Extreme heat

Global warming is affecting how we work just as much as how we live. Working in Heat policies are designed based on experience rather than meteorological and climate forecasts, meaning these documents are always chasing reality and not getting ahead of the occupational hazard.

On January 19, 2023, Steven Greenhouse (coincidental name) looked at the topic of working in extreme for Nieman Reports writing that:

“High heat can be a big problem for the nation’s workers, not just farmworkers and construction workers, but delivery workers, utility workers, landscaping workers, and warehouse workers.”

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The wicked problem of the safety of shearers and the viability of sheep farming

Shearing sheep is an exhausting laborious job and so can cause work-related injuries for which workers’ compensation can be sought. The Weekly Times on January 4 2023 (paywalled) devoted a whole page to the issue in an article headlined “The shear cost of it all”. (Only a companion piece is available online at the time of writing)

The aim of the article seems to be to illustrate the exorbitant and unfair workers’ compensation costs faced by the employers of shearers, but some relevant occupational health and safety (OHS) matters are overlooked.

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Engineering controls are possible, and they save lives

The issue of quad bike safety has largely disappeared from the mainstream media. This is largely due to the decline in opposition to installing Crush Protection Devices (CPD) on newly-purchased quad bikes in line with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) mandated safety standards. On November 24 2022, the ACCC released statistics that showed the success of applying an Engineering Control (the CPDs) favoured by the safety advocates over the Administrative Controls (training, signage and dynamic riding) favoured by the manufacturers and their lobbyists.

The quad bike safety saga in Australia, in particular, is a textbook study of farm politics, globalisation, belligerence, the ownership of evidence, the macho culture of independence, manipulation of consumers, ineffective politics, ineffective occupational health and safety (OHS) arguments, the power of money and more. (There’s an important book challenge to anyone who has the time and the resources)

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Wage theft needs more OHS analysis

Journalist Ben Schneiders has written an excellent book about wage theft in Australian businesses – where it came from, why it persists, and the inequality it generates through institutional and wilful exploitation. What is missing is a chapter, at least, on the occupational health and safety (OHS) contexts of this exploitation. OHS is touched on but is also missed when discussing some of the pay and working conditions.

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Why are farms still unsafe?

The start of School Holidays is always a good time to issue reminders of the risks associated with farms, beaches and wherever holidaymakers go. The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF), recently reinvigorated in its occupational health and safety (OHS) efforts, has released a new safety booklet – “Child Safety on Farms – A practical guide for farming parents“. However, the coverage of this guide by the ABC is a little loose.

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Why are farms becoming safer?

It is Farm Safety Week in Australia. These types of events are intended to raise awareness of specific issues. The biggest problem with these events is that solutions are rarely presented; it is assumed that raising awareness is sufficient. This is hard to justify in agriculture, where many of the smaller and high-risk farms have been run by families for many years and often generations. As a result, most people living in the country know of someone widowed after a workplace incident or of someone like the one-armed tennis player or lawn bowler who lost an arm in an unguarded Power Take-Off.

At some point, the strategy must move from raising awareness to providing solutions.

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“the job is never done”

Every so often, there are sufficient numbers of workplace deaths and injuries that a government feels the need to act. In 2019, the Queensland government closed down its mining sector for a “safety reset”, which required every mine worker to be retrained in occupational health and safety (OHS). Recently Western Australia needed to act on deaths in its farming sector and has established an inquiry into the issues.

Farming is perhaps the hardest industry in which to affect change. It is dominated by male workers and farmers. It has next to no union presence. OHS inspectors rarely attend farms except after a severe injury or death.

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