Australia’s heavy vehicle transport industry has been involved in arguing about workplace health and safety for decades. It is also one of those issues that have been largely dominated by anecdotal evidence, as shown by the recent Australian Senate Committee hearings into the “Importance of a viable, safe, sustainable and efficient road transport industry“, much to the detriment of the occupational health and safety (OHS) of the drivers, the public safety of other road users and the families of those who die in road incidents.
One of the most difficult industries in which to achieve4 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.
It is fair to say that the term of office for President Trump was not supportive of occupational health and safety (OHS). Former President Trump did not seem to see the need for OHS regulations and his attitude to the COVID-19 pandemic meant that it would never be considered as an occupational disease. Reports over the last week in the United States media, and the issuing of an Executive Order, indicate that new President Biden values workplace health and safety.
The New York Times (paywalled) is reporting that
“President Biden directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] on Thursday to release new guidance to employers on protecting workers from Covid-19.
In one of 10 executive orders that he signed Thursday, the president asked the agency to step up enforcement of existing rules to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace and to explore issuing a new rule requiring employers to take additional precautions.”
Many people are sick of the issue of Industrial Manslaughter because it has seemed to dominate the discussion of occupational health and safety (OHS) and taken the focus away from harm prevention reforms on silica, mental health and others. However, Industrial Manslaughter (IM) continues to be raised in Australian Parliaments. In December, Shadow Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme & Government Services, Bill Shorten, reminded us of some of the arguments in favour of Industrial Manslaughter laws and penalties.
Regular readers of, and subscribers to, this blog know that I am a strong advocate for the prevention of suicides, especially those related to work. Mental illness is not always connected to suicides but there is often a correlation between, mental stress, self-harm, suicide ideation and suicides. as such it is useful to keep an eye on suicide statistics, particularly in industries or times of great stress.
In early December 2020, Victoria’s Minister for Mental Health, James Merlino, addressed the Parliamentary Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) to discuss the 2020-21 Budget Estimates. At that time, Merlino made some clear statements about the rates of suicides, which are useful to remember when evaluating suicide and mental illness prevention strategies like those mentioned in the Productivity Commission’s recent inquiry into Mental Health.
Three years ago, WorkSafe Victoria indicated that it would consider prosecuting farmers for breaches of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. That possibility seems to have disappeared based on the latest Minister for Workplace Safety’s appearance at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC).
On December 11 2020, Senator Deborah O’Neill (ALP) (unsuccessfully) sponsored a motion that, amongst other things, called on the Government to act on the recommendations of the 2018 inquiry in to industrial deaths and the Boland Review, and to introduce Federal industrial manslaughter laws. That last request will probably never occur under a Conservative government, but does not need to for such laws to be introduced across Australia.
It is good that pressure on important occupational health and safety (OHS) matters is maintained, even if the motion was “negatived”. However, perhaps more interesting was a couple of statements that Senator O’Neill’s actions generated, one of which is deconstructed below.