Is Safety Leadership for everyone or just the executives?

At last week’s Asia Pacific Occupational Safety and Health Organisation conference, I bumped into Jen Jackson, a young creative thinker on occupational health and safety (OHS) and the author of “How to Speak Human”. We had a quick chat about OHS leadership and gender issues. Below is an edited transcript with a link to the raw audio.

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Some good presenters, some great, but OHS conferences need more work

What was missing most from the recent conference of the Asia Pacific Occupational Safety and Health Organisation was a strong Asia-Pacific voice. Certainly, there were presentations by Asian OHS professionals and some westerners working in Asia, but the keynote speakers were almost from Anglo-European cultures. This made it hard to understand if the conference was designed for Asian safety and health professionals to learn from us or for Australians to learn from them. Perhaps it was just for all of us to learn as a profession.

Some of the keynote speakers offered universal suggestions for improving the management of workplace health and safety, but perhaps these were so universal as to be generic or safe. For instance, one of the greatest challenges for the Asian region, in particular, is ensuring the safety of migrant workers. There was one mention of the deaths of the World Cup construction workers, and that was in passing.

Below is a summary of the conference and some of the occupational health and safety issues (OHS) raised.

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OHS conference – Opportunities for Improvement

This week the 36th national conference for the Asia Pacific Occupational Safety & Health Organization (APOSHO) was held in Melbourne, Australia. Given that occupational health and safety (OHS) conferences are still finding their feet, the first day of the conference was informative but with some problems. An auditor might say there were plenty of opportunities for improvement.

Some concerns illustrate potential cultural challenges in the year prior to Australia hosting the next World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in Sydney in November 2023, in particular parochialism and patronisation.

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Lymph v Blood – OHS at the Jobs & Skills Summit

If Industrial Relations is the lifeblood of the economy and the nation, then Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is the lymphatic system, a less well-known supplementary system without which blood circulation fails and the body stops working.

Australia’s Job and Skills Summit that has just concluded focused on the blood. Media analysis offered mixed interpretations. The event was politically stage-managed with many agenda items pre-prepared for the Summit to confirm, but it was not a worthless gabfest, as some (who chose not to attend) have asserted. On the matter of occupational health and safety, there was one new initiative but most of the OHS change, if any, is now more likely to come through the (wellbeing) budget in October.

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The man on the stair who isn’t really there

On August 26 2022, Australia’s Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Tony Burke, spoke at a union conference.  This is not an unusual event for Ministers, but the timing of Burke’s address was less than a week before a major Jobs and Skills Summit – the hottest political event in town at the moment.  The transcript of the speech provides clues and hints as to how occupational health and safety (OHS) may or may not be discussed.

There is an early indication that safe workplaces are important (heart skips a beat), but then it seems shunted to the side.  Burke said:

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It’s not the size of the data, it’s what you do with it

Companies and clients continue to require numerical reports on the safety and health performance of their workers and suppliers. These measures mean very little to the improvement of the safety and health of workers but they continue to be required. Much of this is safety clutter but at a recent occupational health and safety (OHS) conference Professor Sharron O’Neill offered some hope.

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OHS change

Recently I have been critical of political speeches concerning occupational health and safety (OHS) for being bland, safe, unadventurous and lacking vision. Recently a reader sent me these words:

“In recent years occupational health and safety has become the forgotten element of national workplace relations policy. It’s now time to focus on its importance – to protect lives and livelihoods and to ensure the future strength of Australia’s workers compensation schemes. There’s too much in the balance to let the system decline in effectiveness and increase in cost. Lives are at stake.

Continue reading “OHS change”
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