Weasel Words, OHS and the Status Quo

Recently the Chamber of Minerals & Energy of Western Australia (CME) released a guideline on alcohol consumption in the mining sector. It is a curious document reflecting many of the significant corporate misunderstandings about occupational health and safety (OHS).

This article is not primarily about alcohol consumption guidelines, drink limits, or snacks with alcohol or moderation. The misunderstandings are displayed through the language used in CME’s media release, which seems to be the default setting for corporate discussions of OHS.

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How will people know you’ve won a safety award?

Modern-day events such as conferences, seminars and awards nights rely on social media strategies to maximise the value of the event and the communication opportunities they afford. This year the WorkSafe Victoria Awards night seems to have applied a thin social media strategy even though it has important stories to tell.

Usually, signs, brochures, information booklets and even tables mention the social media hashtag that the event organisers want the audience to use to promote and record the event. This year WorkSafe Victoria mentioned #WSAwards21 at the night’s start and never again. The hashtag was nowhere to be seen. This may be a major factor in the very low Twitter activity.

As of the time of writing, Twitter had 29 mentions of the #WSAwards21 hashtag, most posted by WorkSafe itself. I tweeted five of them. The audience members or finalists have tweeted only three times.

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OHS record restated, but employers omitted

The WorkSafe Awards night for 2021 was postponed a couple of times from its traditional date in Workplace Health and Safety Month, October. The April 21, 2022, event held the potential for a political statement, given that 2022 is an election year for Victoria, and the event was held one week before International Workers Memorial Day. No such luck. We may have to wait for October 2022, a month before the November election.

The Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt, could not attend, but Bronwyn Halfpenny, the Parliamentary Secretary for Workplace Safety, did. Halfpenny is very active in occupational health and safety (OHS) and the government’s working group of bereaved families, but her speech at the awards event reiterated the government’s OHS reforms. Like other members of the government, she gives a great deal of significance to Industrial Manslaughter changes. These changes have generated fear at senior management levels but little difference in employers’ commitment to improving workplace safety and health. A big stick is pointless unless it is used and used as intended.

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WorkSafe Victoria awards were hit and miss

Last week WorkSafe Victoria finally held its awards night for 2021. The finalists were deserved winners, but compared to previous pre-COVID awards nights, this one was sedate and sometimes flat. SafetyAtWorkBlog will be looking at some of the issues raised by the awards ceremony in a series of articles this week.

The crowd was much smaller than in previous years. This could have been due to the event having been postponed, I think twice, but it could also indicate a lower importance for this type of event. Many of the usual attendees seemed missing – occupational health and safety (OHS) and workplace relations law firms, major companies, industry associations and CEOs, and those who are not finalists but appreciate the opportunity to network with significant players in Victorian OHS.

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Speaking truth to power

Last week two young women, Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins, made speeches at the National Press Club about the sexual abuse of minors and an alleged sexual assault in Parl ment House, respectively, and the social changes required to prevent both risks. Both spoke about the need to prevent these abuses and assaults. OHS needs to understand and, in some ways, confront what is meant by preventing harm. The words of Tame and Higgins help with that need.

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The Good, the Perfect and the Practicable

Managers often say that we shouldn’t let the Good suffer in the pursuit of the Perfect. And there’s a bit of a parallel there between occupational health and safety (OHS) principles and the legislative requirement to achieve safety only as far as is reasonably practicable. So the aim is the Perfect and the practicable is the Good. But one of the traps of this sort of thinking is that you can’t establish what is the Good without first understanding what is the Perfect.

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