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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Shared Values, Social Values and Safety Values

Last week, the Shared Value Project launched its whitepaper called “Creating Shared Value, the Business Imperative to Improve Mental Health in Australia.” It is an interesting document that is part of the trend of reconfiguring capitalism, the decline of neoliberalism, talk of a “social licence”, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and more. Depending on one’s position on capitalism, this makes it part of the wave of change or another failed humanitarian action in the wake of that capitalism.

Several people spoke at the launch, including Professor Allan Fels and the Victorian Minister for Mental Health, Martin Foley.

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Big potatoes, small potatoes, trust and transparency

The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) has released a research paper that discusses the reporting of workplace fatalities by major companies in their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reports. There are many informational benefits in this report but perhaps the most important is that the report reinforces occupational health and safety (OHS) in ESG reports. The risk is that OHS is seen only in relation to the ESG criteria in Annual Reports.

Australia has experienced a gentle push for inclusion of OHS performance measurements in company and government department Annual Reports. SafetyAtWorkBlog has reported on this and some peer-reviewed research and recommendations over many years. The ACSI report progresses this but also illustrates the sluggish rate of change.

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More than warm lettuce needed on Industrial Manslaughter laws

Applying the most effective way to have companies comply with their occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations has been debated in Australia and elsewhere for years.  The issue will arise again in 2019 and in relation Industrial Manslaughter laws as Australian States have elections, or the political climate suits.

There are several elements to the argument put by those in favour of Industrial Manslaughter laws. Workers are still being killed so the deterrence of existing OHS laws has seen to have failed.  Deterrence has been based on financial penalties and workers are still being killed so financial penalties have failed. Jail time is the only option left.

This is a simplistic depiction of the argument, but it is not dissimilar to some of the public arguments. The reality is that deterrence is achieved in two ways – telling the person of the consequences of an action and enforcing those consequences.

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What will the Greens do for Victoria on OHS?

The policy platform of the Victorian Greens party has been publicly available for some time but there is only one paragraph in the 22 page document that directly addresses occupational health and safety (OHS):

“We voted for regulating labour hire, we will support criminalising wage theft, and we have called for industrial manslaughter laws.” (page 26)

But if a generous definition of workplace health and safety is applied there are several other policies of interest.

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