Language, labels, thoughts and restraints

Carsten Busch is a committed voice for improvement in occupational health and safety (OHS) and our understanding of it. Recently he published a research paper entitled “Brave New World: Can Positive Developments in Safety Science and Practice also have Negative Sides?” (open access). The paper is of note for several reasons, not including the use Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel “Brave New World” a book about a dystopia that many Australian high school students in the 1970s were required to read.

Dystopian novels suit the study of OHS as the structure often reflects a character with new experiences of an unfamiliar culture or an awakening or realisation of their place in the world. Brave New World fits the former and George Orwell’s 1984, the latter. OHS professionals often step into a workplace culture that is foreign to what they have understood to be the norm. They evaluate the new culture, find it wanting and suggest repairs, if they can. Over time some OHS professionals, often through an epiphany, realise that they have not achieved what they expected and either leave or turn on the OHS discipline. Some OHS professionals are able to blend both these experiences and perspectives.

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Tough but short-term

A toxic fire in an industrial district creates plumes of dangerous smoke billowing up into the air as seen from behind a near by warehouse building, 2019. Credit:Christopher Freeman

Melbourne, Australia has recently suffered several notable factory fires that resulted from unsafe storage of chemical wastes. These fires have resulted in toxic fumes across residential suburbs, environmental damage to local waterways and some injuries to workers. Victoria’s Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy has responded by increasing penalties for breaching occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. This is a good short-term measure and indicates to the community that their government is doing something but is not a sustainable prevention strategy.

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Make sure you are serious about deeper and better thinking on workplace mental health

In October 2018, the Australian Financial Review (AFR) reported (paywalled) on an occupational health and safety (OHS) investigation into overwork and staff fatigue being conducted by WorkSafe Victoria. The AFR has followed this with a report on June 6 2019 (paywalled) by its Legal Affairs Editor, Michael Pelly. It is a positive article about how the law firm, King, Wood & Mallesons (KWM) has improved its OHS performance since October last year. However there is much between the lines that hints at the OHS approach used and how limited it is.

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New Safety Podcast focuses on Law

One of the prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) lawyers in Australia has started a podcast. The first episode discusses Industrial Manslaughter.

Steve Bell of law firm Herbert Smith Freehills recently published the Safety Podcast, but the title is a bit of a misnomer as, judging by the first episode, the discussion is more about safety law than safety. Regardless, the podcast adds to our state of OHS knowledge.

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Debate on rollover protection rolls on

The continuing argument over quad bike safety in Australia mirrors many of the other occupational health and safety (OHS) debates over whose evidence is truer, is the argument about politics or safety, the cost of change and whether one size of OHS laws and enforcement fits a splintering employment structure.

The Liberal National Coalition won the recent Federal Election in Australia, retaining power and with a stronger Parliamentary influence. In terms of quad bike safety, action on the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission’s report will follow the schedule set out by the then Assistant Treasurer Stuart Roberts. Several quad bike manufacturers and their industry lobbying arm, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), have ramped up the pressure on the Government now that they smell another three years of sympathetic government.

It is important to keep reminding ourselves that OHS, for most Australians, remains regulated at a State level and national positions and recommendations like that of the ACCC are unlikely to be implemented nationally without Federal laws.

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