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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Avoid government interference, get in first

In occupational health and safety (OHS), there is evidence and then there is evidence. Regardless of the type of evidence, there is not as much as there should be. Many companies and organisations in Australia are required to publicly release annual reports that identify their financial status. Increasingly non-financial criteria, like OHS performance, is being included in these reports but why isn’t this mandatory and why isn’t it of a consistent type? Late on 2019, the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) looked at the issue of OHS reporting, with some assistance from EY.

ACSI’s CEO, Louise Davidson illustrates the problem in her Foreword to the report:

“Almost one third of ASX200 companies provide their investors and other stakeholders no information on health and safety performance. For the companies that do provide some information, the disclosure often provides no insight into how many severe incidents occurred…….”

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OHS needs to ride the ESG wave

The current Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) movement can be seen as the latest iteration of companies and business owners reflecting on the broader purposes of running a business.  An earlier manifestation of this reflection was Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).  ESG and CSR are similar perspectives from different times but with a fundamental continuity.

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is integral to CSR/ESG/Sustainability considerations but is often overlooked or considered as a business add-on, a situation that has been allowed to persist by the OHS profession, Regulators and others over many decades.

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Paper provides historical context to OHS laws

Barry Naismith of OHSIntros has provided excellent independent analysis of Victoria’s occupational health and safety (OHS) data for many years. His latest “Deaths at Work” report (available publicly for a limited time) includes a detailed discussion on the social context of Victoria’s proposed Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws.

But of more immediate interest is Naismith’s longitudinal analysis. One of his graphs showing death statistics back to the commencement of Victoria’s modern-era OHS laws in 1985 supports the statement popular with politicians that the rate of work-related deaths is declining over that time but Naismith points out that the five-year trend to 2018 is reversed and that this is part of the justification for the IM Laws.

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Political Science (finally) comes to OHS

Improvement in occupational health and safety (OHS) standards has always been the intention of OHS laws. Parallel to this is the intention of the OHS, and allied, professions to continuously improve health and safety through the prevention of harm. However, political leadership on OHS has been scarce over the last few years, especially in the national governments of the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. So, it is necessary to look beyond the party politics to other sources of change.

Professor Maureen Dollard speaking at the 2019 ANZSOM Scientific Meeting in Adelaide

At the recent scientific meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine in Adelaide, prominent academic, Professor Maureen Dollard, introduced a much- needed element of political science into her presentation which was titled “Work Organisation and Psychosocial Factors”. SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to ask Dollard, and fellow presenter Professor Sally Ferguson, about this political context.

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