For What Steve Bell Tells – OHS issues for 2017

Steve Bell is a partner with Hebert Smith Freehills (HSF) in Melbourne, Australia.  As many law firms do, HSF conducts several events each year to inform clients and others of occupational health and safety (OHS) and labour relations issues.  In March 2017 Bell, who is the regular host at these events, spoke at a breakfast seminar held jointly with the Safety Institute of Australia, and identified several safety issues as becoming prominent in 2017:

  • Increased penalties
  • The risk of complacency
  • Increased interplay between OHS and industrial relations
  • Focus on public safety elements of OHS
  • the review of regulations.

Below are some thoughts on the issues raised by Steve Bell.

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Practicable or practical – let’s call the whole thing off

Jargon can help create a subculture.  This can be positive for those on the inside but relies on excluding others.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) is no different and one of the best illustrations of OHS jargon is “practicable”.  This was emphasised recently in a document released by WorkSafe WA where “practicable” had lost out to “practical”.

The guidance also omitted the duties of builders for the health and safety of those affected by their work.

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When Work Kills – new research on workplace suicides

There are many advocates of the importance of a mental health and wellbeing in workplaces.  But few of them address the worst-case scenario for workplace mental health of work-related suicides.  In some cases, the mental health advocates are overly cautious about even speaking the reality, which does not help reduce mental health stigma.

In 2016 Professor Stewart Clegg, of UTS Business School said that

“That work can kill the will to live is a fundamental ethical problem that we must attend to…”

New research from the UK provides a useful summary of the work-related and workplace suicides in Europe with important lessons of where precarious employment and the “gig economy” could lead.

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Safe Driving affected by leadership

New Australian research into work-related driving shows how organisations mishandle the risks.  The first paragraph of the research clearly shows the significance of the hazard:

“Road traffic injury is the leading cause of work-related death in Australia. It has been estimated that one-third of all work-related deaths occur while driving for work purposes.  This emerging public health issue is not unique to Australia, with work-related traffic deaths estimated to account for 22% of work fatalities in the United States and 16% in New Zealand.  Despite this, many organisations employing individuals to drive a vehicle as part of their work are unaware of the factors that may act to reduce work-related traffic injury and deaths.”

This research illustrates the need to integrate the functions of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) professionals, Risk Managers and Fleet Managers within organisations and across government agencies to address a significant public health issues in a more effective manner.

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Legal Professional Privilege – the snake in safety

Part of good corporate governance is transparency.  A core element of occupational health and safety (OHS) is effective consultation.  These two business practices seem compatible in that they address what is good for business and what is good for the workers.  But there is a snake in this garden of safety – Legal Professional Privilege (LPP).

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Union may have overstepped and weakened its case

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is one of the most militant trade unions in Australia.  That it angers many Australians by its strong support for its members is unarguable.  Yet recently it has seemed to overstep the mark on its protest against the Australian Government’s introduction of legislation that the CFMEU sees…

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How much attention should we give to gender in OHS?

I once had to stop a potential fight on a construction site between a works supervisor and a safety professional.  The verbal abuse and niggling occurred for several minutes before the men’s chest were inflated like roosters and it was at this point I stepped in to diffuse the situation by asking some questions as…

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Two old SafetyAtWork podcasts remain relevant

Over the Christmas break I was cleaning out some files and found some old SafetyAtWork podcast files that used to be on iTunes around a decade ago.  The information and perspectives remain important and to preserve the files I have uploaded them to SoundCloud.

One is an interview with Professor Michael Quinlan shortly after the Beaconsfield mine inquiry.  The other is a presentation to the Central Safety Group by freelance journalist Gideon Haigh about the corporate approach to asbestos and compensation off the back of the publication of his Asbestos House book.

More will be posted over the next few weeks.

Kevin Jones

Health, safety and climate change

Sydney, Australia - October 19, 2016: Construction workers set up scaffolding in a construction site.
Sydney, Australia – October 19, 2016: Construction workers set up scaffolding in a construction site.

In a small article on the ABC news site, Professor Peng Bi of the University of Adelaide said occupational health and safety laws needed a review to accommodate the changing climate and

“I reckon some regulations should be set up to get employers to pay [fresh] attention to the occupational health and safety of their employees…”

Contrary to Professor Peng Bi’s request, Australian worksites have done much to accommodate the changing climate conditions and to maintain productivity, primarily, in relation to excessive heat exposure by working within the existing occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation.  This is not to say more should not be done.

The risks associated with working in heat are well established and recognised by Safe Work Australia and State safety regulators but the advice often focusses on personal changes such as ensuring there is adequate hydration or that jobs should be rotated or that long-sleeved shorts are worn.  The amplification of these conditions due to climate change is foreseeable so what should employers, companies and OHS regulators do?

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Cabbage Salad and Drugs

Episode 6 of the Cabbage Salad and Safety podcast is now available with the discussion centring on drugs and alcohol issues at work. For those looking for information on drug and alcohol testing, this episode is not for you.  We thought that the testing issue is dealt with in many workplaces through legislative and regulatory matters and you have to comply with what you have to comply. Continue reading “Cabbage Salad and Drugs”