Creating a scaffolding standard that already exists?!

The judgement against GN Residential Construction P/L, part of the Ganellen group, is now publicly available. GN/Ganellen pleaded guilty to work health and safety breaches that lead to the death of a young worker (Christopher Cassaniti) and serious injuries to another worker (Kahled Wehbe), and was fined $900k. The judgement provides much more detail than the media reports at the end of last year, with important information about scaffolding and also a requirement to establish a “Scaffolding Industry Safety Standard Working Group”. The curious part of this latter requirement is that New South Wales has had an industry standard for scaffolding since 2008.

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What did we learn in Senate Estimates last week?

Australia has a process of accountability where Ministers and Heads of Government Departments and Authorities are required to answer attend Senate Estimates. Few people outside of the Canberra bureaucracy pay much attention to the occupational health and safety (OHS) information provided. Most media pay attention to disputes and statements that have a more general political appeal, but there is important information about workplace health and safety, such as an update of the progress on Marie Boland’s recommendations or the role and activity of Safe Work Australia (SWA).

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Work-related mental health remains contentious

This article is about SafeWorkNSW’s recently released Draft Code of Practice for Managing the Risks to Psychological Health, but it is not going to focus on the Code.  Instead the focus will be on the supplementary Explanatory Paper because this presents the rationale for the Code’s contents and, in many ways, is a more useful tool for occupational health and safety (OHS) discussions. However, just as the Code has structural and legislative limitations as part of its Purpose, the Explanatory Paper is a support document for submissions on the Draft Code and therefore has its own limitations.

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Getting distracted from safety

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).

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Interview with James Curtin

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

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Australians become impatient for change on sexual harassment

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.

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