So, Victoria now has Industrial Manslaughter laws. Now what? Within days of the activation of these laws a worker died at the Thales worksite in Bendigo. This location is covered by the Federal Work Health and Safety laws, but this has not stopped social media from mentioning Industrial Manslaughter. It seems now that every work-related death will be assessed through the IM lens. It may be that the threat of jail should always have been the starting point for occupational health and safety (OHS) penalties and investigations but initial responses to the IM laws have been mixed, and some seem to be more interested in what, in the past, has been a sideline to the IM discussion – deaths, in work vehicles, suicides and industrial illness.
The Australian Institute of Safety and Health’s online national conference offered some big topics this year. One of the most anticipated was the discussion of sexual harassment in the workplace. Luckily the panel discussion included big hitters such as Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins whose week was about to get a lot busier with the revelations of sexual harassment by Australia’s High Court Justice Dyson Heydon.
The Dyson Heydon sexual harassment accusations, which he emphatically denies, were revealed in an independent investigation for the High Court of Australia. The Justice Heydon case has generated copious media attention for many reasons including his prominence in a politically-charged Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. His sexual harassment offences are awful, but the most startling revelations are not necessarily about one man’s inappropriate actions. Here was an organisational, maybe even a professional, culture that permitted this behaviour to continue unchallenged for many many years. It is this context that, I believe, offers the most significant lessons for the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession and where OHS skills can help others.
Michael Tooma is probably the most prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) lawyer in Australia. His latest book is, a little pretentiously, called “Michael Tooma on Mental Health“, but it fits with the series of OHS-related publications he has written for Wolters Kluwer. Unusually for a lawyer, there are only two chapters that specifically discuss legislative obligations, and, in many ways, these are the least interesting.
Positive Mental Health
In the Introduction, Tooma goes out of his way to stress the positive benefits of work. He is critical of the current OHS approach to workplace stress writing that we seek a “Goldilocks” application of perfection when this is really subjectively determined by each worker. Tooma challenges this in a major way through the 2012 study by Keller and others:
On May 11 2020, the Australian Financial Review’s back page ran an article (paywalled)about how “corporates” are becoming aware of mental health risks due to the COVID19 disruption. It is a good article but also one that reveals the dominant misunderstanding about mental health at work and how to prevent it.
[Guest Post] By Simon Longstaff (reproduced with permission from Crikey)
Each week, The Ethics Centre’s executive director Dr Simon Longstaff will be answering your ethics questions [in Crikey]. This week:
“ My employer sent me a questionnaire designed to test if my home working environment meets basic standards. If I’d answered truthfully I would have ‘failed’ the test. But what’s the point in telling the truth when I have to work at home in any case? Was it wrong to lie on the form?”
Although this ethical issue seems to fall on you — as the person receiving the survey — it actually starts with your employer’s decision to request this information in the first place.