Call for change on sexual harassment could use support from OHS

Discussion on the sexual harassment allegations against former High Court judge Dyson Heydon continue even though some Australian States’ media have returned to COVID19 clusters and football. On July 6, 2020, five hundred women in the legal profession published an open letter calling for

“… wider reforms to address the high incidence of sexual harassment, assault and misconduct in the legal profession”

The signatories call for an independent complaints body for the Australian judiciary and changes to the appointment of judges. What is missing is Prevention.

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Two steps forward, one backward

The latest media release from the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) shows a remarkable maturity and a newfound ability to be inclusive and topical.

The AIHS, in conjunction with several other occupational health and safety (OHS) related organisations, developed and released an important guidance on respiratory protection masks for the work environment. Not only is this super topical but the effort has the support of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), an organisation that, historically, has been reluctant to support OHS initiatives from outside trade union resources.

The primary purpose of the media release is to push the Federal Government for “the urgent establishment of a register for approved respirators (aka face masks)”, but this may be too simplistic and too narrow a focus especially when the issue of face masks is a critical part of the Governments’ plans to “reopen” the economy.

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The time is right to push for the prevention of injury

Canberra, Australia – October 14, 2017: A view inside Senate chamber in Parliament House

One of the major criticisms of Industrial Manslaughter laws by this blog is that the laws are likely to be a distraction from actions and changes that could prevent deaths. In 2018, the Australian Parliament conducted an inquiry into industrial deaths within which the prevention of death and injury was core. The recommendations of the inquiry’s final report – “They never came home—the framework surrounding the prevention, investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths in Australia” – have never really been acted upon, a fact mentioned in Australia’s Senate on June 11, 2020.

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To understand Industrial Manslaughter, look at the politics

On May 20, 2020 Industrial Manslaughter became an offence applicable to Queensland’s mining and resources sector, sometime after the offence was applied to all other Queensland businesses. Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws have always been as much about politics as they are about penalties, deterrence and occupational health and safety (OHS).

Some of the politics is shown by the responses from Queensland business groups (sounding like spoken through gritted teeth) but to really understand these laws, it is worth looking at the Second Reading of the omnibus Bill that included the IM amendments as politicians in several other Australian jurisdictions will face the same issues. It is also useful for OHS people to understand the political and legislative context of the penalties their employers may face.

Also, in the last week of May 2020, the first company to be successfully prosecuted under the IM laws will be sentenced, Brisbane Auto Recycling. The company’s two directors have pleaded guilty to reckless conduct and will also be sentenced.

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Safety notification app

Last weekend across the road from home, two workers were on the roof of a three-storey apartment block construction installing or inspecting solar panels. No fall protection, no harnesses. I grabbed my phone to notify my local WorkSafe about this unsafe work activity. The switchboard was closed, and the phone number listed on the website was identified as only for emergencies. Was this an emergency? Not sure. By the time I worked it out, the workers were off the roof and the opportunity passed.

I now wish that my State had a notification app like that operating in New South Wales. I would have taken some photos and notified the occupational health and safety (OHS) regulator. The “Speak Up, Save Lives” app seems good, but it may also undercut the pathways to Consultation established through the OHS laws.

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