OHS needs to face some moral questions

Regular readers may have noticed that I want to push the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession to think deeper and more broadly about their usually chosen career’s political and socio-economic context. The reasons for OHS’ overall lack of success in making work and workplaces safer and healthier are not only within those locations and activities but also in the limitations that many OHS people place on themselves.

More and more, I look outside the existing OHS research and trends for explanations of why OHS is treated shabbily by employers and corporations and, sometimes, the government. A new book on Growth by Daniel Susskind is helping in this quest. Below is an extract from the book that, I think, helps explain some of OHS’ predicament.

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New Australian film on farming life and mental health

Just a Farmer” is an extraordinary independent Australian film about an all too common occurrence on farms – suicide. The filmmakers have built a strong media profile over the last few months, emphasising the significance of a psychosocial work-related condition. But the film is much more than a film about mental health

Note: this article mentions suicide

There are two possible approaches to this film – a story about the realities of farm life and a depiction of mental ill-health. That both these overlapping approaches are satisfied by this film is a mark of a successful story and production.

The movie opens in over 100 Australian cinema screens on March 21, 2024.

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The (fatal) flaw in over-reliance on government safety funding

As I write this, I am in a rooftop bar not far from the Astor Theatre, where the new Australian film ”Just a Farmer” is premiering. I am expecting a powerful story of the struggles of a farming family and community after one of their members dies by suicide. The film will likely touch on themes like the dearth of mental health support services in rural areas, the male-dominated culture of farming in Australia and the need and desire for more occupational health and safety (OHS) support services in the country. But it is the latter struggle that is most on my mind at the moment.

National organisations that support farm safety are not guaranteed the level of funding from governments they have received previously. Although the federal budget remains in surplus, it is politically expedient to keep the government purse strings tight in this time of high-interest rates and a cost-of-living crisis. This affects support services and programs for farm safety.

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Work (re)design needs government subsidies to succeed

Last week, SafeWork New South Wales progressed the management of psychosocial hazards at work with the release of its Designing Work to Manage Psychosocial Risks guidance. This document has been a long time coming and offers significant advice on how work and people management needs to change in order to prevent psychosocial hazards. However, its implementation is likely to generate considerable opposition and confusion, or even organisational shock, if it is not able to convince employers of increased profitability and productivity from making the change.

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Economics, OHS and Alchemy

In many Australian businesses, “program is king”. Deadlines must be met, whatever the circumstances. Occupational health and safety (OHS) advisers often bristle at this reality because they know that health and safety will be sacrificed to meet those deadlines. If this reality is to be changed, it is necessary to pay more attention to economics and its influence on the decision-making of business owners, and not just on the OHS effects of those decisions.

In Sociology: A Very Short Introduction Steve Bruce says:

“Most disciplines can be described by the focus of their attention or by their basic assumptions: we could say that economists study the economy or that they assume that a fundamental principle of human behaviour is the desire to “maximise utility”. If we can buy an identical product in two shops at two different prices, we will buy the cheaper one. From that simple assumption an increasingly complex web is spun.”

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Predatory Capitalism and OHS

A fundamental aim of occupational health and safety (OHS) is the prevention of harm. To determine the most effective ways of preventing work-related harm, OHS professionals must investigate the source of harm. This requires them to look beyond their own workplaces to socioeconomic factors. Greed is the source of almost all of the world’s economic woes.

Greed manifests in the OHS context by employers not allocating sufficient resources for people to work safely and healthily. This greed, this seeking of maximum profits and excessive wealth, is supported by legislative, financial and social institutions. A new book by Ingrid Robeyns – “Limitarianism, – The Case Against Extreme Wealth” – offers several examples of how greed creates unsafe work.

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Quad Bike safety? It’s the UK’s turn

A recent article in The Observer illustrates just how far behind Australia the United Kingdom is on requiring the installation of crush protection devices on quad bikes. It is also surprising that the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is not just relying on independent Australian research into quad bike rollovers. The vehicles are the same makes and models, the terrain is similar, and the risk is the same …??

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