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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Instead of throwing stones, build a stronger house

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Stock photo of hot worker who, yes, should also be wearing long sleeves and a hat.

On 19 December 2019, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) issued a confusing and, ostensibly, three-paragraph media release about working in heat, a hazard that has been regularly analysed by SafetyAtWorkBlog. It states:

“OHS laws which are designed to keep workers safe at work need to be updated to deal with the reality of climate change, which will mean hotter days and more bushfires, resulting in conditions which are hazardous to workers, especially those who work outside.”

Paragraph 1 – update the occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. Paragraph 3 – new regulations needed:

“… we call on the Morrison Government to act urgently to implement new regulations to protect workers from these hazards.”

So which is it – enforce the old or create new?

Continue reading “Instead of throwing stones, build a stronger house”

Workplace hazards outside the window

Alerts on December 7 2019

I am entering the last of my four week’s work on a construction site in Sydney.  In my first week, the city was blanketed with thick smoke from nearby bushfires and all construction sites closed early for a day because the air was deemed hazardous.  That smoke has persisted for all of my time in Sydney.  Last Friday I was on site when the occasional piece of ash fluttered on to me.  The bushfire situation is unprecedented and my experience has shown me that Australia and Australian companies seem to struggle with how to operate in a disaster that will undoubtedly return.

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Political Science (finally) comes to OHS

Improvement in occupational health and safety (OHS) standards has always been the intention of OHS laws. Parallel to this is the intention of the OHS, and allied, professions to continuously improve health and safety through the prevention of harm. However, political leadership on OHS has been scarce over the last few years, especially in the national governments of the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. So, it is necessary to look beyond the party politics to other sources of change.

Professor Maureen Dollard speaking at the 2019 ANZSOM Scientific Meeting in Adelaide

At the recent scientific meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine in Adelaide, prominent academic, Professor Maureen Dollard, introduced a much- needed element of political science into her presentation which was titled “Work Organisation and Psychosocial Factors”. SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to ask Dollard, and fellow presenter Professor Sally Ferguson, about this political context.

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