Lessons from the US

The current COVID19 pandemic has presented businesses with a confusing risk challenge. Is the risk of infection a public health issue or an occupational health and safety (OHS) issue? The easy answer only adds to the confusion – it is neither and both.

In relation to epidemics and pandemics these are public health risks within which the OHS risks must be managed. In Australia, many of the OHS regulations and agencies were slow to provide the level of detailed guidance that employers were requesting and this was partly due to the regulators and agencies having to scramble together working groups and experts to rapidly produce such guidance. The situation in the United States offers a useful and reassuring comparison to how the Australian governments have responded but also offers OHS lessons for Australian employers.

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Awards require a new purpose

WorkSafe Awards night 2019

WorkSafe Victoria has just contacted attendees at the 2019 WorkSafe Awards for an evaluation of the event. Although my response below relates to the recent event, it relates to many of the various (and expanding) awards for occupational health and safety (OHS). Here is some of my response to the WorkSafe survey and some suggestions on future Awards strategies:

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“We need to act together to help me get my act together”

On October 21 2019, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews posted on Facebook in support of his government’s move to introduce Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws. He chose the death of Jacob Kermeen and its effect on the family in support of the need for these laws.

It is surely a coincidence that a fatality from a trench collapse was chosen for this exercise. Some of the leading advocates for IM laws are the relatives of two workers who died from a trench collapse in Ballarat in March 2018, a case being prosecuted by WorkSafe Victoria.

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Look closely at the camel rather than the straw

There are strong parallels between the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces and others addressing workplace issues, such as the Victorian Royal Commission into Mental and the Productivity Commission’s mental health inquiry, but there is also a connection to the Royal Commission into Banking and Financial Services which has focused the minds of some of Australia’s corporation s and leaders into examining their own workplace cultures and, for some, to reassess the role and application of capitalism.

This is going to become even more of a critical activity as the National Sexual Harassment Inquiry completes its report prior to its release in the first month or two of 2020.

Cultural analysis, and change, is often best undertaken first in a microcosm or specific social context. The experiences of sexual harassment of rural women in Australia is one such context, a context examined in detail by Dr Skye Saunders in her book “Whispers from the Bush“.

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CEDA provides business insights but more is needed

One of the missed opportunities for improving occupational health and safety (OHS) over the last 30 years has been the application of corporate social responsibilities (CSR) to the supply chain and not to one’s own health and safety performance. CSR and OHS and social justice and decent work are all elements of the Venn Diagram of keeping people safe.

But this diagram exists in a world where economics dominates political decision-making and conflict results. Recently in Australia corporate leaders have spoken about various controversial social issues. Last week the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ben Morton advised companies to stop this advocacy and focus on the economic fundamentals of business. This week the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) released its Company Pulse survey results which shows that the community accepts that company executives can advocate for social issues.

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