Young workers don’t know their OHS rights or their employer’s duty of care – Duh!

On March 10 2020, the Andrews Labor Government and the Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy, released a media statement about a “social experiment” involving the safety of young workers, in response to the fact that “about 50 young workers are injured every week”.

The statement said that the campaign is

“… warning employers to protect young workers and making sure young Victorians are aware of their rights through a powerful new campaign …..
[and]
“…is part of a social experiment which saw young workers aged 18-25 asked to participate in a mock job information session for a research company.”

The significant finding was that

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Sexual harassment changes are percolating slowly

Discussion on the report into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces went missing last weekend which included International Women’s Day. March 8 generalised much of the discussion on the need for new approaches to feminism, wages and gender equity. This is not to say that organisations had forgotten about the National Inquiry’s Final Report or the occupational health and safety (OHS) context, but few were as blunt about the issue as broadcaster Virginia Trioli and workplace lawyer Liberty Sanger on ABC radio this week.

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Brexit, Boris and OHS

One reader has asked about the occupational health and safety (OHS) impacts of Brexit. This article looks specifically at The Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto to identify potential OHS-related actions and intentions. The relevance for Australian readers is that UK and Australian politics frequently feed off each other.

The United Kingdom’s OHS laws have been greatly affected during the country’s membership of the European Union (EU). This has been seen as a nuisance by some but some EU safety Directives, such as Seveso 1, 2 & 3, have assisted many countries in establishing or strengthening their own regulations on specific hazards. EU safety rules seem amazingly complex for someone who has no involvement with them but then any economic community of over two dozen countries can seem baffling to an OHS writer who operates from an island with a small population in the Southern Hemisphere.

What can be said is that the UK will need to accommodate the “best” of the EU OHS laws in their own legislative structure, if it has not already. It is unlikely the UK will remove OHS rules that serve a positive, i.e. harm prevention, purpose unless there is a very good reason. But sometimes it seems that good reasons are not required, only political reasons.

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Australian Greens push for ban on engineered stone to eliminate silicosis risks

Free Access

Greens MPs in Australia are increasing the political pressure to ban engineered stone from Australia because of the difficulty in eliminating silicosis risks.

On October 18, 2019, Greens MP David Shoebridge released a statement calling for the ban. Greens MP in South Australia Tammy Franks spoke in Parliament on October 16 2019, also calling for a ban on engineered stone. This and other action from other Members of Parliament are in response to inaction on the national level, partly due to occupational health and safety (OHS) being regulated by the States rather than the Commonwealth.

But as with the current controversy of thoroughbred horses being killed for export and pet food, the Federal Government is in charge of exports and imports, so could make the decision to stop imports of engineered stone. It is not as if there are not safer substitutes

The Greens in Western Australia have not called for a ban but have supported a reduced exposure standard.

David Shoebridge MP

Shoebridge was responding to reports in The Australian ($) about New South Wales government plans to reduce silicosis risks, saying they:

  • Do not remove the risk of silicosis by banning the use of manufactured stone
  • Fail to expressly ban dry cutting, which is the most dangerous way in which the product is currently used
  • Will not prevent workers in the industry being exposed to potentially lethal silica dust with even the reduced exposure standard not being implemented for three years, and
  • Fail to put in place the right screening to identify cases of silicosis as early as possible.

Tammy Franks asked the Minister for Industrial Relations and Treasurer Rob Lucas, about government action on silicosis risks in Parliament on 16 October, 2019 (video available). Curiously, Lucas indicated that an Italian manufacturer of engineered stone is producing a version with a much reduced silica content, so imports could continue but of a safer product.

More on the science behind the politics next week when SafetyAtWorkBlog reports from the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine in Adelaide.

Kevin Jones