Submission to the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces

Australian research into
occupational health and safety (OHS) is a lot less than research into other
areas of business and management, especially in relation to the psychological
wellbeing of workers at all levels of the corporate structure.  As such, it has become common for experts,
advocates and researchers from the social, non-work, public health areas to
overlay general and broad research findings on to workplaces – they are, in
effect, filling a vacuum.  But just
because the OHS research into psychological harm is thin or immature does not
mean that work does not have its own characteristics.

Over many years OHS has
produced research and guidelines that include the psychological effect of
sexual harassment, but it has been ineffectual or ignored for may reasons.  This submission is an attempt to illustrate
the potential already in existence
in Australia that could be used to prevent sexual harassment-related
psychological harm.

This submission has
drawn almost exclusively on Australian-based documentation and research to
better satisfy the title and aim of this Inquiry.  This is not saying that actions and data from
overseas are not relevant: there is some excellent information on the matter
from the European Union[1],
for instance. But quite often people seem to look overseas for evidence and
solutions when Australia already has good research and advice, if one looks.

Summary of key points

  • Sexual
    harassment often results in psychological harm to workers, and employers and
    PCBUs already have a legislative obligation under OHS/WHS law to eliminate
    (prevent) risks to health and safety, including psychological risks.
  • By
    accepting that sexual harassment is a form of workplace violence, new
    prevention options may be available.
  • Australia
    has a range of general and specific guidance on the systematic prevention of
    the psychological harm generated by sexual harassment, produced by Federal and
    State or Territorial health and safety regulators.
  • Prevention
    of sexual harassment may be extremely disruptive to workplaces even though it remains
    the most effective control measure.
  • Any
    strategy to prevent sexual harassment must have a multidisciplinary and
    cross-agency approach.
  • Independent
    assessment of sexual harassment risks can be determined to internationally-recognised
    Standards

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