Can you vote for OHS?

Australia is in the last few weeks of its federal election. Because it is a national election and occupational health and safety (OHS) is almost totally regulated at the State and Territory level, workplace health and safety is rarely if ever mentioned directly in campaign pledges. However, OHS does have a political campaign context if one accepts that some workplace hazards are caused or affected by social and government policies.

Australian Labor Party

The Australian Labor Party’s suite of campaign policies includes several items that could reduce the mental anguish in the community, thereby encouraging people to take jobs and making applicants more attractive to employers but there are no direct pledges on OHS. It states in its “Secure Australian Jobs” policy that:

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Two steps forward and one back

Employers are less criticised about their workplace health and safety performance than the government, even though it is employers who have the primary duty of care for their workers’ occupational health and safety (OHS). The Federal (conservative) government and Prime Minister remind us regularly that the responsibility for OHS sits in the State and Territory jurisdictions. No one seems to accept their own responsibilities for OHS, so it is little surprise that worker health and safety has no effective national coordination.

Recently the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released an OHS report entitled “Morrison Missing in Action on Work Health and Safety“. It is also looking in the wrong direction. Of course, the Prime Minister is missing in action – employers have the primary duty of care, which local jurisdictions enforce.

Although this document has good OHS information, references and statistics, it is primarily part of the current federal election campaign, reporting information that the politicians mostly already know.

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Burnout causes are organisational. Who knew?

This blog has written frequently about “burnout” in workplaces, especially since the condition was defined by the World Health Organisation in 2019. I have seen it used many times as a shortcut, or synonym, for workplace mental health but usually only at the corporate, executive level. Workers have breakdowns, but executives seem to suffer burnout.

Recently a book was published in the United States called “The Burnout Epidemic, or The Risk of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It”, by journalist Jennifer Moss. What is most outstanding about this book is that the recommended fix is organisational. Usually, burnout books from the States focus on the individual worker or executive. This fresh US perspective makes the book essential reading for if the US recognises how to fix burnout and chronic stress, any country can.

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“can’t afford” means “don’t want to”

Richard Denniss, an economist with The Australia Institute, discusses economics differently from other economists. He will seldom discuss occupational health and safety (OHS). He rarely talks about industrial relations. Instead, he talks about the big picture by drawing on many sources and disciplines, which is why he is so interesting to listen to.

This week he was on a national book tour for his latest publication on the role of the State in the modern economy and some of his opinions connected with the management of workplace health and safety.

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Confrontation with PM involves workers’ compensation

Last week Australian media covered a confrontation between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and a pensioner, Ray, in Newcastle. Most of the coverage focused on Ray’s criticism of the commitments of the Morrison Government to support and reward those citizens willing to “have go”. The full 5-minute video provides a much better context to the man’s complaints than do the short edits on most media bulletins. That context seems to include concerns about workers’ compensation and the processes of the Dust and Diseases Board.

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Should heartlessness be the status quo?

On April 7, 2022, prominent trade unionist Luke Hilakari had an opinion piece published in The Age newspaper titled “Paul was told he has arthritis. His workplace injury was far more serious”. Hilakari told a story, familiar to many, of one man’s journey from workplace injury to impecunious hardship.

The story is tough to read and full of injustices, but the political point of the article is lost. The Victorian Government has been provided with a report that could reduce the bureaucratic and surveillance challenges faced by Paul, but the system itself will not change.

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Jessie Singer and the “social autopsy”

I am halfway through an extraordinary book called “There Are No Accidents –
The Deadly Rise of Injury and Disaster—Who Profits and Who Pays the Price
” by Jessie Singer. It is extraordinary in many ways, but the most significant is that Singer chose to write a book for the general reader about how people are hurt at work, home and when driving and how describing these as “accidents” deflects responsibility, as if there was nothing that could be done to prevent them. This is of huge significance to the advocates of work health and safety, and the book’s release should spark interviews with Singer and book reviews which could lead to a broader social discussion of safety.

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