HR and Legal have failed to address sexual harassment. Could OHS do better?

2019 is likely to be the year when the deficiencies and advantages of the occupational health and safety (OHS) approach to the prevention and management of the psychological harm produced by work-related sexual harassment will contrast (clash?) with the approach used by the Human Resources (HR) profession.  For many, many years OHS has failed to implement the control measures that the available research and guidance recommended.  For the same length of time, HR has largely focused on addressing the organisational consequences of accusations of sexual harassment displaying a preference for legal action or to move the accuser out of the organisation.

These approaches persist but there is some hope that recognition of each others’ role and purpose can bridge the ideological demarcations.  Australia’s inquiries into work- and non-work-related harassment have the potential to change the way psychological harm is seen, managed and, maybe, prevented.

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Step into the light, be proud, be an institutional value adder

All Australian businesses are experiencing disruption.  Some are embracing this as Change, but not enough. As occupational health and safety (OHS) is an unavoidable part of running a business, it is being similarly disrupted. So what can one do?  I chose to read a short book called “On Disruption”. I purchased it because of the title and I had recently shared the media room at the ALP National Conference with the author, Katherine Murphy.  That the book wasn’t about OHS but about the disruption experienced by journalism, newspaper publishing and mainstream media, didn’t bother me as, being a blogger, it should still be of interest either way.

And it was.  But what was surprising were the parallels between journalism and OHS.  I shouldn’t have been surprised as both are, or claim to be, professions.

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Addressing the invisible causes of visible harm

The trade union movement was instrumental in showing that workplace bullying was a pervasive problem in Australian workplaces.  Many Codes of Practice and guidances for workplace bullying and occupational violence were written shortly after the action by the Australian Council of Trade Unions almost two decades ago.  But, for some reason, although sexual harassment was mentioned in those early documents, it never received the attention in occupational health and safety (OHS) circles that, in hindsight, it should have.

Perhaps a more sustainable and effective strategy would be to focus on the “harassment” rather than the “sexual”, or in

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“Put them in jail!” – Industrial Manslaughter laws are not that simple

Christy Cain at ALP National Conference

Several people were surprised when Industrial Manslaughter laws popped up on the agenda on Day 3 of the National Conference of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) this week.  To ALP members from Western Australia and the Construction Forestry Mining Maritime and Energy Union, Christy Cain and Thomas French put a resolution on the issue to the Conference, which the delegates endorsed.

Most of the media who mentioned this resolution, and it was not many, focused on Cain’s urging of the delegates to

“Kill a worker, go to jail”.

Even though getting the audience to chant was colourful,  and the minute’s silence important, the discussion around Industrial Manslaughter laws was more nuanced.

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OHS is often about broken promises

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is often about promises.  Employees trust their bosses to provide them with a job and the employer promises to provide a workplace that is as safe as possible.  There are also contractual policies which formalise OHS relationships between client and contractor.  But OHS is more often about those more personal promises and expectations between the boss and the worker.

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