In Victoria there is much anticipation about the introduction of Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws to the Parliament. Yesterday Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy and others hosted a meeting for some prominent IM advocates and trade unionists. Part of the reason for the meeting was that this week was the tentative date for the introduction of the IM laws to Parliament. The latest strong rumour is the Victorian Government has privately conceded that the Bill will not pass this year as expected and the Premier is moving to Plan B.
Last week the Australian Government accepted the recommendations of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) about improving the safety of quad bikes. But the improvement in safety came not through occupational health and safety (OHS) laws but the Australian Consumer Law so how could the ACL help improve workplace health and safety further? After a quick look at how the quad bike recommendations have been received, the potential of the ACL is considered in relation to silicosis.
One important stage in improving the safety of farm vehicles was completed on October 10 2019 with the acceptance by the Australian Government of recommendations to make Operator-Protection Devices (OPD) mandatory for all quad bikes in Australia. That decision is a substantial achievement that many have lobbied, and fought, over for many years, but it will not save every farmer’s life as quad bike use has always only ever been one part of the occupational health and safety (OHS) risks on farms.
The Australian Government’s recent announcements on this issue have also been a little odd.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) needs to talk more about failure, in a similar way that other business processes are dissected and reported. But the challenge to this, and I think the main reasons failure is not discussed, is that OHS failures result in serious injuries, life-altering conditions and deaths. OHS shares something with the medical profession which “buries its mistakes”. There appears to be something shameful in talking about these failures in public, although the OHS profession is full of chatty anecdotes in private.
One of the ways for OHS to discuss these uncomfortable experiences is to focus on Harm rather than legalities and the chase for compliance.
Recently the State Secretary of the CFMEU Construction & General WA, Mike Buchan, wrote in Construction Weekly about the need for Industrial Manslaughter laws in Western Australia. There are several points made that deserve some assessment and clarification.
He starts by stating that current occupational health and safety (OHS) laws are inadequate. This may be the case, but as Nicole Rosie from WorkSafe NZ has, supposedly, said “you can’t regulate your way to safety”. What may be inadequate is people’s compliance with OHS laws, and there may be many reasons for this non-compliance – ignorance, illiteracy, lack of enforcement by government, complexity of laws and guidance, and/or a total disregard. According to Buchan, and the wider trade union movement, Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws are supposed to fix this inadequacy.
Buchan writes that
“The penalties that are handed down, even when a builder is found guilty of negligence, have been a disgrace in the face of the extraordinary loss of life and the suffering of families left behind.”