Motivation needed from Prime Minister on OHS laws

In July 2010, Prime Minister Julia Gillard mentioned OHS harmonisation in an election debate.  She said that OHS harmonisation was one of her achievements but less than two years later, at the Australian Council of Trade Union (ACTU) Congress, there is no mention of harmonisation in her speech.  The only mention of safety was in terms of truck drivers:

“And we’ve moved to protect the rights of cleaners.  We’ve moved to improve the laws for outworkers. We’ve moved so that a truck-driving cabin being a workplace […] can be a safer workplace, so that truck driver gets back home that evening.”

The Prime Minister audience was trade unionists and perhaps they need motivation and support and acknowledgement for their efforts in difficult economic and political times but there is a big move from harmonising the OHS laws across a country to determining a truck cabin as a workplace (which it has been for decades in some States).

The 2012 ACTU Congress included industrial manslaughter on its agenda.  Its OHS and Rehabilitation policy stated:

“Congress  affirms  that  industrial  manslaughter  should  be  an  offence  under occupational health and safety legislation or other legislation as most appropriate. The elements of the offence should be:  A worker dies in the course of employment or  at a place of work or is injured or contracts a disease, injury or illness in the course of employment and later dies;  The  conduct  (by  way  of  act  or  omission)  of  a  person  caused  the  death,  injury  or illness; and  The person was reckless or negligent about causing serious harm or death to the worker.”

Industrial manslaughter seems a poisoned political concept but it remains a potential motivator in Australia even though it is a reality in the UK.  Without motivation from the Prime Minister, other issues will fill the void.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

5 thoughts on “Motivation needed from Prime Minister on OHS laws”

  1. In the United Kingdom we have the Corperate Manslaughter Act. This means those at the top, are accountable for failures to protect not only the employees but members of the public.
    Network Rail, were recently fined 1 million pounds sterling, for failing to upgrade a level crossing, to AFARP. A risk assessment conducted in 2001, was not acted on, in 2005 two youngster were killed by an express train, identical situation as at Bentliegh Station. The risk assessment reconmmended an automatic lockable pedestrian safety gate and second train coming sign to be erected.Why did Terry Spicer, manager for level crossing safety Department of Transport Victoria, spend millions of dollars, alledgedly researching this locking system for Benliegh and other stations here in Victoria, when there was a system available in the UK, a Mykie moment perhaps.

  2. Kevin
    I dont believe anything changed in practical terms for truck drivers either ,certainly there was not any consultation with the reps.there is more preoccupation with larger trucks and drivers than the industry as a whole ,e.g no maximum hours for medium rigid drivers ,and why arent the large companies that put pressure on trucking firms to break the law with ridiculous deadlines held accountable .There has certainly been some manslaughter on our roads.
    ex twu rep

  3. It would seem enforcement of OHSW legislation is a poisoned concept, so why would we think that another nasty in the legislation would get any further attention.

    The union movement are seriously missing in action at the coal face of OHSW. You only have to look at Sydney newspapers today to see how their government is seeking to heap the gross mismanagement of Workcover in that state on workers injured through employer failure to comply with basic legislated safety requirements.

    Injured workers are being seriously short changed through a large escalation of costs of managing claims as a result of privatization and appalling investment performance. This seems to be mirrored in other states as well.

    I think accountability needs to kept a lot closer to the political masters to ensure they have the blow torch of regular performance appraisal focused on them, not the injured workers who in the overwhelming majority of cases are injured through no fault of their own and would seek to recover as completely and quickly as possible. A statutory authority with highly trained case managers with long term career prospects is the only way to go. Direct responsibility to the Parliament via a minister and a permanent parliamentary committee exclusively for Injury prevention and workers compensation with clear performance guidelines to be met, maintained and reported back to parliament at least every half year might just achieve something.

  4. Kevin

    Perhaps you would care to expand somewhat more on why industrial manslaughter as an offence under legislation is a “poisoned political concept”

    Many thanks in anticipation

    1. I have been trying for some time to determine the status of the Industrial Manslaughter laws in the Australian Capital Territory under the new Work Health and Safety legislative regime but without success. I believe it remains on the ACT statute books.

      The Industrial Manslaughter discussion almost ten years ago increased the awareness of OHS in the senior executive ranks but as the outrage similarly increased from that sector, the Industrial Manslaughter policies began falling off the agendas of the various Australian Labor Party platforms. The Liberal Party of Australia has never been in favour of this type of law.

      The Australian Greens continue to have this as a policy platform but with little opportunity for advocacy.

      The current political structure of Australia and its States is not the appropriate configuration in which to raise the matter of Industrial Manslaughter. If the OHS harmonisation strategy had been implemented as initially intended, the situation would have been different, but that is not the case. Currently, the business lobbyists are in the ascendancy on a range of corporate accountability issues, most unrelated to OHS due diligence and compliance.

      The opportune time to re-discuss the concept is when the political Left is again dominant at State level. There needs to be more evidence that such laws, particularly as they apply in the United Kingdom, prevent injuries and incidents and that they can be effectively applied to senior executives of large corporations. At the moment the recipients of Industrial Manslaughter penalties are small to medium-sized enterprises.

      I think that the next few years will see the development of a caseload of prosecutions that will clarify the application of As Far As Is Reasonably Practicable (AFAIRP). I expect that many of these judgements will identify a perceived lack of justice by the relatives of those workers who have died at work. I suggest that these judgements will increase the call for Industrial Manslaughter laws as compensation for inadequate penalties, as has occurred repeatedly in Australian and the United Kingdom. The difference this time is the fluffy compliance that AFAIRP generates and that judges will need to clarify. Judges’ understanding of OHS law and safety management has been questioned in the past in Victoria and will increasingly occur under the application of AFAIRP.

      That is why I believe that mainstream political parties will not advocate for Industrial Manslaughter laws in the near future in Australia.

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