As the dominance of neoliberalism weakens around the world, people are fearful of what comes next. In some sectors, that fear includes occupational health and safety (OHS). OHS is a business cost, in the same way as every other cost of running a business, but it is often seen as an interloper, a fun-sucker, a nuisance and/or an impediment to profitability. This misinterpretation needs to be contested.
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.
Applying the most effective way to have companies comply with their occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations has been debated in Australia and elsewhere for years. The issue will arise again in 2019 and in relation Industrial Manslaughter laws as Australian States have elections, or the political climate suits.
There are several elements to the argument put by those in favour of Industrial Manslaughter laws. Workers are still being killed so the deterrence of existing OHS laws has seen to have failed. Deterrence has been based on financial penalties and workers are still being killed so financial penalties have failed. Jail time is the only option left.
This is a simplistic depiction of the argument, but it is not dissimilar to some of the public arguments. The reality is that deterrence is achieved in two ways – telling the person of the consequences of an action and enforcing those consequences.
Australia’s Productivity Commission (PC) has released its first Issues Paper to assist people in understanding the purposes of the Inquiry and to lodge a submission. The Report provides opportunities for the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession and advocates to explain the relevance of OHS principles in preventing psychological harm. It includes specific work-related questions for people to address in submissions.
Workplace safety is an integral element of managing any business. The acceptance of this reality by business leaders is restated every time a Chief Executive Officer claims that “safety is our number 1 priority”. The mismanagement of safety and health can also subject personal and corporate reputations to considerable damage So it is reasonable to expect some mention of occupational health and safety (OHS) in a recent survey from the Australian Industry Group concerning business prospects for 2019. Nah, nothing.