In a submission to the Australian Government’s inquiry into the future of work, the McKell Institute dips into Safe Work Australia’s latest statistical data and reveals a few occupational health and safety (OHS) and workers compensation surprises in the area of agriculture. These surprises are substantiated by other occupational health and safety (OHS) data sources.
Recently, SafetyAtWorkBlog chastised Australian government agencies, and politicians, from relying on workers compensation claims data as measurements of OHS rather than having established supplementary and robust sources of data on work-related injuries and illnesses. Such reliable sources would have helped anticipate some of the hazards from new employment structures and re-emerging occupational hazards. The McKell Institute wrote:
There are strong parallels between the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces and others addressing workplace issues, such as the Victorian Royal Commission into Mental and the Productivity Commission’s mental health inquiry, but there is also a connection to the Royal Commission into Banking and Financial Services which has focused the minds of some of Australia’s corporation s and leaders into examining their own workplace cultures and, for some, to reassess the role and application of capitalism.
This is going to become even more of a critical activity as the National Sexual Harassment Inquiry completes its report prior to its release in the first month or two of 2020.
Cultural analysis, and change, is often best undertaken first in a microcosm or specific social context. The experiences of sexual harassment of rural women in Australia is one such context, a context examined in detail by Dr Skye Saunders in her book “Whispers from the Bush“.
Allan Fels has served the Australian public for decades as the head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, a Mental Health Commissioners and recently a Royal Commissioner for the Victorian Government in its inquiry into mental health. His level of activity and the breadth of that influence is extraordinary and should be no surprise that his service has overlapped and influenced workplace health and safety.
That experience has generated a book – Tough Customer – in which Fels reflects on his public service roles but also about how his life and that of his family have influenced his view of the world and his policy priorities. SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to speak with him for a short while earlier this week on the topics of
- mental health
- workplace health and safety
- executive and political perspectives
- the gig economy
- ethics and social justice
- the ACCC.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) needs to talk more about failure, in a similar way that other business processes are dissected and reported. But the challenge to this, and I think the main reasons failure is not discussed, is that OHS failures result in serious injuries, life-altering conditions and deaths. OHS shares something with the medical profession which “buries its mistakes”. There appears to be something shameful in talking about these failures in public, although the OHS profession is full of chatty anecdotes in private.
One of the ways for OHS to discuss these uncomfortable experiences is to focus on Harm rather than legalities and the chase for compliance.
The first paragraph in Derek Brookes‘ new book, “Beyond Harm“, seems to speak to the OHS profession:
So, the Australian Labor Party (ALP), the political arm of the trade union movement, the friend of all Australian workers, failed to win government from the Conservative parties. Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) improvements are likely to be left to the magnanimity of the employers, Persons in Control of a Business or Undertaking (PCBUs) and those ideologically opposed to regulatory impositions.
But does the OHS future under Conservative governments mean that workers will be worse off? Sadly, Yes, if the experience of the United States is anything to go by, as illustrated in the analysis of the “Laissez-Faire Revival” by Thomas O. McGarity.