This Sunday SafetyAtWorkBlog will be reporting from the 2018 National Conference of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). It promises to be extra lively as the country is only a few months away from a General Election and the ALP is tipped by most to win, or rather, the Liberal/National Coalition to lose. The intention is to watch for discussion of issues that relate to, or affect, the management of worker health and safety. There will be some, if one accepts that the most effective and sustainable occupational health and safety (OHS) solutions come from both a introduce multidisciplinary approach and that one that looks “at the source” of hazards.
The current draft National platform has a specific chapter on Safety At Work but the document is riddled with safety commitments. Curiously there is no specific mention of Industrial Manslaughter, although the ALP will
“ensure there are strong deterrents for employers who are responsible for workplace deaths”.
One of the fascinating elements of this year’s National Comcare conference is the conflict between the Human Resources (HR) approach to occupational health and safety (OHS) and workers compensation, and the OHS approach to psychosocial hazards. This is not the fault of Comcare as the audience is a peculiar mix of both professions.
The difference was on display when some presenters focused on the post-incident care and, almost entirely, on interventions on the individual. Other presenters focused on the prevention of physical and psychological injuries – the OHS approach. The former seemed warmly embraced by the HR professionals. There were other speakers, or parts of their presentations, where prevention was almost mentioned as an afterthought and even then omitting references to their organisation’s own OHS publications.
There has always been a structural and ideological separation of the professions
Below is the list of occupational health and safety (OHS) issues for the next three years, put to the Australian Council of Trade Unions and passed, at its Congress on 18 July 2018. Some were expected but others will cause concern, primarily, for business owners. Perhaps the major concern is that these commitments are to be rolled out nationally.
There seems to be a growing community frustration with regulators who hesitate to prosecute about breaches of laws, including occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, and about options that sound reasonable, like Enforceable Undertakings, but still let businesses “off the hook”. The calls for Industrial Manslaughter laws are the most obvious manifestations of the anger and frustration from perceived injustices.
But perhaps there was another way to achieve change in workplace safety, a way that could be based on a model that Australia and other countries already have.