Call for change on sexual harassment could use support from OHS

Discussion on the sexual harassment allegations against former High Court judge Dyson Heydon continue even though some Australian States’ media have returned to COVID19 clusters and football. On July 6, 2020, five hundred women in the legal profession published an open letter calling for

“… wider reforms to address the high incidence of sexual harassment, assault and misconduct in the legal profession”

The signatories call for an independent complaints body for the Australian judiciary and changes to the appointment of judges. What is missing is Prevention.

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We’ve got Industrial Manslaughter laws, now what?

So, Victoria now has Industrial Manslaughter laws. Now what? Within days of the activation of these laws a worker died at the Thales worksite in Bendigo. This location is covered by the Federal Work Health and Safety laws, but this has not stopped social media from mentioning Industrial Manslaughter. It seems now that every work-related death will be assessed through the IM lens. It may be that the threat of jail should always have been the starting point for occupational health and safety (OHS) penalties and investigations but initial responses to the IM laws have been mixed, and some seem to be more interested in what, in the past, has been a sideline to the IM discussion – deaths, in work vehicles, suicides and industrial illness.

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Lancing the boil of sexual harassment

The Australian Institute of Safety and Health’s online national conference offered some big topics this year. One of the most anticipated was the discussion of sexual harassment in the workplace. Luckily the panel discussion included big hitters such as Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins whose week was about to get a lot busier with the revelations of sexual harassment by Australia’s High Court Justice Dyson Heydon.

The Dyson Heydon sexual harassment accusations, which he emphatically denies, were revealed in an independent investigation for the High Court of Australia. The Justice Heydon case has generated copious media attention for many reasons including his prominence in a politically-charged Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. His sexual harassment offences are awful, but the most startling revelations are not necessarily about one man’s inappropriate actions. Here was an organisational, maybe even a professional, culture that permitted this behaviour to continue unchallenged for many many years. It is this context that, I believe, offers the most significant lessons for the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession and where OHS skills can help others.

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Exclusive Interview with Dr Tom Doig

SafetyAtWorkBlog had the chance to put some questions to Dr Tom Doig in early 2019 prior to the book’s release. Below is that exclusive interview.

SAWB: “Hazelwood” is predominantly a book that describes the social and environmental impacts of the Hazelwood. What, if any, overlap did workplace health and safety (WHS) and WorkSafe Victoria have in the fire’s aftermath?

TD: In the aftermath of the mine fire, a number of WHS issues have come to the fore. Firstly, in the 2014 Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry, a number of criticisms were made of Hazelwood’s regulatory framework, with a suggestion that there was a ‘regulatory gap’, as expressed by Mr Leonard Neist, Executive Director of the Health and Safety Unit at the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA), at that time:

‘If I identify that gap as, who is responsible for regulating for the protection of public safety, regardless of what the source of the hazard or the risk is, who’s responsible for public safety, that’s where the gap probably is and I can’t—if you were to ask me right now, I can’t tell you who is responsible for regulating public safety. I’m responsible for regulating workplace safety and responsible for public safety as a result of the conduct of that undertaking, but I couldn’t tell you who is directly responsible.’

In this case, while VWA focuses on the health and safety of mine employees, they aren’t explicitly concerned with the health and safety of the general public, if a hazard – like a 45-day plume of toxic smoke – is dispersed beyond a specific workplace.

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Important safety, environmental, political and personal stories in book on the Morwell Mine fire

Dr Tom Doig has continued to build on his earlier work about the Morwell mine fire, expanding his “The Coal Face” from 2015 into his new book “Hazelwood” (after court-related injunctions, now available on 18 June 2020).

SPECIAL OFFER: The first four (4) new Annual subscribers in the month of June 2020 will receive a copy of Hazelwood.

The Morwell mine fire created great distress to residents in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, ongoing health problems, and a parliamentary inquiry, but can also be seen as a major case study of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, enforcement, role and the obligation on employers to provide a safe and healthy working environment that does not provide risks to workers and “protect other people from risks arising from employer’s business”.  The management of worker and public safety is present in almost every decision made in relation to the Morwell Mine fire. The overlay of an OHS perspective to Doig’s book is enlightening.

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