Seven years ago, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) suffered a spike of workplace deaths in the construction sector. The then WorkSafe Commissioner produced a report, supported by at least one conference and extensive consultation, which proposed substantial changes. All of the recommendations from the 2012 Getting Home Safely report were accepted by the government and construction had no deaths for several years after but recent deaths have resurrected tensions between the ACT Government and the Master Builders Association (MBA).
Most of the frustration of the manufacturers of quad bikes is aimed at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for imposing new safety requirements. However, another independent assessment of the evidence and the Australian controversy recently released its findings.
James Curtin and I have been trying to find time to sit down and talk about occupational health and safety (OHS) and Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws ever since I interviewed trade unionist Dr Gerry Ayres in 2018. The most recent IM laws have recently passed in Victoria and James and I finally found some time to talk.
Below are the personal and professional points that James made in the interview. The rest of the article contains the full interview.
- Workplace manslaughter has not been found to improve safety and pushing ahead with a model that excludes some duty holders from the offence was/ is wrong
- There was no gap in the law that this new offence sought to fill. It was an ideologically fuelled position.
- The model should have been one in all in (like reckless endangerment) or one out all out (and replicate the UK’s Corporate Manslaughter Laws)
- Working for an employer or employee organisation is a great privilege. You need to represent your constituents effectively but in doing so be mindful of any bias. Some Associations represented their members very well throughout this debate. Some did not. That was very disappointing.
- Employers have to take their OHS obligations seriously. WorkSafe play a vital role in regulating Victoria’s OHS laws.
- If you are in business you have to take your obligations seriously. Everyone should have the opportunity to start a business, if they wish, but they must have high regard to their obligations. An effective way of ensuring this is through regulator involvement – proactively and reactively.
- Compliance and enforcement needs to be looked at differently. Larger fines and custodial sentences is not the answer. Each case needs to be dealt with on its merits and enforceable undertakings can play an integral role
Victoria, perhaps, has the best chance of applying occupational health and safety (OHS) principles to the prevention of sexual harassment and the psychological harm that harassment can generate. In the wake of the sexual harassment allegations against former Justice Dyson Heydon, several reviews into the legal profession have been announced.
Sexual harassment at work remains on the national agenda with the Federal Government yet to respond to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) Respect@Work Report which has been sitting with the government since March 2020.
Business management, including safety management, talks about “step changes”, new paradigms and a lot of jargon. Part of the use of this language is an attempt to manage progress and change in small comprehensible chunks. But it can also expose business owners to short-term fads, giving rise to frustration and cynicism about occupational health and safety (OHS).
One example of the step change mindset was on display several years ago in LinkedIn where the image above was posted, sadly, with no context. The before/after structure of this graphic is often used in the management of workplace health and safety.