The Australian Government is starting to address the silicosis risk associated with engineered stone. The Health Minister, Greg Hunt, has said in a media release on January 23 2020 that the government will accept all five recommendations of the interim advice of the National Dust Disease Taskforce. However, some of these seem half-hearted and some actions will take a long time, which does not necessarily help those workers currently at risk.
The Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) published an opinion piece on January 20, 2020 concerning working hours in the medical profession and the risk of mental health and suicide from working excessive hours. It uses the Japanese problem of “karoshi” to illustrate the severity of the workplace risks but it misses a couple of points.
It references the amendments to Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation that introduced an offence of Industrial Manslaughter but implies that this amendment changes the duty of care expected of employers and changes a worker’s right to a safe and healthy workplace.
The reader’s comments on online articles can be very revealing. Below is a discussion of some of the comments posted on The Australian website in response to an article about the accuracy of workplace fatality data in the mining industry. Given that this is one of the few mainstream media articles about occupational health and safety (OHS), they are telling.
One commenter asked the newspaper:
“… if one of your accountants based in the Sydney office were to have a car accident in Parramatta while driving to work in the morning, would you include that in your OHS statistics as a workplace fatality?”
The Australian newspaper published an article from the The Wall Street Journal titled “The hidden death toll from mining” (paywalled), written by Alistair Macdonald and others that questions the workplace health and safety prominence that is given to the minerals/materials sector. The opening paragraph is:
” Many mining deaths aren’t captured by global safety statistics, making the industry seem safer than it is to regulators, investors and consumers.”
This Forbes article on the France Telecom suicides, written by Jack Kelly, is doing the rounds on LinkedIn with various lessons identified by various commentators. Sadly Kelly dilutes the significance of the suicides and the jailing of executives by implying that the action in France is a special case, as if the executives were trapped by employment laws into taking the actions that led to the extreme anxiety felt by France Telecom’s workers.
Kelly’s concluding paragraph is unnecessarily equivocal:
“The trial shows that managers waging a campaign of harassment against employees could establish a precedent in France and other countries. It may serve as a strong warning to corporate executives and management that their actions have severe consequences. Pushing employees too hard may result in serious consequences for both the workers and the purveyors of the punishing behaviors.”
Kelly use of “may” weakens the significance of the executive’ actions, the successful prosecution and the jail sentences. Why write that this may happen when the article is about a real case of cause and effect between executive strategy and suicide? Surely “may” should have been “can”.