Workplace sexual harassment inquiry releases submissions

The National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces has started to release some of its public submissions. The Inquiry has received a lot of submissions but this blog will continue its search for strategies to prevent sexual harassment and the related psychological harm, as indicated in the Inquiry’s terms of reference and reiterated repeatedly by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins.

One submission by Anita McKay is very detailed and titled “Recent Developments in Sexual Harassment Law: Towards a New Model”.

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Minerals Council and Industrial Manslaughter laws

On 1 February 2019 the Minerals Council of Australia issued a media release about occupational health and safety (OHS) in the mining industry and, in particular, Industrial Manslaughter laws. SafetyAtWorkBlog approached the MCA’s CEO, Tania Constable, for clarification.

The release stated:

“The MCA cautions that the introduction of Victorian Government’s industrial manslaughter laws will give rise to unintended consequences which impair, rather than enhance, health and safety outcomes at Australian workplaces. These laws will not contribute to general or specific deterrence or improvements in health and safety outcomes. This must be the priority, not imposing oppressive and unnecessary criminal liability on selected individuals”

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In an industry where there are no employers, who is responsible for workplace health and safety?

The Victorian Government has been running an inquiry for a little while on the “on-demand workforce”, a term which seems to be a synonym for the gig economy. The government recently extended the deadline for public submissions. This is often a sign that inquiries are struggling for information which is almost an inevitable consequence if you schedule an inquiry over the Christmas/New Year break.

This inquiry has direct relevance to occupational health and safety (OHS) and vice versa.

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Would Reckless Endangerment improve safety and health more than would Industrial Manslaughter laws?

The reckless endangerment provision of Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 is likely to be crucial to this year’s discussions on Industrial Manslaughter laws and the management of workplace health and safety more generally, particularly as Victoria’s Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy, has announced an implementation taskforce that includes a Workplace Fatalities and Serious Incidents Reference Group.

Section 32 says:

“A person who, without lawful excuse, recklessly engages in conduct that places or may place another person who is at a workplace in danger of serious injury is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to—
(a) in the case of a natural person, a term of imprisonment not exceeding 5 years, or a fine not exceeding 1800 penalty units, or
both; and
(b) in the case of a body corporate, a fine not exceeding 20, 000 penalty units.”

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Banking Royal Commission and corporate culture

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has come late to seeing its operations as part of the organisational culture of Australian businesses. Its realisation started with an assertion of a “safety culture” that operated in parallel with regular business imperatives but often resulted in conflict and usually on the losing side. OHS has matured and become less timid by stating that OHS is an integral part of the operational and policy decision-making.

Some of that business leadership that was admired by OHS and many other professions existed in the banking and finance sector which has received a hammering over the last two years in a Royal Commission. That investigation’s final report was released publicly on 4 February 2019. The report reveals misconduct, disdain, poor regulatory enforcement and a toxic culture, amongst other problems. The OHS profession can learn much from an examination of the report and some of the analysis of that industry sector over the last few years.

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