The economics, and politics, of prevention and the cost of doing nothing

LtoR: Terry Nolan, Rod Campbell, Tony Dudley, Rosemary Calder

On July 9 2019, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) conducted a lunchtime seminar in Melbourne about “the economics of prevention“. The event was supported by GlaxoSmithKline who launched a report about the value of vaccines so the lunch promised to be very medical but that quickly changed when Rod Campbell of The Australia Institute (a late replacement for Richard Denniss) spoke. On the issue of cost-benefit analysis, an important consideration in occupational health and safety (OHS) , Campbell was blunt:

“A huge amount of government decisions are not made by informed economic analysis. They’re made by political decisions.”

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“They did not know what to say, so they stop saying anything at all”

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Behind every call for Industrial Manslaughter laws in Australia over the last twenty years has been is a deeply grieving family. We often see relatives on the TV News, standing outside of Courts, or at memorial sites. SafetyAtWorkBlog fears for the mental health of these people who have usually been traumatised by the death and whose experiences in the immediate aftermath and the months afterwards often exacerbates that trauma.

But people have been killed at work for centuries and often the current pain and anger is so raw that we fail to remember those who have already gone through this process because their voices have often been used and discarded.

SafetyAtWorkBlog spoke with several bereaved relatives who have experienced the loss of a relative at work. The focus was on those whose relatives died over a decade ago, to gain a more measured and reflective perspective and in order to understand what may be in the future for all of us who have workers in our families. I responded more emotionally to these stories than I expected and have found it difficult to write about the issues I intended to address, so I have decided to let these interviews and stories stand pretty much by themselves.

The first of these responses is from Jan Carrick. Her 18-year-old son Anthony died in 1998 on his first day at work. One article written in 2003 about Anthony’s death and that of other young workers said this:

Continue reading ““They did not know what to say, so they stop saying anything at all””

Language, labels, thoughts and restraints

Carsten Busch is a committed voice for improvement in occupational health and safety (OHS) and our understanding of it. Recently he published a research paper entitled “Brave New World: Can Positive Developments in Safety Science and Practice also have Negative Sides?” (open access). The paper is of note for several reasons, not including the use Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel “Brave New World” a book about a dystopia that many Australian high school students in the 1970s were required to read.

Dystopian novels suit the study of OHS as the structure often reflects a character with new experiences of an unfamiliar culture or an awakening or realisation of their place in the world. Brave New World fits the former and George Orwell’s 1984, the latter. OHS professionals often step into a workplace culture that is foreign to what they have understood to be the norm. They evaluate the new culture, find it wanting and suggest repairs, if they can. Over time some OHS professionals, often through an epiphany, realise that they have not achieved what they expected and either leave or turn on the OHS discipline. Some OHS professionals are able to blend both these experiences and perspectives.

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OHS inaction is “a complete disgrace”

Matthew Peacock is an award-winning Australian journalist and one of the very few in Australia who can bring an informed and nuanced perspective to the topic of occupational health and safety (OHS). Last week he was invited to speak at the dinner of the Safety Institute of Australia‘s Conference. According to some delegates, he roasted the OHS profession; to others, he set the profession a deserved challenge.

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The biggest OHS challenge is greed

As the world approaches World Day for Safety and Health at Work and International Workers Memorial Day this coming Sunday it is worth reminding ourselves of some of the immorality that unregulated Capitalism allows. A company in one of the last remaining exporters of asbestos, Russia, has used President Donald Trump’s words and image to support its production and export of asbestos*, a product known for over a century to cause fatal illnesses.

Why is asbestos still mind if the evidence of its fatality is incontrovertible? Greed, or as it has been called in the past – “good business sense”. Many authors have written about the history of asbestos globally and locally. Many have written about the injustice in denying victims compensation from exposure to a known harmful chemical. But few have written about the core support for asbestos production, export and sale – Greed.

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