Radio National OHS program

On 21 September 2010, Radio Australia’s regular program Australia Talks conducted a live interview concerning occupational safety and health.

For those who have been listening to the show for some time would have been surprised that the program covered much of the same old OHS ground.  Similar statistics, similar questions of what are the most dangerous occupations, similar assumptions and the same misunderstanding that discussions about OHS law are the same as discussions on safety management.

However, for those new to OHS, the program may have provided an impression that the issue is serious but that, even with harmonisation, the issue is too complex to be applied in their own circumstances.

What was very surprising was that the program spent some time discussing Industrial Manslaughter legislation that, to my knowledge, is not being seriously considered by any States through the harmonisation process, a position mentioned in the program.  Such laws exist in the Australian Capital Territory but have never been used.

The case for the deterrent value of such laws seemed weak, regardless of what Geoff Fary of the ACTU said on the program.  In fact it was stated that the consideration of such laws would cause employer associations to walk away from any OHS discussions involving the concept.  It has become a matter of division in negotiations.

Such a talkback program will always attract callers who outline personal or particular grievances and need to be cut short by the host.  This is a shame but a necessity of the format.  What Radio National and other broadcasters fail to realise is that occupational health and safety is a combination of a many concepts and disciplines that cannot be dealt with in an hour or a couple of hours.

OHS deserves its own weekly radio program in Australia so that issues, like those listed below, and specific industry needs can be discussed, explained and understood.

Below is a brief list of OHS-related issues that I believe could be the basis for a series of radio broadcasts, in no particular order:

  • Infectious disease
  • Mental Health
  • Measuring OHS performance
  • Safety Culture
  • OHS Enforcement Policies and Limitations
  • OHS Law
  • Workplace suicide
  • The Social Costs of Workplace Injury
  • Can Capitalism allow OHS?
  • Bullying
  • Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Determining Compliance
  • Determining an Acceptable Level of Safety
  • The Profession of Safety
  • Where OHS is not relevant
  • OHS and Politics
  • Small Business Perceptions of OHS

Kevin Jones

5 thoughts on “Radio National OHS program”

  1. The contribution by AUSOHS mirrors my own thoughts and the comment is right on the money.

    As far as leadership is concerned, we are reliant on the \”gate keepers\” responsible for ensuring that law and regulation is adhered to. How well are they doing their respective jobs? That question has it\’s answer in the injuries reported statistics (there are also many unreported workplace injuries as well) and on those statistics measured over the last decade it would seem an F – would be about the correct mark.

    The emphasis at this time seems to be on claims cost containment rather than injury reduction the latter would have the greater economic impact yet it seems the \”aha\” moment continues to escape those responsible not only for injury reduction in the workplace but also the workers compensation arena as well. The two are inextricably linked.

    The putting together of an appropriate campaign should be the responsibility of the \”National Coordinating Bodies\” representing both injury prevention and workers compensation, their interests are identical. The one thing we must not do is trust the massive and ongoing awareness and responsibility program that will be needed to public and private bureaucrats, because they have been running the system for decades and we are where we are now.

    The matter of Long Distance truck driver fatigue is interesting. It is my understanding that OHWS law is paramount in the provision of a safe working environment and therefore overrides any other rules and regulations that may be in place via various Road Transport Legislation. I stand to be corrected if that it is not so. If I am correct, then there are a very large number of transport companies flouting the rules every day.

