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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What Australia can learn from other Parliaments about sexual harassment and assaults

Brittany Higgins alleges that she was raped in her employer’s office by a work colleague after a night of drinking. Since mid-February 2021, other women have claimed to have been sexually assaulted in Parliament. The Attorney-General, Christian Porter, is taking some leave after revealing himself to be the person behind historical rape allegations. At the moment, Australian politics is wrapped up in itself over these scandals. Still, similar scandals have happened in other Parliaments, and the responses to these may provide guidance for Australia.

A small survey of female parliamentarians and staff in Europe in 2018 found the following

▪ 85.2 per cent of female MPs who took part in the study said that they had suffered psychological violence in the course of their term of office.
▪ 46.9 per cent had received death threats or threats of rape or beating.
▪ 58.2 per cent had been the target of online sexist attacks on social networks.
▪ 67.9 per cent had been the target of comments relating to their physical appearance or based on gender stereotypes.
▪ 24.7 per cent had suffered sexual violence.
▪ 14.8 per cent had suffered physical violence.

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Business voices add weight to OHS change

On February 27 2012, The Australian reprinted/tweaked a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on Burnout. A significant feature of the article is the acknowledgement of organisational factors as contributing to burnout and other workplace mental health hazards. The situation seems to have changed as these types of acknowledgements were harder to draw out of psychological health experts when SafetyAtWorkBlog spoke to some in 2019.

However, there are also clear parallels to Australian research into job stressors that could have helped HBR’s author Dave Lievens add weight to the decades-long research of Michael Leiter and Christina Maslach.

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The PM expects Australian workplaces to be “as safe as possible”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has set the occupational health and safety (OHS) bar unachievably high for Australian businesses.

Morrison is embroiled in a scandal about an alleged rape in a ministerial office, his knowledge of and response to it, and his government’s duty of care to political employees. Below is his response to this question from a journalist:

JOURNALIST: “What is your message to young women who might want to get into politics and see this and are just horrified by it. What’s your reassurance to them about getting involved in the Liberal party or other parties? “

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Parliamentary culture must change

Australia is in the midst of a murky investigation into an alleged rape that occurred out-of-hours in an office of a Federal Minister in Australia’s Parliament House. The incident has raised discussions and debates about workplace culture, the reporting of crimes, the uniqueness (?) of the parliamentary workplace, the rights of women, the role of the media in reporting the allegations or in being complicit in the workplace culture…….

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has got himself into a pickle about how to respond, how to investigate and what he should have known and what he was expected to do. One of the actions that he and his government could do, and should have done, was to accept, and act on, the findings of the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) early last year. The relevance of this report is obvious:

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Ask not what WorkSafe can do for you, but what you can do to improve safety

One of the most difficult industries in which to achieve occupational health and safety (OHS) improvements is farming, especially in areas where farming continues to be done by small family units. The safety culture of farming is unique as the workplace is embedded in community and rural culture. Some people believe that OHS regulators have given the agricultural industry an easy run for too long, as stated by Mick Debenham in a recent opinion piece in The Weekly Times (paywalled), but farmers should perhaps ask themselves why people continue to die on their farms and what they can do to change this.

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Culture, greed and safety heckles

More business “gems” from the Australian Financial Review (AFR).

The potential for corporate change from Australia’s Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry is fading fast. Back in July 2020, the Australian Financial Review (AFR) reported on an investigation by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) that found, according to the AFR’s headline, that Westpac bank’s culture was immature and reactive.

Safety culture, or an organisational culture that integrates safety, has been a running theme in Australian occupational health and safety (OHS) circles for several decades now but it has rarely gained traction. Partly this is due to the distraction presented by corporate wellbeing programs which address symptoms of ill-health and un-safety and provide a comfortable excuse for company executives who can then claim some action even if the results are dubious.

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