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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On 26 February 2016, a recent documentary about a portion of the American coal-mining industry, Overburden, was shown with a panel discussion, as part of the Transitions Film Festival in Melbourne. The film is commonly promoted as an environmental film but it also touches on
Corporate and executive arrogance;
A complete disregard to worker safety;
Excessive influence of industry lobbyists in the political process;
The socio-economic impacts of allowing an industrial monopoly;
Personal perspectives of risk.
The trailer hints at some of these issues. (A traditional mainstream review of the film is available HERE)
“The number of occupationally caused cancers compensated each year equates to less than eight per cent of the expected number.” (Executive Summary)
This is an extraordinary statistic but consistent with the history of occupational health and safety (OHS) statistics where the core data originates from compensation figures rather than incident figures. Cancer has always been a challenge in this area as it can manifest years after exposure or not at all. But this report also provides important data, and a challenge, for OHS professionals and business owners as
“Occupational exposures to carcinogens are estimated to cause over 5,000 new cases of cancer in Australia each year.” (Executive Summary)
Australia’s Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (HIP) spent a great deal of time looking at the design of what started as an environmental initiative delivered in one way to an economic stimulus package delivered another way. The HIP, and the people working with it, struggled to accommodate these changes. A new book from Baywood Publishing in the United States, coincidentally, looks at the growth in ‘green jobs” and, among many issues, discusses how such jobs can affect worker health.
“Green jobs, however, are not necessarily safe jobs, and, any of the current green technologies pose significant health and safety risks to workers. A life-cycle approach and greater emphasis on worker health and safety is necessary when promoting future policies and practices. (Page 7)
The advantage of looking at the HIP inquiries as green jobs is that it provides a broader, even global, context to the scheme. Veleva writes:
“While there is no universally accepted definition of a green job, several organisations have proposed working definitions. The United Nations Environmental Program defines a green job as “work in agriculture, manufacturing, research and development, administrative and service activities that contribute substantially to preserving and restoring environmental quality”…. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics defines green jobs as jobs involved in producing green products and services and increasing the use of clean energy, energy efficiency and mitigating negative impacts on the environment…” (page 9)