Political Science (finally) comes to OHS

Improvement in occupational health and safety (OHS) standards has always been the intention of OHS laws. Parallel to this is the intention of the OHS, and allied, professions to continuously improve health and safety through the prevention of harm. However, political leadership on OHS has been scarce over the last few years, especially in the national governments of the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. So, it is necessary to look beyond the party politics to other sources of change.

Professor Maureen Dollard speaking at the 2019 ANZSOM Scientific Meeting in Adelaide

At the recent scientific meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine in Adelaide, prominent academic, Professor Maureen Dollard, introduced a much- needed element of political science into her presentation which was titled “Work Organisation and Psychosocial Factors”. SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to ask Dollard, and fellow presenter Professor Sally Ferguson, about this political context.

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Silicosis – “we need to licence the industry and we need to regulate the product”

Last year the Scientific Meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine (ANZSOM) had a fiery discussion on the occupational health and safety (OHS) risks of cutting engineered stone.  The status has changed a lot over 12 months with various Codes of Practice, new exposure limits, a National Dust Disease Taskforce and lobbying from Erin Brockovich.  However the risk of worker exposure seems too have not changed this much because it is employers who are responsible for safe workplaces and there are many layers of OHS-related communication between research and practical application.

Dr Graeme Edwards (pictured above) spoke first in the ANZSOM panel on October 29 and he came out with all guns blazing.

“Prima facie evidence of system failure. That’s what accelerated silicosis means. It is an entirely preventable disease.”

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Scientific Meeting challenges

There is a difference between a conference and a scientific meeting. The latter, like the current meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine (ANZSOM), provides evidence.  The former tries to provide evidence but is often “infiltrated” by salespeople or the evidence is of a lesser quality.  Both are avenues for gaining information and sometimes the gaining of wisdom.

Day 1 of ANZSOM’s annual scientific meeting was heavy on overhead slides, graphs, Venn diagrams, flowcharts and at least two appearances of photos of Donald Rumsfeld!  There was a curious thread in several presentations – the role of non-occupational factors on workplace hazards and interventions.  This bordered on a discussion of political science and its relevance to occupational health and safety (OHS).  It was a discussion that is rarely heard outside of the basement of the Trades Halls and the challenging questions from die-hard communists and unionists, but it was an important one.  Some time soon we deserve a one-day seminar on the politics of workplace health and safety so that we can better understand what we mean by the lack of political will when we whinge about the slow pace of change. (There will be more on this theme in the exclusive interview with Professors Maureen Dollard and Sally Ferguson soon)

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Business Leaders hear about the Vic Government’s OHS achievements, and about OHS is the Arts

Cameron Ling and Claire Spencer (top) and Natalie Hutchins (below)

October is Australia’s workplace safety month. It operates under different names in different States, but they all started on October 1 2019. These months are almost exclusively about marketing and SafetyAtWorkBlog’s Inbox has received a lot of generic statements about the importance of occupational health and safety (OHS) but with little information about how to improve it. The best we can do about this is to seek knowledge in some of the physical events and seminars scheduled during October.

On October 2 2019, WorkSafe Victoria held a Business Leader’s Breakfast at which there were two featured speakers – the Parliamentary Secretary for Workplace Safety, Natalie Hutchins, and the CEO of Arts Centre Melbourne, Claire Spencer. Hutchins spoke about the occupational health and safety achievements of the Victorian Government and Spencer spoke about the significance of the Arts Wellbeing Collective. They provided a good mix of politics and practice.

Hutchins spoke about

  • Silicosis
  • Hazardous Chemicals and Dangerous Goods
  • Workplace Manslaughter Laws, and
  • Mental Health.
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Small packages, big info

Face-to-Face communication trumps electronic communication every time. This is true for telling stories to trauma counselling to telling someone you love them.

Prof. Michael Quinlan and Alena Titterton Akins at the 2019 Tasmania Health & Safety Symposium

Sixty delegates attended the one-day occupational health and safety (OHS) symposium in Tasmania yesterday. These symposia seem to be the modern equivalent of the traditional conference, especially in Australia, and offer the opportunity for better conversations about OHS. This format still has some need for refinement but it seems more informative than a lecture and less confusing than a multi-streamed big conference of thousands of people.

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