The biggest OHS challenge is greed

As the world approaches World Day for Safety and Health at Work and International Workers Memorial Day this coming Sunday it is worth reminding ourselves of some of the immorality that unregulated Capitalism allows. A company in one of the last remaining exporters of asbestos, Russia, has used President Donald Trump’s words and image to support its production and export of asbestos*, a product known for over a century to cause fatal illnesses.

Why is asbestos still mind if the evidence of its fatality is incontrovertible? Greed, or as it has been called in the past – “good business sense”. Many authors have written about the history of asbestos globally and locally. Many have written about the injustice in denying victims compensation from exposure to a known harmful chemical. But few have written about the core support for asbestos production, export and sale – Greed.

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Hopkins challenges safety culture advocates to look at structure

One of the major influencers on occupational health and safety (OHS) management in Australian has been Andrew Hopkins. His influence comes from a combination of being outside the formal OHS profession and establishing a platform that is inclusive of information from a range of sources. In short he is a sociologist.

Hopkins’ latest book has just been released. “Organising for Safety – How structure creates culture” is a radical departure to his previous books about organisational culture. Here Hopkins questions whether cultural change is the gradual spreading of new ideas and instead proposes that

“… the culture of an organisation is determined to a large extent by its organisational structure.”

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He also mentions power, a concept rarely discussed in OHS and almost entirely left to exist in sociology (Oh, the need for more Humanities study!). Power pops up in Human Resources but not to the same extent.

Hopkins also refers to, and creates, organisational charts that were in place at the time of a disaster and then to the reorganised structures after the disasters. Hopkins discusses how those new structures are in direct response to the new understanding of risk from the CEOs and Boards.

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Better jobs should also be safer jobs

The impending election in Australia has started to generate various position statements and discussion papers from various lobbyists. The Australian Industry Group (AiGroup) and the Business Council of Australia (BCA) are the latest of these.

The AiGroup released its Productive and Fair Workplace Relations statement in late March 2019. Surprisingly there is no mention of occupational health and safety (OHS) even though its contribution to a productive workforce is well established. Its omission is doubly surprising given the political stink in some States about the introduction of Industrial Manslaughter laws.

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Andi Csontos, OHS futurist

Andi Csontos

The future of work is usually portrayed as a future dominated by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and electronic technology, and one with which humans will struggle to cope. As other industrial sectors panic over potential job losses, it may be good news for the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession which feeds on the potential for harm. The future will still contain harm, but probably new types.

Consultation has been critical to OHS and its ability to improve health and safety, but many OHS people do not have to leave the office. There activities revolve around complicated Excel spreadsheets of intricate injury classifications and risk calculations. But OHS existed long before these technological burdens, which some would describe as dead-ends and others as the accumulation of valuable data. However, talking about safety and, more important, listening to others discussing safety is the most important tool an OHS profession has and will have in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This was reinforced recently by EY’s EHS Partner Andi Csontos (pictured above) at a seminar in Ballarat Victoria. Csontos paraphrased a recent EY discussion paper:

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Good, but very limited, advice on workplace mental health

Member magazines, those magazines included in a professional’s membership, are an important source of information. Members of the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, for instance, receive the RoyalAuto magazine which is really the primary source of information on changes to road rules. Most occupational health and safety (OHS) associations have internal magazines for a similarly targeted audience. Australian accountants have the In The Black magazine.

Recently In The Black published an article about mental health at work titled “Get smart with mental health”. No background to the author, Helen Hawkes, was provided and no references were included for the data used to support statements about the importance of the mental health. Context and sources are important to all articles but arguably moreso for member magazines and, especially, for professionals like accountants who can have a major impact on how OHS is managed.

Much of the information in the article would be familiar to OHS professionals – Return on Investment, the cost of Presenteeism as a percentage of payroll…. What is almost entirely missing is advice on how to prevent mental ill-health from occurring in the first place, and there is no mention of any of the OHS guidance in this area published by Safe Work Australia.

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