More than warm lettuce needed on Industrial Manslaughter laws

Applying the most effective way to have companies comply with their occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations has been debated in Australia and elsewhere for years.  The issue will arise again in 2019 and in relation Industrial Manslaughter laws as Australian States have elections, or the political climate suits.

There are several elements to the argument put by those in favour of Industrial Manslaughter laws. Workers are still being killed so the deterrence of existing OHS laws has seen to have failed.  Deterrence has been based on financial penalties and workers are still being killed so financial penalties have failed. Jail time is the only option left.

This is a simplistic depiction of the argument, but it is not dissimilar to some of the public arguments. The reality is that deterrence is achieved in two ways – telling the person of the consequences of an action and enforcing those consequences.

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Is workplace health and safety still relevant?

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A quiet revolution is happening in workplace health and safety in Australia.  I don’t mean the laws – that boat sailed with the failure of the attempt to harmonise laws and tweak them for the new Century.  The change is coming from a realisation that what is still mostly called Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) has been misunderstood and misapplied, especially in the context of work-related psychological hazards.

OHS emerged in its most contemporary form in the 1970s in the UK and manifested in new laws in Australian States in the 1980s.  These laws stipulated that the primary duty of care for the health and safety of workers AND those affected by the work processes suits with the employers (ignore the absurd modern variation of employer in the Work Health and Safety laws – the PCBU – Persons Conducting Business or Undertaking as only lawyers really use the term.  Some prominent lawyers pronounced the acronym as “Peek-A-Boo” (you know who you are) as if OHS was a barely-held-together nightie! It was juvenile and didn’t help).  Workers have a duty to not harm themselves or others and to support the employer’s OHS processes.

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ALP’s National Platform and workplace safety

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”.

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Bunnings knows their onions

“The Aussie sausage sizzle safety scandal suggests safety is simply something that some citizens are certain starts slips in store and on cement. A safety source says that some stores are succumbing to scurrilous suggestions that makes safety sound silly.” (Copyright: Kevin Jones)

Some Australia occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals have been frothing up about the controversy (?) over the decision of Bunnings Warehouse to encourage the charities who run the sausage sizzles to place the cooked onions between the sausage and the slice of bread to reduce the risk of slips from  onions falling off the top of the sausage in bread (a form of snack that some Australians call a “dog in a blanket”).

The issue that gained

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Where is the Senate Inquiry into Industrial Deaths heading?

As readers would realise, the transcripts for the Australian Senate inquiry into industrial deaths are fascinating. It is worth looking at the other presentations and questions on the day when the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry received a grilling as this provides insight into how to present to a government inquiry addressing occupational health and safety.

The Senate Committee has probably heard more from relatives of deceased workers than has any other similar inquiry, perhaps even the Workplace Bullying inquiry in which this Committee’s member Deborah O’Neill participated.  This is an indication of the shift in OHS over the last few years where the human impacts of workplace safety failures, what some describe as the “lived experience”, gain an influence that used to sit with professionals and acknowledged subject matter experts.

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