Dreamworld presents a story bigger than just an OHS failure

Late yesterday the Queensland Minister for Industrial Relations, Grace Grace, issued a media statement that clarified the work health and safety (WHS) prosecution process that is likely to apply to Ardent Leisure, the owner of Dreamworld. Significantly she clarified the Coroner’s Findings and the misinformation of some media outlets. Ardent Leisure has issued a statement in support of safety improvements.

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The media shows its ignorance on OHS in Dreamworld reports

Today, the Queensland Coroner, James McDougall, handed down his findings into the deaths of four people at Dreamworld in 2018. The findings show major breaches of Queensland’s work health and safety (WHS) laws so why is the mainstream media saying Ardent Leisure, the owner of Dreamworld, could be prosecuted under industrial relations laws?

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Accountability in all that we do

“The way we do things around here” is a rough explanation to what many people mean by culture and, especially, a workplace safety culture. A culture is built or strengthened through personal interaction, conversations, relationship and a shared responsibility. Part of this is an expectation that workers will look out for each (which is also a legislative obligation), and crucial to this is the concept of the “ethical bystander“.

But recently this concept was applied in a new way in an American Court when a woman, Lisa Ricchio, who was kept and sexually assaulted repeatedly in a hotel room, sued the hotel alleging that the hotel owners financially benefited from the crime.

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OHS and wage theft

Australia is several years into a scandal of underpayment of workers referred to, by some, as wage theft. Occupational health and safety (OHS) would not normally figure in a wages and industrial relations (IR) scandal but the scandal has a legitimate OHS context.

The previous, and ongoing, scandals are not going to be summarised in this article as there are plenty of articles elsewhere in lots of different media but there is a common thread in many of the scandals. Workers are not being paid for some of the time they spend at work, work that is commonly described as unpaid overtime. This unpaid overtime extends the working day, for a variety of reasons, and OHS may not accommodate these additional hours (as they are “not official”) or OHS may be “stretched”, or risks downplayed.

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Ethics, safety and fingertips

Last week the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) launched its Body of Knowledge Chapter on Ethics in Melbourne to a small group of occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals. Participants were asked to outline an ethical challenge they had faced as OHS professionals.

In that same week, WorkSafe Victoria issued a media release that showed a poor follow-through by a business on advice from an OHS professional.

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