Blaming others after a cock-up

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has a long relationship with Blame. Blame has a long association with Responsibility. In the Australian Financial Review on January 19, 2022, Andrew Hill of the Financial Times wrote about both in relation to Novak Djokovic’s actions that led to his deportation.

Djokovic said that one of his administrative team completed his travel declaration incorrectly.

“…. my agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box.”

Hill states that regardless of who completes paperwork on your behalf, you are responsible for the document as it is your document that you are submitting. You are responsible for the document and ensuring that the document is correct.

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Why is the world “enthusiastic” for regulations?

Unsurprising from a global business magazine, The Economist’s special report on January 15 2002 (paywalled*) bemoaned the new “enthusiasm for regulation”. It clearly includes occupational health and safety (OHS) laws and Australia in its consideration but stops short of asking why this new enthusiasm exists.

Many regulations, especially in OHS, are proposed and introduced to address a wrong or misbehaviour or a new hazard. A major catalyst for Lord Robens‘ OHS laws in the 1970s stemmed from industrial deaths, especially those of the public. The pattern of deaths as a catalyst for change continues today with the Industrial Manslaughter laws, for instance. Another catalyst is new cultural sensitivities; what was tolerated previously is no longer acceptable.

The workplace bullying changes late last century in Australia is a good example, but this also ties in with unacceptable levels of harm. Bullying was often part of the initiation to work and seemed acceptable until workers were severely injured and traumatised, and people found out about it.

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Bad work “habits” are part of the problem

The headline immediately caught my attention:

“Five bad habits to dump before resuming work”

Australian Financial Review, January 4, 2022

Such is the power of the click-bait headline.

This article is aimed at middle managers and those working from home. It is in the Australian financial/business newspaper so articles about individual empowerment and entrepreneurship rather than structural change are expected. The article above is a classic example of the Australian Financial Review’s approach to workplace health and safety matters: a newspaper with significant influence on business leaders and executives but one that rarely quotes or approaches occupational health and safety (OHS) experts.

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The PM misses an opportunity for OHS leadership

Last week in Devonport, Tasmania, an inflatable jumping castle flew into the air injuring and killing several primary school-aged children.  Shortly after Prime Minister Scott Morrison conducted a press conference in conjunction with the Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein and others in which he spoke about the incident and its impact on the local community.  It is worth looking at the PM’s comments from an occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective.

Many readers will be aware that fatalities related to inflatable amusement devices becoming airborne are uncommon but not unknown, as the ABC article linked above shows.  Most Australian jurisdictions have issued OHS guidelines for amusement devices, including inflatable jumping castles. Here are links to two examples that illustrate the state of knowledge of the risk. This article makes no comment on the OHS circumstances of the Devonport incident.

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Increased OHS accountability sought

The political strategy of Ken Phillips of Self Employed Australia (formerly of the Independent Contractors of Australia) received a boost in The Age newspaper on December 12 2021, in an article headlined “Group to mount legal challenge to force prosecution of Premier over hotel quarantine disaster” online (paywalled) or “Business owners seek prosecution of Andrews over hotel quarantine” in the print version.

Phillips uses a section of Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act to make a political point about accountability. Previously, Phillips, his usual mainstream media contact Robert Gottliebsen, and others have called for Premier Daniel Andrews to be charged with Industrial Manslaughter (IM) over the deaths of over 800 people linked to a COVID-19 outbreak from the failure of Victoria’s hotel quarantine program. (The recent non-hotel outbreak is around 597 deaths)

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Some OHS approaches need the Industrial Relations touch

Several years ago, there was a proposal to produce a book of research linked to the work and themes of Professor Michael Quinlan. That book became “The Regulation and Management of Workplace Health and Safety“, and I recently obtained an affordable copy for my Summer break. (An excellent book review has been written by Eric Tucker on which this article is based)

There are many labour and industrial relations concepts in the book, many that I had to look up – pluralism, unitarism, politicalism. Read enough industrial relations (IR) research papers, and these terms might become second nature, but occupational health and safety (OHS) texts (what few there are of them) seem simpler and blander, generally avoiding the politics of work and therefore the politics of safety. Most of the recent OHS books seem to be dominated by Leadership and neuroscience *.

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Economic analysis = A+. OHS analysis = C.

Research analyses of the economics of modern work methods are important evidence for government policymaking, but occupational health and safety (OHS) costs are often omitted or overlooked. The recent report by The Australian Institute and its Centre for Future Work called “Working From Home, or Living at Work?” appears to be another example.

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