New inquiry into sexual harassment – an OHS opportunity and challenge

On June 20 2018, the Australian government announced a National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, claiming it to be a world-first. Sexual harassment is not an occupational health and safety (OHS) hazard in many ways BUT the psychological harm it can create is. The job of an OHS person is to encourage employers to reduce work-related harm through prevention, so we need to prevent sexual harassment, just as we do for all the work activities that contribute to poor psychological health and safety.

The macroeconomic costs of sexual harassment in the workplace may be of interest to politicians and business lobbyists but this can be a significant distraction from identifying ways to prevent psychological harm, which should be the most important legacy of this type of inquiry.

Addressing the OHS impacts of

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A strong attack on work-related psychological health and safety

The guidance on workplace psychological health and safety forecast by Safe Work Australia’s Peta Miller was released on June 14 2018.  There is potential for this guidance to change how mental health is managed and, most importantly, prevented in Australian workplaces.

It is important to note that “Work-related psychological health and safety – a systematic approach to meeting your duties” has been developed with the involvement and approval of all of Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) or work health and safety (WHS) regulatory bodies.  Workplace mental health promoters and resilience peddlers are unlikely to find much support in this document as the prevention of harm is the benchmark.

The guidance is also intended to operate in support

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The people deserve more respect from their politicians

According to Hansard, Western Australia’s Opposition Minister for Local Government, Tony Krsticevic put a Question on Notice to the Government about WorkSafe WA’s activities and meetings in relation to the City of Perth. The Council is currently undergoing an independent inquiry into its governance and workplace behaviours.  The investigation is scheduled to take 12 months.

Krsticevic asked:

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USA response on sexual harassment is interesting but can be better

Australia continues to develop various Codes and Guidances for the prevention and management of sexual harassment, particularly in the creative industries.  America’s Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) released some guidance about its Code of Conduct on April 12 2018. It is educative but Australia can do better.

A positive in SAG’s announcement is that it clearly places sexual harassment under the category of workplace safety which allows for a broad approach to the hazard and one that is supported by legislation and an employer’s duty of care. 

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Humour, bystanders and safety

Effective consultation is a core element of building a functional safety management system in any workplace.  This involves talking and listening.  Various occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators have pushed this point in the past usually with static images of mouths and ears but WorkSafe New Zealand has released a series of videos in support of its existing”How you can use your mouth” campaign.  Thankfully WorkSafeNZ has taken a leaf from the Air New Zealand book and used humour.

Of particular interest is the brief but importance emphasis on the role of the ethical bystander.

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