Australian IR Minister mentions international OHS conventions action

Chris Evans, the Australian Minister for Workplace Relations issued a media statement on 28 April 2011 concerning the World Day for Safety and Health at Work.  As well as some generalities about OHS harmonisation and government commitment, he said

“The Australian Government is also in the process of ratifying the ILO Asbestos Convention 1986 (convention 162) and the ILO Protocol of 2002 to the Occupational Health and Safety Convention 1981 (Protocol 155).

These ILO instruments will give Australians a world class OHS regime, by entrenching best practice in protecting our community from the harmful effects of asbestos and enhancing data collection and publication to support policy making and research.

“Australia has long been a member and supporter of the ILO in its efforts to promote safe work environments and raise the quality of labour and social standards throughout the world,” said Senator Evans.” [links added]

This seems a positive move but it is significant that no deadline for ratification is identified by Minister Evans.  There are also a couple of obvious limitations or problems with these conventions and protocols.

The Asbestos convention (162) states its application as being

“… to all activities involving exposure of workers to asbestos in the course of work.”

This is too limiting since the prevalence of asbestos is no longer only an occupational health hazard but is established as a public health issue.  That asbestos hazards have extended well beyond the factory walls and mine site fences is clear from the investigations of Matt Peacock, and others, over several decades.

The definitions in Protocol 155 are seriously out of step with those being applied in OHS law in Australia.  For instance:

“(a) the term occupational accident covers an occurrence arising out of, or in the course of, work which results in fatal or non-fatal injury;

(b) the term occupational disease covers any disease contracted as a result of an exposure to risk factors arising from work activity;

(c) the term dangerous occurrence covers a readily identifiable event as defined under national laws and regulations, with potential to cause an injury or disease to persons at work or to the public;…”

Of other significance is the next definition dealing with travelling to work:

“(d) the term commuting accident covers an accident resulting in death or personal injury occurring on the direct way between the place of work and:

(i) the worker’s principal or secondary residence; or

(ii) the place where the worker usually takes a meal; or

(iii) the place where the worker usually receives his or her remuneration.”

Coverage of incidents involved in commuting to work varies considerably through the Australian State legislature.  An OHS Policy of the University of South Australia summarises the issue well:

“Work Related Journey Accidents

Normal travel between work and home is not covered by workers compensation unless the employee can demonstrate ‘a real and substantial connection between the employment and the accident’. The fact that an employee has an accident whilst travelling to or from work is not in itself a sufficient connection.”

Shine Lawyers advise that

“In most cases, WorkCover does not apply when travelling to and from home and work. If you are not covered by WorkCover and your injury involves a motor vehicle or public transport accident you may be entitled to Transport Accident Compensation (TAC) benefits or able to pursue a claim for damages.”

There was considerable argument in Australian OHS and insurance sectors when the work-related journey accident coverage was removed and it is highly unlikely that insurance industry or employer lobbyists would allow its reintroduction.

There is no doubt that the Australian Government has sufficient nous to iron out any anomalies between these international conventions and local laws but it already has a lot of OHS action on its agenda through the OHS harmonisation process and the application of a similar process to workers’ compensation.  It is reas0nable to suggest that the mention of the conventions in the Minister’s media statement were more an attempt to add weight to a standard reiteration of OHS commitments and that the lack of even a rough timeline in the statement was intentional.

Kevin Jones

6 thoughts on “Australian IR Minister mentions international OHS conventions action”

  1. With the amount of deaths asbestos causes, i would think that the goverment would be taking the issue of asbestos removal alot more seriously, the number of people killed on the roads is very small compared to deaths from asbestos.
    I suppose it\’s all right though, at least asbestos usually kills old retired folks, government doesn\’t pay pensions to dead people.

  2. I work with asbestos in Perth. You would be lucky to get people to follow the existing safety practices reguarding asbsestos removal, let alone get them to obey best practice asbestos removal procedures.
    People who write this stuff up sit in offices.

    1. Thanks for your opinion. Is there an asbestos removal guidance that you believe is the best and most appropriate, or is there something other than written guidances that can establish safe work practices across the industry?

  3. In labor\’s haste to impose a one size fits all law they have neglected to take into the account the impacts on small and medium business. Its one thing to impose them on multi-million dollar companies with the resources and capital to comply. But big business is not the backbone of this economy. I think the \”workers\” party has forgotten what they stand for.

    1. I think it is important to remember that the harmonisation process was instigated by the conservative Howard Government but do acknowledge that the implementation of the process has been largely undertaken by the Labor Government.

      A major deficiency on many of the model OHS laws and codes has been the issue of safety management in small businesses but this has been a major concern for OHS regulators for many years. Some have floated a two-tier structure of OHS laws and enforcement to address this problem but the concept never got seriously considered.

      I think it is significant that a major small business association, the Council of Small Businesses of Australia failed to lodge its own submission to Safe Work Australia during the recent consultation process. There is no submission listed on the SWA website and COSBOA\’s own website lists its last government submission as one concerning plain packaging. COSBOA\’s home page list its latest campaign as one addressing carbon tax impacts. My comments may say more about the politics of COSBOA than small business but government pays close attention to the actions and opinions of, supposedly, representative bodies, associations and lobbyists. OHS does not seem to be on the agenda of COSBOA regardless of the possible concerns of its members. Should the government be criticised if even a small business association could not be bothered to be engaged in the OHS reform process?

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