Australia’s final report of OHS Model Law Review released

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The final report of the review into Model OHS Law in Australia has been released.  As usual Deacons law firm is the first to provide an analysis of the major recommendations of the report.

Over the next week there will be a flurry of activity from, particularly, the labour law firms but the rush is unnecessary.  The timetable for when change becomes a reality is well over 12 months away and the global financial crisis has thrown political timetables to the winds. 

The timetable for Australia’s emissions trading scheme are becoming vague, state elections are perhaps being brought forward, where they can, and, most importantly, the business sector will be protesting long and hard on any regulation that may increase their costs.  If ever there was a time for safety professionals and associations to be campaigning on the truth that safety decreases operating costs in the long term, that time is now.

Judge leaders by how they react in a crisis not in the easy times.

New evidence of the risks of using glyphosate

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RoundUp and other glyphosate products are herbicides used domestically and commercially.  New evidence supports the calls by the Institute of Science in Society for a ban on the use of these products. 

Scientists pinpoint how very low concentrations of the herbicide and other chemicals in Roundup formulations kill human cells, strengthening the case for phasing them out, and banning all further releases of Roundup-tolerant GM crops

Research that shows an alternate perspective is available through Monsanto’s website.

This type of opinion or science war makes it very difficult for safety professionals to determine appropriate control measures when the evidence fluctuates however, as ever, protect to the lowest common denominator and eliminate the hazard wherever possible.

Chronic disease report

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The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has released a report on the labour force effects of chronic illnesses.  The report, Chronic disease and participation in work,

shows that chronic diseases are associated with more days off work and/or being out of the workforce, and some of the biggest culprits are depression, arthritis and asthma.

The report focuses on chronic illnesses rather the workplace impacts of the illnesses themselves but there is information that is relevant to how we manage our employees and psychosocial hazards.  For instance the report says

Arthritis, asthma and depression were associated with 76% of the total loss due to days away from work (29% associated with depression, 24% with arthritis and 23% with asthma).

For people participating full-time in the labour force, there was a loss of approximately 367,000 person-years associated with chronic disease, approximately 57,000 person-years in absenteeism associated with chronic disease and 113,000 person-years were lost due to death from chronic disease.

The report acknowledges that any estimates of loss are underestimated and also provides very useful data on chronic diseases and absenteeism

Loss due to absenteeism from full-time and part-time employment was calculated as the difference between the number of days off work for people with chronic disease, and the number expected if age and sex-specific rates of absenteeism among people without chronic disease applied.

The loss from absenteeism associated with chronic disease was approximately 500,000 days per fortnight. This was equivalent to approximately 13.2 million days per year or 57,000 person-years of full-time participation (assuming 48 working weeks of 5 days duration with 10 public holidays per year).

About two-thirds of this cost was carried by males, and people aged 35-44 and 45-54 years accounted for the majority (75%) of lost days.

Analysis of absenteeism by specific chronic disease showed that depression, arthritis and asthma were associated with around 76% of days away from work.

Australia’s OHS Law Review

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Last week, the release of the final report of Australia’s review into National Model OHS Law was touted by many as immediately after the meeting of the Workplace Relations Ministers Council (WRMC).  This occurred with the first report in 2008.  WRMC met in a teleconference yesterday.  When the report is released officially (rumours are that the report is already doing the rounds of the unions and the employer associations), SafetyAtWorkBlog will provide a link to the report and some initial commentary.

However, as reported yesterday, the Australian Financial Review obtained a copy of the report and highlighted several issues of interest.  The AFR report held no great surprise for safety professionals but the union movement is going to be ideologically tested.

Early in the review process, the New South Wales union movement was very vocal about the risk of losing their right to initiate prosecutions over OHS breaches.  The right was rarely applied and could be a very costly exercise.  Since that time there has been silence from that quarter, perhaps because they realised that its contentious right was out-of-step with the rest of the country and the review process is all about legislative harmonisation.

According to media reports this week, the Review Panel’s final report recommends the omission of the right to prosecute but allows an option to instigate prosecutions through the OHS regulators.  In effect it keeps the power where it is most cost-effective and through which a similar outcome could be achieved.  It gives the unions a seat at the table, just not the same seat but still with a comfy cushion.

Prior to the WRMC meeting,  Sharan Burrows issued a media statement on several matters, the source of the ACTU quotes in today’s AFR article, in which she said

Media reports also suggest that the Ministers will tonight discuss the final report of the National Review of OHS Laws.

“It is vital that the national, harmonised health and safety laws are based on the highest possible standards.  This should include providing workers with the right, through their unions, to initiate prosecutions against employers when there are serious health and safety breaches.

“In the past, union prosecutions have been few in number but have secured important improvements for employees who work in potentially dangerous situations.  We also need a truly tripartite, well resourced national workplace health and safety watchdog that is able to set, monitor and upgrade health and safety standards,” said Ms Burrow.

It seems that Ms Burrows may, pragmatically, welcome the cushion.

Also, the union movement would be well aware of the potential boost to the revenues of OHS training providers, a status many unions and union bodies enjoy.  A national five-day training course for Health & Safety Representatives could be financially useful.  Also the courses have always been a very good recruiting opportunity.

Kevin Jones

 

Sharan Burrows speaking at the 2008 Workers' Memorial in Melbourne
Sharan Burrows speaking at the 2008 Workers' Memorial in Melbourne