Business Leaders hear about the Vic Government’s OHS achievements, and about OHS is the Arts

Cameron Ling and Claire Spencer (top) and Natalie Hutchins (below)

October is Australia’s workplace safety month. It operates under different names in different States, but they all started on October 1 2019. These months are almost exclusively about marketing and SafetyAtWorkBlog’s Inbox has received a lot of generic statements about the importance of occupational health and safety (OHS) but with little information about how to improve it. The best we can do about this is to seek knowledge in some of the physical events and seminars scheduled during October.

On October 2 2019, WorkSafe Victoria held a Business Leader’s Breakfast at which there were two featured speakers – the Parliamentary Secretary for Workplace Safety, Natalie Hutchins, and the CEO of Arts Centre Melbourne, Claire Spencer. Hutchins spoke about the occupational health and safety achievements of the Victorian Government and Spencer spoke about the significance of the Arts Wellbeing Collective. They provided a good mix of politics and practice.

Hutchins spoke about

  • Silicosis
  • Hazardous Chemicals and Dangerous Goods
  • Workplace Manslaughter Laws, and
  • Mental Health.
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Talk business, talk safety

Successful management of occupational health and safety (OHS) requires reciprocal, active dialogues between workers and their managers. In OHS terms this is Consultation. To provide some structure to that consultation, it is becoming more common to designate some workers as “Safety Champions”.

This October, Safe Work Australia is promoting its National Safe Work Month urging everyone to be a “Safety Champion”. This is more about the act of championing safety than having a Safety Champion title. In the past, SWA has used alternate terms such as “Safety Ambassador” but it still struggles to enliven the conversations about OHS in workplaces, partly because of its passive messaging.

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Interesting but not representative

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released the results of its latest occupational health and safety (OHS) survey. In past surveys respondents have been trade union members. This survey was opened to non-union members, but to what extent is unclear but this has not stopped the ACTU speaking of the respondents as workers rather than workers who are all union members.

This differentiation is important. In the 1990s when union membership was much larger, the argument that the survey results were representative of Australia’s workforce was stronger although still debatable. Representation is harder to claim now with union membership being well below 20% overall and below 10% in the private sector.

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“… merchants of doubt and experts in distorting the truth…”

The Weekly Times newspaper has provided strong coverage of the arguments about quad bike safety for many years, especially, through the work of Fiona Myers and Peter Hunt. The June 19, 2019 edition devoted its front page, page 4, an opinion piece and a cartoon to the objection by the quad bike manufacturers to Operator Protection Devices (OPDs). One of the benefits of long-term media coverage is that changed positions, or hypocrisy, can be shown and this is what Hunt did on 19 June.

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Dirty tricks in quad bike debate

This week an online entity has been establishing itself on various social media platforms as “Say No To OPDs”, “Ban The Bar” and combinations of those phrases. These sites are asking people to make submissions to the current inquiry into establishing a quad bike safety standard which is being managed through the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) at the instigation of the Federal Government. This is not an inquiry about quad bike safety; that occurred last year with the ACCC report handed down earlier this year. It is an inquiry about a specific element of safety but this has not stopped a coordinated online push to reject the ACCC’s broader safety and product design recommendations.

Continue reading “Dirty tricks in quad bike debate”

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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Victims of industrial crime

On May 13 2019 the Australian media published articles based on research (released after embargo) conducted by the RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice and about victims of crime which those advocating for Industrial Manslaughter laws should seriously consider.

The Age newspaper reports

“Victims of crime felt let down by the system when offenders pleaded guilty to a less serious charge and did not proceed to trial ‘‘ because they wanted the opportunity to tell their story’’ , …..”

and that

“One victim interviewed during the research said they felt left out of discussions with the OPP when charges in their case were downgraded from murder to manslaughter for a plea of guilt …”

Occupational health and safety (OHS) seems a little ahead of the game here as relatives of deceased workers have been integrated into OHS consultation in both Queensland and Victoria. Relatives had a very strong voice through the Senate Inquiry into Industrial Deaths. Victim Impact Statements have been possible in the Courts for many years but Industrial Manslaughter laws add an additional depth to the participation of victims of industrial crime, and an additional risk of false promises.

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