is relevant, clear and powerful. No jargon, no equivocation.

    Alan Fels did a terrific job of getting the ACCC in the news. The OHS profession has the potential to do the same but you do need a strong spokesperson.

  6. Kevin, I am going to agree, disagree and agree with you here.

    Agree – the Safety Institute of Australia promotes itself as the representative body for the OHS profession in Australia but I think I can safely bet you that you will not hear anything from them in the media tomorrow – maybe Friday this week a minimal response may be forthcoming but it will not make the news. A submission was made to the harmonisation consultation initially and their job is done.

    Disagree – graduate legitimacy – yes we had a great discussion on this and I think at the end of the day we agreed as much as we disagreed. We currently are at a cross roads for the profession – we have a large group of people who by today’s standards would not be considered to be professionals – they have decades of practical experience but not tertiary qualifications versus those who have tertiary qualifications but lack the decades of practical experience, those you describe as having the graduate legitimacy. We are a professional occupation – this is the time when both groups need to come together and communicate our \”importance and relevance to the community and the workers who are at most risk of death and injury\” and ill health.

    WorkCover Victoria has recognised that there is a need for OHS professionals to be involved in the duty of care process but federally and in the other states this has not happened. The first and foremost need is to recognise that for effective OHS management we need to involve OHS professionals. Then we need to accredit OHS professionals either on the basis of their years of validated experience or on their tertiary qualifications backed up by their experiences.

    AGREE – OHS academics publishing papers in safety journals is not enough – OHS academics and OHS professionals need to be more visible- we need to be writing letters to the editor, we need to be correcting the OHS misinformation that appears in the media everyday, we need to be in the social media – we need to be promoting what we know and understand – that is the way that we CAN prevent deaths, injuries and ill health in the workplace.

    My challenge to the OHS profession for this election campaign is why are we not doing it?

  7. OHSW should not be needed within a political debate in a pre-election campaign, OHSW is needed in the hearts and minds of every workplace and the people who attend the workplace should be able to know and feel OHSW as a tangible presence within themselves.
    OHSW is not a political football, it is ensuring that the youngest apprentice will go through his/her entire working life retire unscathed.
    OHSW is about knowing that when we leave for work we will return at the end of the working day.
    OHSW is about ensuring that everyone regardless of where they work or what they work at has the safest place to be and that the entire workforce is concerned about each other.

    Personally I do not care for politicians paying lip service to OHSW, what I care about is that the numbers of workers who are injured, made ill or die at work has not altered greatly.
    Here in South Australia there are still around 50,000 accepted workers compensation claims every year, -the key word is ACCEPTED- there would be many claims lodged but rejected and many more claims that should be lodged but for many reasons the claim is not made. There are still workers being made ill or diseased by toxic work places, and still far too many lives lost as the result of workplace incidents.

    It is my view [and I acknowledge that it is a personal view with no research to back up what I see every day] while the key letter/word remains out of the equation OHSW process then nothing will improve regardless of who it is that talks about it.
    The key letter/word is W for WELFARE.
    We all know that if a workplace is safe for me then it is safe for you.
    What we do not focus on is the need for me to accept that your welfare is my responsibility, if your welfare is the focal point then safety is assured.

    I fully expect the SIA to disagree with me, and that is their right, but I will continue to be concerned about the WELFARE of the workers who are injured and the WELFARE of the families of the deceased workers, because for me WELFARE is the key missing ingredient that even the person who wants to be Prime Minister has overlooked.

  8. Kevin, I am going to disagree with you here – we SHOULD NOT BE CONTENT with this small win.

    The Australian OHS profession is, and will continue to be, INVISIBLE unless we make ourselves visible. The Prime Minister has given us the opportunity to stand up and say that in spite of the harmonisation process for the legislation it will not achive the goal of improving workplace safety and health and reducing workplace injury and ill health (in all its myriad of forms) unless the legislation places a duty of care on employers to ensure they seek professional OHS advice.

    Sucessfully protecting workers against the health and safety hazards in workplaces is complex and multifaceted and legislation needs to recognise the role that OHS professionals who have university degrees andappropriate experience play in assisting business to meet their duty of care.

    As an OHS professional and OHS academic I think that this is the ideal opportunity for OHS professionals, the Safety Institute of Australia and those universities still committed to occupational health & safety education to make a stand, and request a larger win, regards Debra

    1. Debra

      I hope I am proved wrong and there is newspaper coverage of this in the morning.

      I think your point on invisibility is valid and I am glad you singled out the Safety Institute as a potential agent of change. It is indeed an opportunity for the SIA to take the initiative but it rarely does. The SIA phones should be running hot tonight in developing a media statement to capitalise on the opportunity of increasing its visibility by saying something substantial on OHS and its political context rather than automatically supporting the status quo.

      I dispute your pitch for graduate legitimacy and, I think, we have discussed the issue before in person. Respect and influence is earned in politics and the real world. The academic perspective on OHS is important and has validity but there is much more effort required to communicate its importance and relevance to the community and the workers who are at most risk of death and injury.

      Submitting papers to safety journals is not enough. OHS information, opinion and advice MUST be in the daily newspapers, on the TV and in the social media – the principle contemporary information sources of the community. Academics rarely include a communication strategy for their OHS research, nor does the SIA for that matter.

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