The absurdity of Work

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In early July 2019, my son and I braved a cold Melbourne Friday night to see our very first improvisational comedy show. The catalyst was a show called “F**k this, I Quit“, produced by the Improv Conspiracy, and which is based on the work experiences of the audience there on the night. I was one of around fifteen in the audience, in a room that only holds forty people, and so occupational health and safety (OHS) became a featured theme that night. I, and OHS, was roasted and it was definitely the funniest night of my professional life.

Several audience members were asked about their work experiences. I mentioned that I consulted in OHS, had provided advice to some of Victoria’s licenced brothels, had an uncomfortable conversation one time about discussing nipples while at work and that I thought the most dangerous workplace hazard was electricity as it was invisible and deadly.

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Language, labels, thoughts and restraints

Carsten Busch is a committed voice for improvement in occupational health and safety (OHS) and our understanding of it. Recently he published a research paper entitled “Brave New World: Can Positive Developments in Safety Science and Practice also have Negative Sides?” (open access). The paper is of note for several reasons, not including the use Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel “Brave New World” a book about a dystopia that many Australian high school students in the 1970s were required to read.

Dystopian novels suit the study of OHS as the structure often reflects a character with new experiences of an unfamiliar culture or an awakening or realisation of their place in the world. Brave New World fits the former and George Orwell’s 1984, the latter. OHS professionals often step into a workplace culture that is foreign to what they have understood to be the norm. They evaluate the new culture, find it wanting and suggest repairs, if they can. Over time some OHS professionals, often through an epiphany, realise that they have not achieved what they expected and either leave or turn on the OHS discipline. Some OHS professionals are able to blend both these experiences and perspectives.

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Exclusive interview with independent WHS reviewer, Marie Boland

SafetyAtWorkBlog had the opportunity to interview Marie Boland earlier this week after the release of her review into Australia’s Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. Below is an edited version of that interview.

Marie, thanks for talking to me, it’s a terrific report you’ve produced. What was it like to undertake a national investigation of this type, given that it was pretty much you and just a couple of others?

…It was quite daunting at the beginning, but as I said in the introduction and nothing kind of clichéd about it, it was very much a privilege to be able to do it.  And the privilege was enhanced by having the opportunity to go travel all around Australia, and some places I’ve never been before like Tamworth and what it really brought home to me was the diversity of people, workplaces, geography and that these laws are covering and the diversity of people who are dealing with the laws on a daily basis.  So, it was certainly a once in a lifetime experience for me I suppose, and maybe a point in history for the laws as well.

I was very much aware throughout the process of my privilege and being able to do it and also the waves of expectation I suppose and this being the first review of the national laws and also very much aware of all the work that went into creating the laws in the first place.  And certainly, a lot of the people who put so much effort into that work were still obviously very keen on how they were being applied and as I said I was very conscious of respecting all of that as I went around the country.

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Making OHS an SEP (Someone Else’s Problem)

The death of Dillon Wu in 2018, is being investigated by WorkSafe Victoria and is still getting some media attention. The latest is an article in The Conversation by Associate Professor, Diana Kelly of the University of Wollongong called “Killed in the line of work duties: we need to fix dangerous loopholes in health and safety laws“.

This article focuses on the confusion over occupational health and safety (OHS) responsibility as Wu was a labour hire worker placed at Marshall Lethlean Industries by the Australian Industry Group. (AiGroup’s position on responsibility was given to SafetyAtWorkBlog in November 2018) It may seem that AiGroup has primary responsibility because it was Wu’s employer. But AiGroup told SafetyAtWorkBlog that

“All host employers sign agreements with AiGTS which specifically require the host employer to ensure apprentices are supervised and monitored during their engagement. “

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Banking Royal Commission and corporate culture

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has come late to seeing its operations as part of the organisational culture of Australian businesses. Its realisation started with an assertion of a “safety culture” that operated in parallel with regular business imperatives but often resulted in conflict and usually on the losing side. OHS has matured and become less timid by stating that OHS is an integral part of the operational and policy decision-making.

Some of that business leadership that was admired by OHS and many other professions existed in the banking and finance sector which has received a hammering over the last two years in a Royal Commission. That investigation’s final report was released publicly on 4 February 2019. The report reveals misconduct, disdain, poor regulatory enforcement and a toxic culture, amongst other problems. The OHS profession can learn much from an examination of the report and some of the analysis of that industry sector over the last few years.

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