Consumer Product Safety System review should be on the OHS radar

Following on from the product safety theme in yesterday’s article, it is noted that the Australian Treasury has opened a consultation phase on improving the effectiveness of the Consumer Product Safety System. The report makes specific reference to workplace health and safety laws.

This consultation is a direct result of the recent review of Australian Consumer Law:

“The Australian Consumer Law Review final report recommended the introduction of a General Safety Provision (GSP) into the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) requiring traders to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of a product before selling it onto the market.”

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The GSP has similarities to the duties of the PCBU (person conducting a business or undertaking) under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws.

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Talk business, talk safety

Successful management of occupational health and safety (OHS) requires reciprocal, active dialogues between workers and their managers. In OHS terms this is Consultation. To provide some structure to that consultation, it is becoming more common to designate some workers as “Safety Champions”.

This October, Safe Work Australia is promoting its National Safe Work Month urging everyone to be a “Safety Champion”. This is more about the act of championing safety than having a Safety Champion title. In the past, SWA has used alternate terms such as “Safety Ambassador” but it still struggles to enliven the conversations about OHS in workplaces, partly because of its passive messaging.

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Bystanders, safety hazards and prevention of harm – “what you do or don’t do”

Occupational health and safety (OHS) relies on workers to “blow the whistle” on the existence of hazards to their employers, even though the process is not considered whistleblowing. The avoidance of many workplace hazards has always relied on bystanders – one’s work colleagues who may say “watch out!” In recent years, the action of notifying employers and authorities of hazards, and of drawing colleagues’ attention to0 hazards has increased in prominence and debate, especially around the issue of psychological harm and, a subset of that harm – sexual harassment.

In September 2019, the Victorian Government released what it describes as a toolkit on bystander interventions in relation to sexual harassment and sexism. The full document is useful but, as with many government guidances on this issue, almost ignores the role of health and safety management in the prevention and reduction of this type of hazard.

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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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More safety in politics

Here’s a quick summary of several mentions of occupational health and safety (OHS) in the various Parliaments in Australia over the last week or so.

Answers to Questions on Notice

In Parliamentary Committees, speakers often put questions “on notice” as they do not have the answer at hand. Often these questions fade from memory but answers do appear, usually. A good example has been provided in the South Australian Parliament on September 11, 2009 with the Treasurer, Rob Lucas, providing answers to questions from Estimates Committee B on July 24 2019. For the number junkies out there, according to Hansard, in 2018/19 SafeWork SA:

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