Occupational health and safety (OHS) is rarely reported on in the mainstream newspapers but every week OHS is there, adding a contect to a scandal or subtext to a public health risk. Last weekend was no different. The Guardian of September 16, 2023 reported on a review of personal relationships by BP, a prison escape, deaths from air pollution, a more relaxed approach to work, shoplifting and customer aggression, and more.
The March 2023 edition of Professional Safety, the journal of the American Society of Safety Professionals, included a lead story about the safety professional’s role in ESG (Environment Safety and Corporate Governance) strategies. Its perspective was a little unclear and was based on many assumptions.
One of the problems with the article is the assumption that the occupational health and safety (OHS) professional has a large influence over the decisions of the business. That is rarely the case, and there are many instances of OHS being sidelined or compartmentalised by structural and reporting lines and the exclusion of OHS from key decision forums like Board Meetings. So does OHS have a role and to what extent?
This is the first of, hopefully, many articles about what some of the weekend newspapers and media say about issues related to occupy national health and safety (OHS). It will not be comprehensive but short takes on what I see in the newspapers.
[Note, the article below mentions suicide and workplace bullying]
Workload and Suicide
It has been a year since an employee of the Victorian Building Authority, Rob Karkut, died by suicide. According to The Age (May 13, 2023, [paywalled] his suicide occurred:
“…amid intense pressure from the authority’s managers to meet ambitious inspection targets. A litany of failings within the organisation have been exposed since his death.”
The primacy of profit to employers is an accepted truth. However, the size of the profit and the pathway to those profits are not absolutes, and it is in this latter context that occupational health and safety (OHS) lives.
Even though profit is a business truth, it is often a word that business representatives seem to fear. They speak of profit through synonyms like “productivity” and “competitiveness”. An example of this timidity or wariness was displayed recently by prominent businessman Michael Angwin in an opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review (paywalled) that contained many other cautious words of business jargon. Angwin misses the harm to workers and others generated by the world as he sees it.
Consulting firm KPMG has released its annual survey report on the concerns of corporate executives called “Keeping us up at night – The big issues facing business leaders in 2023”. Occupational health and safety (OHS) fails to get a mention. (So much for the attitudinal impact of Industrial Manslaughter laws!) But then neither does “mental health” nor “sexual harassment“.
The KPMG report may accurately reflect executive priorities, but it may also reflect a denial of reality.
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.
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.