Heat and the need to change work

Europe is experiencing heat at, or close to, levels never recorded before. This has caused the mainstream media to issue advice on how to avoid adverse health impacts from heat exposure. However, the necessary changes to work are not receiving the attention they should.

Australia has faced such situations before, especially in the last decade, so there is some generic occupational health and safety (OHS) available for translation to the European circumstance.

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Good framework but insufficient analysis

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is rarely analysed as a stand-alone business element. As such opportunities are missed to clarify one’s understanding of work health and safety and companies’ experience of it beyond “commitments” and workers’ compensation costs.

There is great potential for change in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goal number 8. Sadly, even here “Decent Work” which includes the safety and health of workers (8.8) is shared with “Economic Growth”. As a result, it is often difficult to isolate the OHS components. A recent analysis of Australia’s ASX200 companies illustrates the problem.

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Ventilation is an obvious COVID-19 control but could be a bugger to use

Vaccines are currently the most effective tool available to minimise the spread of COVID-19 to large populations. Fortunately, effective vaccines have been able to be manufactured at such a rapid pace. But previous pandemics have not had vaccines and have had to rely, primarily, on hygiene and isolation. Part of the hygiene practice was to ensure that buildings were well-ventilated. Ventilation actions on COVID-19 were part of Europe’s response to the pandemic in 2020, but Australia has only just started to accept the need for improved ventilation as it was very late to the risks of aerosol transmission.

As vaccinated workers return to workplaces in many of Australia’s urban centres, employers will need to assess their occupational health and safety (OHS) duties in new ways, and ventilation will be a significant challenge.

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OHS needs to get a seat at the ESG table

There has always been an overlap between environmental safety and occupational health and safety (OHS). This has happened not because of any particular similarity between the two disciplines but rather because of company executives’ duties, responsibilities, and accountabilities.

A recent report produced through the Centre for Policy Development (CPD) says this about climate change responses:

“Care needs to be taken to ensure that climate-related targets and analysis are rigorous, underpinned by appropriate governance, strategy and action, reflected in financial statements as required.”

Replace “climate” with “OHS”, and the overlap is clear. This is particularly important at this time when Australia is preparing its next national OHS strategy.

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New air quality standards for outdoor work

On January 30 2020, the Victorian Trades Hall released a new “approved safety standard” on air quality risks for outdoor workers. It is the latest of a series of alerts and guidelines generated by the persistence of bushfire smoke in urban areas of, especially, New South Wales and Victoria. Bushfire smoke is only going to become more frequent in Australia, and its persistence over weeks, requires a coordinated discussion on how Australian workplaces and practices need to change to adapt to the new climate.

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This year’s bushfires should change the management of outdoor work

Sydney, NSW, Australia – November 20th 2019: Smoke over Sydney due to bush fires on edge of city. Fires have been burning for days and have been described as unprecedented.

Safe Work Australia (SWA) has reminded Australian businesses that they have a formal occupational health and safety (OHS) responsibility for workers exposed to poor air quality. Its guidance provides sound risk considerations for outdoor workers and their managers, but needs further explanation to help businesses reduce the risk in a practical sense.

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