The Victorian Government remains secretive on Industrial Manslaughter laws

Victoria’s Department of Justice and Community Safety’s Freedom of Information correspondence is headed:

“Information Integrity & Access”.

For the last few months SafetyAtWorkBlog has been chasing the Workplace Manslaughter Consultation Paper through official channels and been granted “two pages in full”, “four pages in part” and been refused access in full to most of the Consultation Report.  This decision (available here) is because

“These documents include information concerning opinion, advice or recommendation of an officer and the personal affairs of third parties, which cannot be disclosed [for reasons given in the letter]”.

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The economics, and politics, of prevention and the cost of doing nothing

LtoR: Terry Nolan, Rod Campbell, Tony Dudley, Rosemary Calder

On July 9 2019, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) conducted a lunchtime seminar in Melbourne about “the economics of prevention“. The event was supported by GlaxoSmithKline who launched a report about the value of vaccines so the lunch promised to be very medical but that quickly changed when Rod Campbell of The Australia Institute (a late replacement for Richard Denniss) spoke. On the issue of cost-benefit analysis, an important consideration in occupational health and safety (OHS) , Campbell was blunt:

“A huge amount of government decisions are not made by informed economic analysis. They’re made by political decisions.”

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Victims of industrial crime

On May 13 2019 the Australian media published articles based on research (released after embargo) conducted by the RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice and about victims of crime which those advocating for Industrial Manslaughter laws should seriously consider.

The Age newspaper reports

“Victims of crime felt let down by the system when offenders pleaded guilty to a less serious charge and did not proceed to trial ‘‘ because they wanted the opportunity to tell their story’’ , …..”

and that

“One victim interviewed during the research said they felt left out of discussions with the OPP when charges in their case were downgraded from murder to manslaughter for a plea of guilt …”

Occupational health and safety (OHS) seems a little ahead of the game here as relatives of deceased workers have been integrated into OHS consultation in both Queensland and Victoria. Relatives had a very strong voice through the Senate Inquiry into Industrial Deaths. Victim Impact Statements have been possible in the Courts for many years but Industrial Manslaughter laws add an additional depth to the participation of victims of industrial crime, and an additional risk of false promises.

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The politics of safety

Bill Shorten third from the right at the 2012 Safe Work Australia awards in Parliament House Canberra

There is little doubt that Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, believes that occupational health and safety (OHS) is important. His interest was on show, perhaps most significantly, during his time as a union leader at the Beaconsfield mine disaster but he has spoken at various OHS awards, the opening of the National Workers Memorial, local memorials, and was a participant in the Maxwell Review of Victoria’s OHS review in 2006.

OHS has not appeared yet in the current Federal Election campaign. It rarely does. But there is an opportunity to argue that the Australian Labor Party (ALP), of which Shorten is the leader, will not only create more jobs for Australian but that they will be safe jobs. To an OHS professional, it seems to be a simple position, a position that is extremely difficult to argue against. However, the politics of safety in Australia cannot be separated from the role and activities of the trade union movement. Yet, OHS is not just a union challenge, it is relevant to all workers and their families, but only the trade unions seem to have an OHS voice. Letting this situation continue is not sustainable.

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New film provides an update on legal action over the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire

An independently-produced documentary, Our Power, about the Hazelwood mine fire had its Victorian premiere on March 2 2019. The Hazelwood coal mine fire was a major workplace disaster than generated substantial public health damage in the neighbour communities in the Latrobe Valley. An early record of the event and its impacts can be found in Tom Doig‘s book The Coal Face.

The documentary provides unique vision of the fire and how it burned and polluted the neighbourhood for over a month in 2014. As time goes on, the fire is seen more as an environmental disaster as it is workplace incident and speakers in Our Power are certainly confident in linking the fire with the privatisation of State-owned assets and the social injustice that underpins neoliberalism.

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