Is Business really a punching bag?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) cannot afford to be anti-business. No business = no jobs = no need for OHS. And business groups should not be anti-OHS, yet it often feels that they are. A recent opinion piece by Bran Black of the Business Council of Australia argues that the success of businesses in Australia is central the economy. This is typical of the type of articles that appear in the business-friendly media as part of “soft” lobbying of the federal government prior to the May Budget.

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An economics perspective on overwork

As Ingrid Robeyns’ Limitarianism book hits the Australian bookshops, an earlier examination of the role of excessive profits of “affluenza” from 2005 is worth considering. How does this relate to occupational health and safety (OHS)? The prevention of harm and the reduction of risk are determined by employers deciding on what they are prepared to spend on their workers’ safety, health, and welfare. Employers are looking desperately for effective ways to meet their new psychosocial harm prevention duties. Economists identified strategies in 2005.

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“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Victoria’s Sentencing Advisory Council is conducting a public inquiry into sentencing and penalties for breaches of occupational health and safety (OHS). Public hearings are continuing, and the inquiry is receiving some well-deserved media attention.

ABC’s The Law Report recently devoted an episode to Industrial Manslaughter laws and the sentencing inquiry. The IM section of the episode was very familiar, but the sentencing inquiry was intriguing.

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Applicability of Restorative Practices to all workplaces

Last week, a book called Setting Relations Right in Restorative Practice by David B Moore and Alikki Vernon (pictured above, second and third from the left, respectively) was published. The launch seemed full of the authors’ friends and colleagues, as well as social workers. Although Restorative Justice has been applied a little bit to resolve workplace conflicts, the discussion was dominated by examples in youth detention, correctional facilities, health care and public sector organisations. These are important industries, but what about the private sector in which most people work?

I asked the authors for some perspectives on workplaces outside of the types already discussed?

Below is the response from Moore and Vernon.

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From troublemaking to a social movement on OHS

It is unlikely that the book “Troublemaking – Why You Should Organise Your Workplace” will be read by anyone outside its intended audience – trade union members and organisers. However, it should be. Organising people into protests, pressure groups, lobbyists or broader sociopolitical movements is not owned by the trade unions, although they have mastered some of the techniques.

It is possible to dip into this book for information on mobilising workers independently of trade union structures but not ideology. This approach may be particularly useful for occupational health and safety (OHS) practitioners who want to create a movement within a company, industry, or community that argues for improved workplace health and safety and to build a collaborative culture of consultation, dialogue and joint decision-making.

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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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