A wicked start to a virtual safety conference

Recently the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) conducted an online conference under the title SafeFest. The intention was to challenge the established orthodoxy of workplace health and safety. One of the conference’s first speakers was David Whitefield talking about safety as a “wicked problem”. It is a perspective that occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals have heard before but it is one that is an important reminder.

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Lancing the boil of sexual harassment

The Australian Institute of Safety and Health’s online national conference offered some big topics this year. One of the most anticipated was the discussion of sexual harassment in the workplace. Luckily the panel discussion included big hitters such as Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins whose week was about to get a lot busier with the revelations of sexual harassment by Australia’s High Court Justice Dyson Heydon.

The Dyson Heydon sexual harassment accusations, which he emphatically denies, were revealed in an independent investigation for the High Court of Australia. The Justice Heydon case has generated copious media attention for many reasons including his prominence in a politically-charged Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. His sexual harassment offences are awful, but the most startling revelations are not necessarily about one man’s inappropriate actions. Here was an organisational, maybe even a professional, culture that permitted this behaviour to continue unchallenged for many many years. It is this context that, I believe, offers the most significant lessons for the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession and where OHS skills can help others.

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Why isn’t workplace health and safety improving?

On Wednesday June 24 2020 at 1.30pm (AEST) I will be presenting my conference paper on the topic above. This is the first Australian Institute of Health and Safety conference to be conducted virtually and I am proud to be part of this year’s conference. As it is virtual, there is no limit on tickets so if you could not attend previous AIHS conferences, get to this one. Below is an extract from my paper:

The workplace fatality rates have been falling consistently for decades.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals seem to be busier than ever.  So, the world must be safer than it has been in the past?  Maybe.  But this may not be the reality if we think a little deeper about the causes of harm and about the actions the OHS profession has applied.

Here is a typical graph showing the rate of workplace fatalities since 1985, when the modern OHS legislation was enacted in Victoria.

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Quirky safety cards

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Conferences usually provide delegates with goodie bags of promotional material from sponsors and speakers. Most of it is dross but the bags often include quirky items such as drink bottles, stress balls, baseball hats, sunscreen, which can also be silly, but occasionally there are some that are useful and notable.

SafeWorkNSW produced a deck of playing cards where safety statements or aphorisms replaced the pictures of two-headed royalty and card symbols. This is the type of item that may be left in a glovebox of a car for times of imposed idleness, but I have only seen playing cards used once on a worksite (exempting the playing of Uno by tax office employees in the early 1980s at the morning break after the tea ladies brought chocolate and cream buns). A construction site I was working at was “rained off” one day and the cards came out.

The use of such safety playing cards is intended to be a useful subliminal way of reminding workers of the importance of safety. Given that the longevity and success fo safety posters is very limited, the card strategy may be worth considering by other organisations.

If you have an example of a useful OHS promotional item, please send through an image and/or a description via this email link.

Kevin Jones

Mental Health conference assessment

As you could guess from some recent blog posts, the Criterion Conference called “Improving Integrated Approaches to Workplace Mental Health” conducted with the support of the Australian Institute of Health and Safety, was well worth attending as many of the speakers were excellent. What was missing was a strong voice of advocacy on behalf of the Human Resources (HR) profession to counter or balance the strong occupational health and safety (OHS) focus.

Below is a summary of some of the important points made by the conference speakers (or at least those who did not impose restrictions).

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