Occupational health and safety (OHS) needs to talk more about failure, in a similar way that other business processes are dissected and reported. But the challenge to this, and I think the main reasons failure is not discussed, is that OHS failures result in serious injuries, life-altering conditions and deaths. OHS shares something with the medical profession which “buries its mistakes”. There appears to be something shameful in talking about these failures in public, although the OHS profession is full of chatty anecdotes in private.
One of the ways for OHS to discuss these uncomfortable experiences is to focus on Harm rather than legalities and the chase for compliance.
The first paragraph in Derek Brookes‘ new book, “Beyond Harm“, seems to speak to the OHS profession:
The need to reduce Red Tape is getting another run in Australia through the lobbying of the Business Council 0f Australia and its CEO, Jennifer Westacott. “Red Tape” can be defined in many ways but it is often synonymous with government interference, of which occupational health and safety (OHS) regulation and enforcement is considered part.
In an interview with Laura Tchilinguirian on ABC News Radio on 16 September 2019 Westacott said that the community, which sounds mostly like business people:
One of the missed opportunities for improving occupational health and safety (OHS) over the last 30 years has been the application of corporate social responsibilities (CSR) to the supply chain and not to one’s own health and safety performance. CSR and OHS and social justice and decent work are all elements of the Venn Diagram of keeping people safe.
But this diagram exists in a world where economics dominates political decision-making and conflict results. Recently in Australia corporate leaders have spoken about various controversial social issues. Last week the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ben Morton advised companies to stop this advocacy and focus on the economic fundamentals of business. This week the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) released its Company Pulse survey results which shows that the community accepts that company executives can advocate for social issues.
The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) has released its submission (not yet online) to the Safe Work Australia’s (SWA) review of the Regulatory Impact Statement on the recommendations from the Boland review of the Model Work Health and Safety laws. It is comprehensive but contains little that is new. An interesting interpretation of the submission comes from considering how the MCA’s recommendations prevent harm, for prevention is the challenge.
Recently the State Secretary of the CFMEU Construction & General WA, Mike Buchan, wrote in Construction Weekly about the need for Industrial Manslaughter laws in Western Australia. There are several points made that deserve some assessment and clarification.
He starts by stating that current occupational health and safety (OHS) laws are inadequate. This may be the case, but as Nicole Rosie from WorkSafe NZ has, supposedly, said “you can’t regulate your way to safety”. What may be inadequate is people’s compliance with OHS laws, and there may be many reasons for this non-compliance – ignorance, illiteracy, lack of enforcement by government, complexity of laws and guidance, and/or a total disregard. According to Buchan, and the wider trade union movement, Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws are supposed to fix this inadequacy.
Buchan writes that
“The penalties that are handed down, even when a builder is found guilty of negligence, have been a disgrace in the face of the extraordinary loss of life and the suffering of families left behind.”