Exclusive interview with independent WHS reviewer, Marie Boland

SafetyAtWorkBlog had the opportunity to interview Marie Boland earlier this week after the release of her review into Australia’s Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. Below is an edited version of that interview.

Marie, thanks for talking to me, it’s a terrific report you’ve produced. What was it like to undertake a national investigation of this type, given that it was pretty much you and just a couple of others?

…It was quite daunting at the beginning, but as I said in the introduction and nothing kind of clichéd about it, it was very much a privilege to be able to do it.  And the privilege was enhanced by having the opportunity to go travel all around Australia, and some places I’ve never been before like Tamworth and what it really brought home to me was the diversity of people, workplaces, geography and that these laws are covering and the diversity of people who are dealing with the laws on a daily basis.  So, it was certainly a once in a lifetime experience for me I suppose, and maybe a point in history for the laws as well.

I was very much aware throughout the process of my privilege and being able to do it and also the waves of expectation I suppose and this being the first review of the national laws and also very much aware of all the work that went into creating the laws in the first place.  And certainly, a lot of the people who put so much effort into that work were still obviously very keen on how they were being applied and as I said I was very conscious of respecting all of that as I went around the country.

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Another generation of safety thinking

Several years ago I attended an occupational health and safety (OHS) conference at which Cristian Sylvestre was speaking. He was in one of the secondary rooms, it was packed with conference delegates and he was talking about neuroscience and its potential to affect safety. In 2017 he self-published a book called “Third Generation Safety: The Missing Piece“.

OHS has a lot of people talking about new approaches to address the plateauing of safety performance. We are pushed to reassess how we got here and how we look at OHS – Safety II, psychology of risk and others, or we need to have OHS fit with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Sylvestre advocates a third generation of safety. This is his take on the previous two generations and how we should progress in the future.

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New film provides an update on legal action over the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire

An independently-produced documentary, Our Power, about the Hazelwood mine fire had its Victorian premiere on March 2 2019. The Hazelwood coal mine fire was a major workplace disaster than generated substantial public health damage in the neighbour communities in the Latrobe Valley. An early record of the event and its impacts can be found in Tom Doig‘s book The Coal Face.

The documentary provides unique vision of the fire and how it burned and polluted the neighbourhood for over a month in 2014. As time goes on, the fire is seen more as an environmental disaster as it is workplace incident and speakers in Our Power are certainly confident in linking the fire with the privatisation of State-owned assets and the social injustice that underpins neoliberalism.

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Workplace sexual harassment inquiry releases more submissions

The National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces has released another block of public submissions. many of them involve examples of horrible harassment and psychological harm, but several offer research, suggestions for improvement and, a little bit of, prevention.

Those making the recently released submissions seem to be realising that the inquiry’s terms of reference focuses on Australian workplaces.

Non-disclosure agreements and communication barriers

One submission is from Professor Judith Bessant, AM, of RMIT University (Submission 188) in which she addresses the application of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). NDAs have been in the press lately as some of those who experienced sexual harassment were unable to make submissions to this Inquiry without contravening the NDA they had with their employer. Professor Bessant asserts that

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