Government could help progress OHS so much more

Innovation in occupational health and safety (OHS) is often encouraged by government but government processes and policy can also discourage and limit this.  An obvious example is where government insists on compliance with OHS laws in its tendering criteria but acknowledges that the tender safety criteria remains outdated and, privately, that OHS compliance is not enough to ensure a safe and healthy workplace.

An important OHS document in the Victorian bureaucracy and construction sector is a

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Configuring the safety profession for the future

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In support of this year’s election of new Board members to the Safety Institute of Australia, the Safety on Tap podcast has granted each nominee ten minutes to introduce themselves.  Some of these episodes raised the following points of interest:

  • The need to change the demographics of the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession to reflect society.
  • Any organisation that is undergoing change must acknowledge that even though it may be replacing “old school” thinking and structures, sustainable progress is best achieved by accepting the future is built by “standing on the shoulders of giants”.
  • Just because an organisation or profession has been structured one way in the past does not mean that structure remains applicable for the future.

Continue reading “Configuring the safety profession for the future”

Reviewing fundamentals is part of cultural change

The most recent stuff-up by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia has strengthened calls for a Royal Commission into Australia’s finance and banking sector. This is of interest to workplace safety professionals because it contains the liveliest current discussion about corporate cultures – how flawed ones are supposedly behind the errors and how proactive ones are supposed to be the solution.

Occurring at the same time is a growing social movement that is recalibrating occupational health and safety (OHS) to see workers as humans of value rather than units of labour.

Paralleling all of this is increased attention on the sociology and psychology of work, perhaps linked to a decline in the neoliberalism of the past forty years.  As Australia enters the time of OHS conferences and Work Safe Month in October, it may be worth considering a couple of fundamental questions, such as absolute safety, AFAIRP, and invisible hazards.

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More work needed on public evacuation protocols

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On 12 July 2017 a kitchen fire broke out in a densely packed restaurant and cafe sector of Melbourne, Australia.  This article illustrates some of the localised response and firefighting attempts.  Earlier that day I was in a cafe in Melbourne’s northern suburbs when the building’s evacuation alarm sounded (pictured right).  There was no fire in the cafe and patrons were confused when directed to evacuate by a voice on the speaker/alarm system.  This confusion was not helped when the young waiters told patrons to stay, kept serving patrons and  continued to take orders.  This experience illustrates significant misunderstandings about emergency protocols in public areas. Continue reading “More work needed on public evacuation protocols”

Quinlan’s time capsule includes useful OHS perspectives

Professor Michael Quinlan has been writing about occupational health and safety (OHS) and industrial relations for several decades. His writing has matured over that time as indicated by his most recent book, Ten Pathways to Death and Disaster.  In 1980, one of his articles looked at OHS through the prisms of Capitalism and Marxism.  It is remarkable how much an article that was written early in Quinlan’s career and at a time when OHS was considered another country remains relevant today.  This perspective contrasts strongly with the current dominant thinking on OHS and as a result sounds fresh and may offer some solutions.

In Quinlan’s 1980 article, “The Profits of Death: Workers’ Health and Capitalism”*, he writes that

“contrary to popular belief there is no objective irrefutable definition of illness”.

This could equally be applied to safety.  But searching for THE definition of things can lead to everlasting colloquia of academic experts without helping those who need to work within and apply safety concepts.

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