Occupational health and safety (OHS) is rarely reported on in the mainstream newspapers but every week OHS is there, adding a contect to a scandal or subtext to a public health risk. Last weekend was no different. The Guardian of September 16, 2023 reported on a review of personal relationships by BP, a prison escape, deaths from air pollution, a more relaxed approach to work, shoplifting and customer aggression, and more.
It’s been years since I have seen anything in the Australian press about companies or individuals being penalised for asbestos contamination. That despite workers telling me since being back in Australia, they have suspected asbestos when demolishing older domestic, cultural and industrial structures or even while digging shallow excavations in preparation for construction or mining.
It seems like Australian fashion for deregulation may have bitten into OHS.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) has long been stripped of emotion through an emphasis on evidence, finances, compliance, objectivity, rationality, auditing and key performance indicators. The tide is turning slightly with increased attention on mental health, respect, psychosocial factors, and regaining a professional humanity. This OHS approach remains on the fringes of OHS as the dominance of profit from decades of neoliberal economics and politics continues.
But perhaps what the OHS profession needs is to connect with Love.
When Australia harmonised its occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, the management focus broadened to include work, and not just workplaces. Some “knowledge” or white-collar work can be done anywhere, and employers have often struggled to understand how to extend their OHS management systems and duties to apply to this revised or expanded system of work. Current OHS guidance on working from home is too “big picture” when employers are addressing localised decisions.
Coincidentally, as Europe burns and a little blog in Australia writes about the occupational context of excessive heat, a new book called Heat – Life and Death on a scorched planet was in the bookstores. Jeff Goodell, like so many North American authors, writes for his local readers even though his publishers sell books globally.
However, he does address the occupational health and safety (OHS) impacts of heat and offers some adaptations.
Guest post from Jason van Schie
We can all (hopefully!) agree that looking after workers makes sound business sense. Look after your workers, and they will look after you.
So what is the best way to care for employees? By responding to their symptoms of distress through provision of reactive services like EAP [Employee Assistance Program] and resilience apps (fixing the fish), or by improving the design, management and social interactions at work (the aquarium)?
Let’s park that question for a minute and consider two questions:
1) What happens when we fix the worker but not the work? and
2) If population health is the goal, which approach is more likely to achieve the desired result?
A consistent, manageable workload balanced by official leave and hours allowing social reconnection and mental recharge is ideal. It is the structure on which Industrial Relations (IR) and occupational health and safety (OHS) are based. Many people struggle to achieve this ideal even when it is prescribed by workplace laws. Many jobs simply ignore this prescription. In The Age newspaper on July 15 2023, journalist Jane Cadzow wrote about one of these jobs, the “Political Chief of Staff”. The inherent harm of the job was noted in the headline:
“‘They’re driving me insane’: The 24/7 life of a political chief of staff”