Rebooting the Duty of Care

The primary occupational health and safety (OHS) duty rests with employers or, as they are known in most Australian jurisdictions, Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU).  Laws are based on an assumption that employers are aware of this duty and that this duty, to provide a safe and healthy work environment without risks to health, reflects the employer’s social position and social responsibility or the company’s “social licence“.  But there have always been employers who do not care and who see employees only as units of labour and who believe that “if you don’t like working here, there’s the door”.  It is time for a reboot.

Many Western countries are beginning to review their OHS laws in light of the changing nature of work but these reviews continue to be based on the assumption that employers care even though the emergence of the gig economy and the new

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Unsafe systems of management

Excessive workplace stress in the medical profession is well documented but stress is often seen as a minor workplace hazard that is fairly easily dealt with by holidays, for instance, or is dismissed as an “occupational hazard” or part of the entry to the profession or just part of the culture, with the implication that nothing can change.  Only recently have work-related suicides garnered serious research attention and these incidents are now being openly discussed, as this April 2018 article in the MJA Insight shows.

The author of the opinion piece, Dr

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The avoidance of accountability creates legislation

This week the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) released its submission to the Independent Review of Work Health and Safety Laws.  The submission deserves reading fully as it reflects many of the positions on and perspectives of occupational health and safety (OHS) of Australia’s major businesses and, not surprisingly, it has a lot to say about Industrial Manslaughter laws.

Comparing  ACCI’s objections to the earlier attempt to introduce similar laws in Victoria in 2002 illustrates how little progress has been made.

Recent lessons from other major incidents, especially through the work of Professor Andrew Hopkins, have also shown the consequences of not taking responsibility for OHS.  The power to counter the calls for Industrial Manslaughter laws is in the hands of those corporate leaders who accept this responsibility and work with it.

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Why are we arguing about Industrial Manslaughter laws?

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From left: Dave Brownlee, Janine Brownlee & Lana Cormie

On the issue of Industrial Manslaughter laws, Lana Cormie (pictured far right) said:

“Employers need to have motivation to do the right thing, ’cause clearly they don’t do it off their own back.  So, if that means, if this’ll be the difference between them making OH&S a high priority and not, then it needs to be done.  And I think all the other benefits for the men on the ground, and the women on the ground, will filter down from that.  “

Her comments on International Workers Memorial Day emphasises that the introduction of these laws is not so much about new laws but the failure of the existing ones and of their application.  Over time, the general commitment to implementing occupational health and safety (OHS) has declined in many workplaces or, at least, has not progressed in the way expected by the safety law makers of the 1970s and 1980s.

Government has relied on the increase of financial penalties as the major deterrent Continue reading “Why are we arguing about Industrial Manslaughter laws?”

Lessons in integrity and discipline

Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) profession was late to the process of certifying its members.  The Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) has been running its certification program for a couple of years so it is difficult to assess the benefit to members and the community but a critical element in any certification is the treatment of members who breach the Code of Ethics or Code of Conduct.  The revelations of corruption and misconduct from Australia’s Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry provide important lessons in integrity and fairness to all professions.

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