Keep talking and making submissions – what to ask about dust

Government attention on the risks of silicosis, especially those related to engineered stone, continues to increase. Australia has established a National Dust Disease Taskforce to investigate the risks and to make recommendations to the government at the end of 2020. A national investigation is warranted but occupational health and safety (OHS) is regulated at State level so it could be many years until safety improves on this matter, if the States wait for the Taskforce’s final report.

Luckily, the debate on silicosis risks continue in various Parliaments and the Taskforce is seeking submissions.

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Caution. Misery (and Enlightenment) Ahead.

Having been born in the north of England, I enjoy watching movies and TV shows from there, even though I need subtitles sometimes. As a child watching Ken Loach’s film Kes for school, I thought that I could easily have been that kid standing in a cold muddy soccer pitch on an estate not far from our commission house. (I have been told our previous house was demolished because it was in a block of slums) So Loach’s latest film sounded interesting and given that it depicted life in the precarious and “gig” economy, I recently joined the hundreds in the audience at the Melbourne International Film Festival to watch “Sorry We Missed You”.

I really enjoyed the film but found the story very upsetting. It’s taken me almost a week to starting writing this article and the trailer still makes me cry, so I am split on whether to recommend you see the film.

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Big potatoes, small potatoes, trust and transparency

The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) has released a research paper that discusses the reporting of workplace fatalities by major companies in their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reports. There are many informational benefits in this report but perhaps the most important is that the report reinforces occupational health and safety (OHS) in ESG reports. The risk is that OHS is seen only in relation to the ESG criteria in Annual Reports.

Australia has experienced a gentle push for inclusion of OHS performance measurements in company and government department Annual Reports. SafetyAtWorkBlog has reported on this and some peer-reviewed research and recommendations over many years. The ACSI report progresses this but also illustrates the sluggish rate of change.

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Queensland’s ‘Safety Reset’

Queensland is undertaking a “safety reset” following several recent deaths in the mining and quarry industry. This government initiative has the backing of the resources sector and has collated a good amount of safety resources in support of what is a mandatory exercise.

What is a little different in this initiative is that it reinforces that the primary responsibility for occupational health and safety (OHS) rests with the employers and company owners. In the past, government initiatives have tended to take on the responsibility for the OHS changes or imply that it is the government’s job to fix the situation and the relative safety cultures, as if it was government (in)activity that caused the problem.

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Can this job be performed in extreme heat?

Parts of Europe are sweltering in extreme Summer temperatures similar to what Australian workers have experienced. A comparison of just temperatures is unreasonable as the European challenge is greater than Australia’s because the society, buildings and operational structures are largely designed and configured for low temperatures and snow. In many ways climate change will be more disruptive for European businesses as Australia has always been hot and dry.

The occupational health and safety (OHS) advice on how to address, or cope with, extreme heat has always been focused on the individual’s capacity to work in heat rather than reconfiguring work to avoid these unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Here is some advice from an American law firm from early this month:

“Summer temperatures can create hazards for workers, and employers can be liable for not addressing conditions that could lead to injuries and illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Liability can arise whether work is being done outside in construction, landscaping, and agriculture, or inside in non-air conditioned manufacturing plants and warehouses.”

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