Business voices add weight to OHS change

On February 27 2012, The Australian reprinted/tweaked a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on Burnout. A significant feature of the article is the acknowledgement of organisational factors as contributing to burnout and other workplace mental health hazards. The situation seems to have changed as these types of acknowledgements were harder to draw out of psychological health experts when SafetyAtWorkBlog spoke to some in 2019.

However, there are also clear parallels to Australian research into job stressors that could have helped HBR’s author Dave Lievens add weight to the decades-long research of Michael Leiter and Christina Maslach.

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The PM expects Australian workplaces to be “as safe as possible”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has set the occupational health and safety (OHS) bar unachievably high for Australian businesses.

Morrison is embroiled in a scandal about an alleged rape in a ministerial office, his knowledge of and response to it, and his government’s duty of care to political employees. Below is his response to this question from a journalist:

JOURNALIST: “What is your message to young women who might want to get into politics and see this and are just horrified by it. What’s your reassurance to them about getting involved in the Liberal party or other parties? “

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Business continuity planning by another name

Occupational health and safety (OHS) gets a mention in a full-page advertorial in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) (February 3 2021, page 33) revolving around the legal and business services of Clyde & Co. The advertorial contains a good example of the contemporary business jargon such as “organisational resilience” – a concept that has come to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Organisational resilience” has several definitions but here is one used by the British Standards Institution:

“….the ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper.”

This has very strong similarities to the much longer-established concepts of “business continuity” or sustainability within which OHS has dabbled for decades.

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We complicate what we know works

There is one simple way of improving occupational health and safety (OHS) in any workplace – have the senior managers and executives be more in touch with the manufacturing process or provision of services. This will improve their understanding of the risks in their businesses and, hopefully, cause them to see the importance of improving health and safety, either for increased profitability or for the quality of life of their workers. Often the executives are too busy to take the time to visit, learn and listen and Industrial Manslaughter laws are intended to cut through this business attitude.

Recently SAI Global issued a media release about Industrial Manslaughter laws which has more to do with its certification services than the improvement of worker safety or prevention of harm. Stripping away the marketing, the media release quotes Kiran Bhagat saying:

“Industrial manslaughter laws legislated in Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and the ACT place legal liability squarely at the feet of the C-suite and company directors for industrial manslaughter. Organisations must ensure their compliance to OHS laws is over and above current standards and, besides, aim to meet and exceed international standards as a safeguard. The highest-ranking leaders in an organisation must be proactively involved in these processes.”

There are few OHS professionals who would disagree with this.

The content that lets this media release down and puts it into the marketing folder rather than the OHS folder is the prominent promotion of its certification services, that should be able to stand on their own content such as this in the final paragraph:

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Ask not what WorkSafe can do for you, but what you can do to improve safety

One of the most difficult industries in which to achieve occupational health and safety (OHS) improvements is farming, especially in areas where farming continues to be done by small family units. The safety culture of farming is unique as the workplace is embedded in community and rural culture. Some people believe that OHS regulators have given the agricultural industry an easy run for too long, as stated by Mick Debenham in a recent opinion piece in The Weekly Times (paywalled), but farmers should perhaps ask themselves why people continue to die on their farms and what they can do to change this.

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Biden reverses Trump’s position on workplace safety

It is fair to say that the term of office for President Trump was not supportive of occupational health and safety (OHS). Former President Trump did not seem to see the need for OHS regulations and his attitude to the COVID-19 pandemic meant that it would never be considered as an occupational disease. Reports over the last week in the United States media, and the issuing of an Executive Order, indicate that new President Biden values workplace health and safety.

The New York Times (paywalled) is reporting that

“President Biden directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] on Thursday to release new guidance to employers on protecting workers from Covid-19.
In one of 10 executive orders that he signed Thursday, the president asked the agency to step up enforcement of existing rules to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace and to explore issuing a new rule requiring employers to take additional precautions.”

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Wilde about Industrial Manslaughter

Many people are sick of the issue of Industrial Manslaughter because it has seemed to dominate the discussion of occupational health and safety (OHS) and taken the focus away from harm prevention reforms on silica, mental health and others. However, Industrial Manslaughter (IM) continues to be raised in Australian Parliaments. In December, Shadow Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme & Government Services, Bill Shorten, reminded us of some of the arguments in favour of Industrial Manslaughter laws and penalties.

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