Most-read OHS articles in 2019

This past week most media have been reflecting on the last twelve months or the decade. There are two ways of applying this practice to the SafetyAtWorkBlog – statistics and most-read. Let’s look at statistics first.

This year the SafetyAtWorkBlog posted 225 articles, not including this one, with an average word count of 1,030 words – the equivalent of a 230,000 word book on occupational health and safety (OHS). For those Annual subscribers that equates to just over $1.00 per article which I think is a pretty good return.

The production rate of 225 articles seems to have been consistent as the blog contains 2,722 articles and is coming into its twelfth year of operation.

The most read articles for 2019, written that year are below.

Vale Allison Milner – a short personal note on the passing of one of Australia’s most important researchers into suicide, mental health and the OHS and gender contexts. Allison’s research continues to appear in journals throughout 2019. This article also lead many readers to other articles about Allison and her research.

“They did not know what to say, so they stop saying anything at all”Industrial Manslaughter laws dominated the OHS discussion in 2019, in Victoria especially. This article from July contained a deeply personal response from Jan Carrick, a woman whose son, Anthony, died at work in 1998 and helped spark the first round of Industrial Manslaughter laws that only just missed out being implemented a few years later. It is impossible to know how that attempt would have affected business leaders’ management of OHS.

Hopkins challenges safety culture advocates to look at structure – The third most read article was a review of Andrew Hopkins‘ latest book. Hopkins has had an enormous influence on Australian executives’ understanding of culture and their own accountability. In this book Hopkins redressed “safety culture” by emphasising the importance of structure, an element missing from most of the recent approaches. He previous works often revealed new perspectives on organisational culture but this book challenged the way businesses were structured and operated and was, in some ways, confronting.

OHS inaction is “a complete disgrace” – Journalist Matt Peacock smacked down Australia’s OHS profession and regulators in a May 2019 speech. Peacock has reported on asbestos since the early 1970s and, more recently, on Black Lung. He called on people to speak out about OHS risks and even leak information to the media if they have to.

New OHS infringement notices for WorkSafe Victoria, according to Budget Papers – SafetyAtWorkBlog looked closely at the Victorian Budget Papers in May 2019 revealing WorkSafe was allowed new infringement notices and that business is effectively paying a tax through its workers’ compensation premiums. The lack of outrage on the latter point from business groups is remarkable given their objections on other taxation matters. Perhaps this is a consequence of the dominance of the Industrial Manslaughter discussion.

“no one wants to call out the real issue” says Tooma – OHS in Australia has been starved of well-informed opinions and Michael Tooma is certainly opinionated. His influence and profile has increased remarkably over the last decade. As a prominent lawyer, Tooma has the ear of senior executives in a way that no OHS professional can match. In his August 2019 presentation he got to the nub of accountability for workplace health and safety when discussing his conversations with executives:

“So, they give me this “I shouldn’t be going to jail for killing people”. Yeah absolutely, you tell the parent of the child whom you killed that you shouldn’t go to jail and then let’s have that conversation, but we don’t talk like that, we say oh no they haven’t killed them, the system killed them. No. No. No. You didn’t provide a proper system. You didn’t provide a safe working environment, you killed them alright …”

Subscribers should already know the major perspectives on OHS in the SafetyAtWorkBlog but there is one that will continue to be voiced in 2019 – Prevention of Harm. This fundamental OHS principle is enshrined on laws but is rarely pursued to the extent it should be and that is expected by the community. It is behind every time this is asked “Why did my child have to die?”. Bereaved relatives couch this question often in a desire to stop other families suffering the same anguish but the network of factors that led to a relative’s death still struggles to be identified. Many official investigations have a specific point in which their purpose has concluded, frequently this point offers little comfort and few clear answers.

In reflection of Michael Tooma’s words, we still do not understand the “system” in which we work, in which managers make decisions and in which our relatives die. The OHS profession, regulators and investigators have established their own boundaries at which questions stop. SafetyAtWorkBlog will try to expand those OHS boundaries and break them, if necessary, to show the influence of a network of sociopolitical factors. To truly prevent harm we must understand the system that allows, and sometimes excuses, the harm.

Kevin Jones

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