Much is being asked of Safe Work Australia by Senate inquiry on industrial deaths

One of the noticeable things about the Australian Senate’s report into industrial deaths is the workload it expects Safe Work Australia (SWA) to do in the implementation of the 34 official recommendations.  Whether Safe Work Australia has the capacity and skills to undertake these tasks is not addressed.

The Senate report expects Safe Work Australia to develop various data-sets and public lists and to work with State and Territory occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators.  But the lessons from OHS harmonisation and Safe Work Australia’s Model Laws reinforced that workplace health and safety is controlled by the States and Territories and that, although an Inter-Governmental Agreement was signed, party and local politics knobbled the harmonisation program so that several years on, Australian OHS laws are only slightly more harmonised than they were before the program began.

In the early 1990s, a program for National Uniformity of OHS laws was cancelled for political reasons.  Prior to harmonisation there were strong calls for a national OHS regulator but this could not be undertaken without Constitutional reform.  That lack of a single National OHS regulator is all over this Senate inquiry report.

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By looking at the silicosis tree, we might miss the forest of dust

Rumours of a TV report on the increasing hazards of silicosis have floated around for a week or so.  On October 10 2018, the show appeared on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s 7.30 program.  But the story is much bigger than the ten minutes or so on that program.

The focus is understandably on silica but perhaps that is too specific.  Maybe the issue of dust, in general, needs more attention.

However,

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CFMEU steps up the OHS pressure

SafetyAtWorkBlog has dipped into the occupational health and safety (OHS) and political issues around the death of Jorge Castillo-Riffo in Adelaide in 2014.  On October 4 2018, the CFMEU issued a media release outlining the recommendations it made to the Coronial inquest into Castillo-Riffo’s death.  They deserve serious consideration:

  • Mandatory coronial inquests should be held into all deaths at work, with a mandatory requirement for the reporting of any action taken, or proposed to be taken, in consequence of any findings and recommendations made;
  • Families should receive funding to be represented;
  • An independent safety commissioner should be established in SA whose duty it is to review, comment and provide recommendations concerning the safety record of companies who tender for government construction contracts work over $5 million;
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Workers’ Inferno

Recently the 20th anniversary of the Esso Longford disaster was commemorated in Victoria. Coinciding with this anniversary was the release of a book about the disaster and its personal aftermath, Workers’ Inferno, written by Ramsina Lee.

This book has been in development for many, many years and the Lee’s writing talent is on display in the structure of the book and the stories within.  These stories largely linear But the multiple strands allow Lee to jump from one to the other providing a variety tone.

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Where is the Senate Inquiry into Industrial Deaths heading?

As readers would realise, the transcripts for the Australian Senate inquiry into industrial deaths are fascinating. It is worth looking at the other presentations and questions on the day when the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry received a grilling as this provides insight into how to present to a government inquiry addressing occupational health and safety.

The Senate Committee has probably heard more from relatives of deceased workers than has any other similar inquiry, perhaps even the Workplace Bullying inquiry in which this Committee’s member Deborah O’Neill participated.  This is an indication of the shift in OHS over the last few years where the human impacts of workplace safety failures, what some describe as the “lived experience”, gain an influence that used to sit with professionals and acknowledged subject matter experts.

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