  2. I was thrilled that Australia Talks on ABC Radio National actually broached the subject of workplace safety. I\’ve been a regular listener for about eight years and this is the first time the subject has come up, to my knowledge.
    In that timeframe, Australia Talks has covered long distance truck driver fatigue at least twice – on neither occasion has there been any linking of this with workplace health and safety generally.
    The program was very disappointing in content. As the topic advertised centred around the new national model Work Safety Act which is to commence in each Australian jurisdiction on 1 January 2001, I would have liked to hear a half decent summary of the new provisions of the model Act, a comparison with current provisions (across jurisdictions of interest) and some analysis of the effects these might have.
    There was little discussion on why OHS legislation, enforcement and compliance activities, advisory services, and the activities of in-house safety officers, advisors, the efforts of external consultants is not bringing about the desired marked reduction in worker injuries, ilnesses and deaths.
    I was surprised that they got a business law academic to cover industrial manslaughter – which as was pointed out on the program, is pretty much a non-issue. They could have had a better lineup – the representative from the ACTU was the only one of the four speakers who sounded at ease with the medium of radio and who came across as knowing his stuff. But I doubted some of the statistics he presented.
    I was thinking much the same as you, that we need a regular, mainstream media outlet for safety and health information, discussion. But who would listen/watch? I suspect only those who are already involved in workplace safety in some capacity. What we need to do is embed the information, issues, into popular programs.
    So, in my fantasy, an episode of a popular drama like \”Packed to the Rafters\” could feature an embedded workplace safety issue, which could be turned over and drawn out by the each of the characters, examining it from various perspectives. The matter would then be picked up by the populist current affairs programs, ripples though the print media, is made a topic of the day by the talkback radio jocks, ends up on Q&A – and all this without getting hijacked or the informaton or message being subverted. Dream on.
    Out there in the world of work, there are those who \’get\’ workplace safety, and those who simply don\’t. Both cases are almost equally deprived of accessible information, which compromises their knowledge and understanding of workplace safety issues.
    With shallow, off message, stereotypical approaches as taken by this program, there is little likelihood that listeners will have a \’lightbulb moment\’.
    ANd yes, I do see it in these terms. Most people I know involved in improving workplace safety in some capacity (not all) have had a moment, or a process, where their fundamental attitude and approach to safety changed, to one of active engagement. How do we get increasing numbers of workers, supervisors, managers, directors to that \’aha\’ moment? The media, both traditonal and new media must be strategically deployed and exploited. But how? Who will put together the grand media campaign? Where will the resources come from?

  3. I am on record as not being a supporter of industrial manslaughter,the conversation needs to be had I will agree with that.

    For mine right now the only \”winners\” out of an industrial manslaughter claim would be the lawyers.

    Yes there would be case law set in place, only to be over turned by appeal after appeal. Then there would be another workplace death which would again complicate the first case law.
    And what of death due to a transport incident.
    Who would carry the brunt of that death, would it be the driver of the rig who agreed against his/her better judgement to go back onto the road without the legally required break, or would it be the yard supervisor who had stock that needed to be moved from one part of Australia to another, or would it be a tired car driver who fell asleep at the when swerving in front of the transport driver, or would it be the team who didn\’t ensure that the load didn\’t shift but a tie rope snapped, or would it be the head mechanic who thought that the tyres would do another 5,000kms, or would it be the Board members who run the company but have never set foot in the transport yard.

    If anyone wants to ensure that all is being done to protect the lives and well being of the workforce, then it is a simple shift of fine payment.
    Every family of a worker who has lost his/her life at work should have the maximum \”fine\” paid in full to them. Every minor dependant should have a Trust Account set in place with the business required to pay the full wage including superannuation into the Trust Account every year until the minor dependant reaches 18yrs of age.
    No plea bargaining should be allowed.

    When the bottom line of any business is impacted upon because of unsafe work, then and only then will we as an industry see a shift in the way workers are considered.

  4. Continuing discussion across the subject matters as listed is a good thing as it may educate those that are interested in learning more, however, we still have the very large majority of the populace that are not particularly interested until it stares them in the face with a workplace injury close to home.

    The professionals would have the opportunity of putting their particular view on OHS matters and maybe our law makers and others may see fit to introduce changes, or something new to the mix, in the hope it will reduce cost first and maybe injuries second. All a bit cynical I know but nevertheless and unfortunately true.

    The reality is, that if big brother is not watching then the chances are that OHS compliance will get lip service and we are where we are today with business small to large complicit to varying degrees.

    The one subject matter not listed that I would see as paramount is\”how do we get employers and employees to understand that they have an absolute duty of care and mutual responsibility in respect of OHS matters\”?

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