Wage theft needs more OHS analysis

Journalist Ben Schneiders has written an excellent book about wage theft in Australian businesses – where it came from, why it persists, and the inequality it generates through institutional and wilful exploitation. What is missing is a chapter, at least, on the occupational health and safety (OHS) contexts of this exploitation. OHS is touched on but is also missed when discussing some of the pay and working conditions.

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Good framework but insufficient analysis

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is rarely analysed as a stand-alone business element. As such opportunities are missed to clarify one’s understanding of work health and safety and companies’ experience of it beyond “commitments” and workers’ compensation costs.

There is great potential for change in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goal number 8. Sadly, even here “Decent Work” which includes the safety and health of workers (8.8) is shared with “Economic Growth”. As a result, it is often difficult to isolate the OHS components. A recent analysis of Australia’s ASX200 companies illustrates the problem.

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“Tell me how I can comply with the OHS law” – wrong request

Recently the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) released a chapter of its Body of Knowledge on Ethics. But rather than a discussion of the role of occupational health and safety (OHS) in modern society, it focussed on the ethics of the OHS professional. This is a valid perspective but one of limited relevance to most of the community or to the market for OHS services. A broader consideration of OHS and ethics, one that assists in understanding what is expected of having a Duty of Care, is still required.

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‘Enough was Enough’ over a decade ago and the mining industry failed to act then

The recent report on sexual harassment at West Australian mine sites deserves national attention for several reasons.  The stories are horrific, partly because many of us thought such stories were in the distant past.  The fact that many are recent should shock everyone into action. 

The report “Enough is Enough”is highly important, but its newsworthiness seems disputable.  Some media have covered the report’s release but the newsworthiness, in my opinion, comes less from this one report but from the number of reports and research on sexual harassment, bullying, abuse, disrespect and more in the mining sector over the last twenty years that have done little to prevent the psychosocial hazards of working in the mining and resources sector and especially through the Fly-in, Fly-Out (FIFO) labour supply process.

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SDG trumps ESG

Environmental Social Governance (ESG) initiatives are receiving a shellacking at the moment, with many of the same arguments raised against ESG’s related concept several years ago, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Part of the reason these concepts are vulnerable to this criticism is that they originate from traditional managerial thinking. The local role of occupational health and safety (OHS) is all but ignored in the ESG discussion, and yet it could add some much-needed clout.

Governance consultancy, Diligent, has released a well-intentioned whitepaper that illustrates the point.

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The hill that OHS needs to climb for respectability remains a mountain

The current Australian debate about sexual harassment at work illustrates the forces ranged against occupational health and safety (OHS) being seen as a legitimate approach to preventing psychological harm. Entrenched Industrial Relations perspectives appear to be the biggest barrier. Such barriers are not always intentional and have evolved over years and decades as cultures and ideologies do. Some of the recent media coverage on the release of the Federal Government’s response to the report of the 2020 National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces illustrates the dominance of industrial relations thinking – part of the reason Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has described elements of the government’s response as a missed opportunity.

The OHS profession must start to overtly tackle each of these dominant perspectives.

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The Triumph of Doubt is essential reading

When a former head of a national occupational health and safety (OHS) regulator writes a book, it may be a curiosity (and it is rare). But when the writer is the former Assistant Secretary of Labor for the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the book becomes interesting. When the book is called “The Triumph of Doubt – Dark Money and the Science of Deception“, it becomes a must-read. SafetyAtWorkBlog dips into David Michaels‘ new book (as I only received it yesterday) and finds treasure.

This is not the first time that Michaels has written about Doubt and how whole industries have developed to create, market and exploit Doubt for the benefit of the Establishment. However, the new book is super-topical in this time of “Fake News” and blatant disregard of science and scientists.

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