Industrial Manslaughter laws are spreading in Australia but are inconsistent

This year the South Australian Parliament will likely pass that State’s Industrial Manslaughter (IM) legislation as the introduction of these laws was an election commitment of the new Labor government. The consultation period on the draft Bill closes on February 10 2023 after being open for just over two months.

New South Wales may follow if the Labor Party wins the March 2023 election

Industrial Manslaughter laws under the broader occupational health and safety (OHS) continue to be contentious as a new research paper by Professor Richard Johnstone shows. However, the introduction of IM laws will forever be a political act at its core.

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Legal Professional Privilege is the OHS equivalent of the Non-Disclosure Agreement

Pam Gurner-Hall is no stranger to this blog. Recently she appeared in an article by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) about access to information from South Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) regulator, SafeWorkSA.

SafeWorkSA has been under considerable scrutiny for the last few years. A “root and branch” review conducted by John Merritt is the latest inquiry. [Note: this article was written before the release of the Merritt report and the Government’s interim response last weekend. More on that report shortly]

Gurner-Hall’s concerns seem more about the government’s response to the inquiry and the application of Legal Professional Privilege (LPP). She is quoted saying:

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Trucking inquiries scare the Conservatives

Australia’s newspapers have recently reported on the moves by the Federal Government to review the safety and working conditions of the country’s truck drivers. As expected, The Australian newspaper is painting this as the Government paying back its ideological and financial backers – the trade unions – and the resurrection of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT), even though the Government denies this will happen.

Occupational health and safety (OHS) sits behind some elements of the debate. As with most things OHS, it will not be a game-changer in a discussion over pay rates and minimum standards, but it is a serious consideration, and deservedly so.

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Don’t mention profit

The primacy of profit to employers is an accepted truth. However, the size of the profit and the pathway to those profits are not absolutes, and it is in this latter context that occupational health and safety (OHS) lives.

Even though profit is a business truth, it is often a word that business representatives seem to fear. They speak of profit through synonyms like “productivity” and “competitiveness”. An example of this timidity or wariness was displayed recently by prominent businessman Michael Angwin in an opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review (paywalled) that contained many other cautious words of business jargon. Angwin misses the harm to workers and others generated by the world as he sees it.

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Who’s to blame?

All occupational health and safety (OHS) advocates should be reading the work of Jordan Barab. His latest article on “blaming the workers” for their own incidents is a great example of his writing. The article also illustrates one of the things about OHS that really gets up the noses of employers – if we don’t blame the workers, we have to blame the employers. An Australian answer to the situation would be Yeah, Nah.

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Revisiting the sociology of work

I am always surprised how few people who talk about workplace and safety cultures seem not to have read the great sociologists of culture. Raymond Williams was important when I studied sociology and literature at university in the 1980s. I was reminded of his importance by this article in Catalyst.

As neoliberalism experiences a decline in influence on governments and corporations, it is useful to look at the sociology of culture from the pre-neoliberalism days, even if only dipping into my bookshelves. The Catalyst article opens with this:

“Raymond Williams hasn’t survived the cultural turn intact. Even though he was instrumental in foregrounding the significance of culture in human affairs, his materialist methodology and commitment to socialism jarred against the textualism and cultural relativism of the last three decades. The rise of neoliberalism had an effect as well. It undercut the values of cooperation and solidarity that were key to postwar radical intellectuals like Williams. But a Williams revival is finally underway.”

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C-Suite is disinterested in OHS

Consulting firm KPMG has released its annual survey report on the concerns of corporate executives called “Keeping us up at night – The big issues facing business leaders in 2023”. Occupational health and safety (OHS) fails to get a mention. (So much for the attitudinal impact of Industrial Manslaughter laws!) But then neither does “mental health” nor “sexual harassment“.

The KPMG report may accurately reflect executive priorities, but it may also reflect a denial of reality.

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