Over-emphasising the COVID pandemic

Everyone has struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have died. We have to continue to make many allowances for businesses and people due to the disruption, but some are using the pandemic as an excuse for not doing something. Occupational health and safety (OHS) inactivity is being blamed on COVID-19 in some instances, masking or skewing people’s approach to workplace health and safety more generally.

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Why is the world “enthusiastic” for regulations?

Unsurprising from a global business magazine, The Economist’s special report on January 15 2002 (paywalled*) bemoaned the new “enthusiasm for regulation”. It clearly includes occupational health and safety (OHS) laws and Australia in its consideration but stops short of asking why this new enthusiasm exists.

Many regulations, especially in OHS, are proposed and introduced to address a wrong or misbehaviour or a new hazard. A major catalyst for Lord Robens‘ OHS laws in the 1970s stemmed from industrial deaths, especially those of the public. The pattern of deaths as a catalyst for change continues today with the Industrial Manslaughter laws, for instance. Another catalyst is new cultural sensitivities; what was tolerated previously is no longer acceptable.

The workplace bullying changes late last century in Australia is a good example, but this also ties in with unacceptable levels of harm. Bullying was often part of the initiation to work and seemed acceptable until workers were severely injured and traumatised, and people found out about it.

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Revelations for wellness providers and workers

The Australian Financial Review (AFR) is Australia’s national newspaper on business issues. Recently its Editor Michael Stutchbury stated that he purposely focussed the newspaper on being business-friendly. This is understandable as businesses and employers, and entrepreneurs are the paper’s subscriber base and market, but sometimes articles can be too business friendly, and a recent article on burnout and the four-day-week may be an example. Thankfully the AFR article also included a brief mention of a more useful global survey about work in a time of pandemic.

The article, called “Pandemic burnout ignites argument for shorter workweek” (paywalled) included these quotes from a regular AFR contributor Reanna Browne on the possible mental health benefits of a four-day week:

“COVID has intensified these [mental health] issues and also given rise to new forms of workplace exhaustion such as wide-scale increases in working hours, alongside novel health challenges like digital load management and Zoom fatigue…”

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Attendee list of IR Minister’s business roundtable

Last week, Australian business and union representatives failed to gain the additional support on COVID-19 issues they wanted from the Federal Government during their meeting with the Industrial Relations Minister, Michaelia Cash. The Minister’s media release of the event seems to indicate business as usual.

One piece of information that has not been released before is a list of the organisations that attended. That list, published below and in no particular order, shows the attendees but, perhaps more interesting is those who were not invited.

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Law firms are a focus for sexual harassment reforms

This year coverage of The Australian newspaper’s annual Legal Partnership Survey has focused on the number of women partners in law firms. This increase has generated discussion on sexual harassment, which has revealed some of the activities that law firms use to prevent the psychological harm (and brand damage) from sexual harassment; many strategies that are already very familiar to the occupational health and safety profession

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has been paraphrased in the article (paywalled), saying

Non-disclosure agreements should be used to protect people who have been the subject of sexual harassment, rather than to reduce brand damage to organisations…..”

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Business continuity planning by another name

Occupational health and safety (OHS) gets a mention in a full-page advertorial in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) (February 3 2021, page 33) revolving around the legal and business services of Clyde & Co. The advertorial contains a good example of the contemporary business jargon such as “organisational resilience” – a concept that has come to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Organisational resilience” has several definitions but here is one used by the British Standards Institution:

“….the ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper.”

This has very strong similarities to the much longer-established concepts of “business continuity” or sustainability within which OHS has dabbled for decades.

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COVID19 and Safety Managers

Several weeks ago, researchers from Griffith University and Queensland University of Technology (QUT) commenced a survey about safety managers and COVID19. The research was called “Resilience in a COVID19 World” and aimed at

“Exploring health and safety measures taken by and for ‘essential services’ workers throughout Australia’s COVID-19 crisis, and how their contributions affect personal and organisational resilience.”

Some initial results are in a recent outline published by Dr Tristan Casey & Dr Xiaowen Hu through The Culture Effect consultancy. There were four key challenges but also significant positives.

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