The Australian newspaper’s Robert Gottliebsen continues to bash the Victorian Premier and WorkSafe Victoria over the outbreak of COVID19 that originated from workers in the Hotel Quarantine Scheme. He insists that the government has occupational health and safety (OHS) responsibilities for the workers in the hotels, especially the security guards through which transmission to the community occurred. His arguments are logical, but what he is really searching for is accountability and, perhaps, in a global pandemic, there is none.
Early last year Professor Andrew Hopkins wrote the following about making important safety decisions:
“If you are a CEO in charge of a large company operating hazardous technologies, you cannot afford to wait for conclusive evidence. You must act on the basis of whatever imperfect knowledge you currently have.”page 110
This seems relevant to those who have had to make decisions about COVID19 this year. In response to the Hopkins quote, I wrote:
“This applies equally to directors and managers of companies of all sizes. It is hard, it is uncomfortable, but it is part of running a business. It is the application of the “precautionary principle” which, if the precaution proves valid, you are a hero, a visionary and a leader; if it does not happen, you are seen as a doomsayer – a reputational potential that few are willing to risk. However, in terms of OHS and the safety of people, the precautionary principle should be given prominence over reputation for many reasons, for if there is a disaster and fatalities the precautionary principle will be analysed through hindsight and may be influential in arguing reasonable practicability.”
The continuing COVID19 pandemic is a disaster with an horrendous fatality rate and the Precautionary Principle has started to be discussed in academic research about COVID19 and face masks.Continue reading ““the point is not science, but safety””
It is almost impossible for occupational health and safety (OHS) people to stop looking at the world through the risk assessment parameters and hierarchies with which they work every day. The Hierarchy of Control could be applied to the COVID19 pandemic with the important lesson that the elimination of a hazard does not only come from the right purchase but could require months and months of a combination of Administrative Controls, Personal Protective Equipment, and perseverance. This impossibility should not be something that makes OHS professionals shy. It should be embraced and expanded, where possible, beyond the bounds of workplace organisations to societal design and change.
Michael Quinlan has recently written about a different investigative process that could be directly applied to the management of disasters, including COVID19. His research on Ten Pathways to Death and Disaster has been popping up in conferences, books and public speaking, including the OHS advocacy of Dr Gerry Ayers of the CFMEU, and has rarely been more timely.
The big occupational health and safety (OHS) news in Australia on 21 July 2020 was the prosecution of Dreamworld‘s parent company, Ardent Leisure, for breaches of the Work Health and Safety legislation over the deaths of four customers who were riding the Thunder River Rapids Ride four years ago. The prosecution has been expected for some time and is likely to take many months. More details will emerge as they did in the Coronial Inquest that slammed Dreamworld’s safety reputation.
In this article, I look specifically at the statement that Ardent Leisure sent to the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) as it is in an interesting example of mea culpa, OHS under-investment and damage control.
SafetyAtWorkBlog had the chance to put some questions to Dr Tom Doig in early 2019 prior to the book’s release. Below is that exclusive interview.
SAWB: “Hazelwood” is predominantly a book that describes the social and environmental impacts of the Hazelwood. What, if any, overlap did workplace health and safety (WHS) and WorkSafe Victoria have in the fire’s aftermath?
TD: In the aftermath of the mine fire, a number of WHS issues have come to the fore. Firstly, in the 2014 Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry, a number of criticisms were made of Hazelwood’s regulatory framework, with a suggestion that there was a ‘regulatory gap’, as expressed by Mr Leonard Neist, Executive Director of the Health and Safety Unit at the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA), at that time:
‘If I identify that gap as, who is responsible for regulating for the protection of public safety, regardless of what the source of the hazard or the risk is, who’s responsible for public safety, that’s where the gap probably is and I can’t—if you were to ask me right now, I can’t tell you who is responsible for regulating public safety. I’m responsible for regulating workplace safety and responsible for public safety as a result of the conduct of that undertaking, but I couldn’t tell you who is directly responsible.’
In this case, while VWA focuses on the health and safety of mine employees, they aren’t explicitly concerned with the health and safety of the general public, if a hazard – like a 45-day plume of toxic smoke – is dispersed beyond a specific workplace.
Dr Tom Doig has continued to build on his earlier work about the Morwell mine fire, expanding his “The Coal Face” from 2015 into his new book “Hazelwood” (after court-related injunctions, now available on 18 June 2020).
SPECIAL OFFER: The first four (4) new Annual subscribers in the month of June 2020 will receive a copy of Hazelwood.
The Morwell mine fire created great distress to residents in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, ongoing health problems, and a parliamentary inquiry, but can also be seen as a major case study of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, enforcement, role and the obligation on employers to provide a safe and healthy working environment that does not provide risks to workers and “protect other people from risks arising from employer’s business”. The management of worker and public safety is present in almost every decision made in relation to the Morwell Mine fire. The overlay of an OHS perspective to Doig’s book is enlightening.
Workplace health and safety risks related to COVID19 emerge in Australia and the United Kingdom.
Trade Union Suggestions
On May 5 2020, the Australian Council of Trade Unions released a statement on occupational health and safety (OHS) calling for certain Industrial Relations and OHS changes, including:
- Paid pandemic leave
- New regulations on safety and health standards, and
- Compulsory notifications to Health Departments and OHS Regulators.
SafetyAtWorkBlog has been led to believe that the paid pandemic leave is intended to apply from the time a worker is tested for COVID19 through their isolation while waiting for the test results and the operation of sick leave should the test results be positive.