OHS change

Recently I have been critical of political speeches concerning occupational health and safety (OHS) for being bland, safe, unadventurous and lacking vision. Recently a reader sent me these words:

“In recent years occupational health and safety has become the forgotten element of national workplace relations policy. It’s now time to focus on its importance – to protect lives and livelihoods and to ensure the future strength of Australia’s workers compensation schemes. There’s too much in the balance to let the system decline in effectiveness and increase in cost. Lives are at stake.

Continue reading “OHS change”

Anger is an energy*

Last week a Victorian politician and a senior bureaucrat spoke about occupational health and safety (OHS) at the Worksafe Victoria awards night. On April 28, 2022, the same bureaucrat and a couple of other politicians spoke at the International Workers Memorial at Trades Hall in Melbourne. Did they say anything useful? Did they say anything that changes or progresses OHS? And who was the audience?

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The PM misses an opportunity for OHS leadership

Last week in Devonport, Tasmania, an inflatable jumping castle flew into the air injuring and killing several primary school-aged children.  Shortly after Prime Minister Scott Morrison conducted a press conference in conjunction with the Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein and others in which he spoke about the incident and its impact on the local community.  It is worth looking at the PM’s comments from an occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective.

Many readers will be aware that fatalities related to inflatable amusement devices becoming airborne are uncommon but not unknown, as the ABC article linked above shows.  Most Australian jurisdictions have issued OHS guidelines for amusement devices, including inflatable jumping castles. Here are links to two examples that illustrate the state of knowledge of the risk. This article makes no comment on the OHS circumstances of the Devonport incident.

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Increased OHS accountability sought

The political strategy of Ken Phillips of Self Employed Australia (formerly of the Independent Contractors of Australia) received a boost in The Age newspaper on December 12 2021, in an article headlined “Group to mount legal challenge to force prosecution of Premier over hotel quarantine disaster” online (paywalled) or “Business owners seek prosecution of Andrews over hotel quarantine” in the print version.

Phillips uses a section of Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act to make a political point about accountability. Previously, Phillips, his usual mainstream media contact Robert Gottliebsen, and others have called for Premier Daniel Andrews to be charged with Industrial Manslaughter (IM) over the deaths of over 800 people linked to a COVID-19 outbreak from the failure of Victoria’s hotel quarantine program. (The recent non-hotel outbreak is around 597 deaths)

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Reluctance to address mental health notifications

Another example of the unwillingness of occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators feeling able to affect change in workplace mental health by looking outside the workplace is the United Kingdom’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE). Sadly this position contributes to unnecessarily stigmatising a legitimate workplace hazard.

On a recent episode of the Safety and Health Podcast on workplace suicides, Professor Sarah Waters said:

“Unlike other countries, unlike France, unlike the US, unlike most European systems, suicide, even where there are clear links to work is pretty much treated in the UK context as an individual mental health problem, there tends to be a denial on the part of the HSE on the part of other public agencies, that there is a link between suicide and work.”

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Lessons for many in the prosecution of Pipecon

The prosecution of Pipecon over two of its workers who died in a trench collapse in March 2018 has opened in Ballarat’s County Court this week. Day one of the plea hearing was reported in the local newspapers and provided details of the circumstances of the events leading up to the deaths of Charlie Howkins and Jack Brownlee.

The investigation of Pipecon generated great bitterness in Ballarat and not only for the Howkins and Brownlee families. There were strong rumours that Pipecon would plead not guilty and argue that their workers were responsible for the trench collapse. Understandably people were angry that the responsibility for the worksite would be transferred to the dead workers.

Several weeks ago, the Court heard that Pipecon would plead guilty to breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act. Those alleged breaches are being presented in the current plea hearing. As the case is being heard in the County Court, in time, additional details of the findings of the Court will be publicly released, as opposed to cases heard in the Magistrates’ Court.

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Save lives or save money – the OHS tension

There are two core elements to the work of the occupational health and safety (OHS) professional – the management of Safety and the management of Safety Liability. In the simplest of terms, the former saves lives and the latter saves money. OHS (and politics) has always involved juggling these two extremes.

There are many examples of this tension but the most obvious, at the moment, is COVID-19 and the vaccination of workers.

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