Fire Flood Plague OHS

2020 is a year of continuing social change, so a book of essays that reflects on 2020 seems a little presumptuous. But just because we are in a state of social flux does not mean we must wait for stability before examining the process of change.

This December Random House Penguin will publish “Fire Flood Plague“, a collection of essays from prominent Australian writers about what Tim Flannery calls the three catastrophes:

“…the unprecedented, climate-fuelled megafires that were extinguished by damaging, climate-influenced floods. Then, in March, the COVID-19 pandemic…..”

page 69-70

There are some parallels between how people responded to these disasters and how workplace safety and health is managed. But more than that, the essays provide an insight into how others feel about what is happening, and these writers’ thoughts will reflect the thoughts of those with whom we work, with those we are obliged to manage and with those whose physical and mental welfare we are obliged to improve.

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Half of One Percent Safer

This blog should be an indication that brevity does not come naturally to an occupational health and safety (OHS) professional. (Imagine the struggle of an OHS academic!!) Dr Andrew Sharman asked 137 OHS thinkers to provide a 500-word chapter each, essentially a page, about workplace health and safety. His new (very limited edition) book, “One Percent Safer“, includes text, cartoons, single paragraph quotes, graphics but most of all some much-needed wisdom. Not as much as one would have hoped, if you have been involved with OHS for a few years, but plenty for the newbie or, hopefully, a lot for the businessperson who struggles with this “safety stuff”.

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Change big things, little things benefit

I bought Genevieve Hawkins’ self-published book “Mentally at Work – Optimising Health and Business Performance through Connection” because I have met Genevieve at various Australian occupational health and safety (OHS) conferences and wanted to know her thoughts.

Her book is about an increasingly important element of OHS – psychological harm – and reinforces the Human Resources (HR) approach to mental health at work which is based around Leadership and Psychology. This HR perspective is the dominant approach to mental health at work in Australia, but it largely omits the organisational and cultural context of mental health. As such, the book will be popular with those whose perspectives it reinforces, but it misses some important OHS and research perspectives about harm prevention.

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Book Review – Safety Sucks

Several occupational health and safety-related books have been self-published over the last couple of months. They are from a mix of authors, some may be familiar to OHS professionals. The books are

These will be reviewed over a series of blog articles. Safety Sucks is up first.

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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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