Cry of frustration in Industrial Manslaughter Bill

Over the last few months some in Australia’s trade union movement have renewed calls for the introduction of industrial manslaughter laws in various jurisdictions. The issue has appeared both on television and online.

Curiously the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) seems to have dropped the “industrial manslaughter” terminology it has used in the past. In a 28 April 2015 media release, the ACTU stated:

““Strengthening OHS laws to make negligent companies and individual directors liable sends a clear message to employers that they must ensure people are safe at work.”

and

“Current laws need to be strengthened so that companies and company directors are liable for our safety at work.”

It seems that the charge has been left to the South Australian Greens Parliamentarian,

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Sen. Doug Cameron launches “Hard Work Never Killed Anybody”

Cameron 20150507 01On 7 May 2015, Senator Doug Cameron (Australian Labor Party, pictured) launched a new book written by John Bottomley (pictured, centre) called “Hard Work Never Killed Anybody – How the idolisation of work sustains this deadly lie“. Cameron acknowledged the uniqueness of the book as ranging

“…across, theology, Marxism, the Protestant work ethic, and the Enlightenment.”

This combination is rare in the field of occupational health and safety but Cameron said that Bottomley provides evidence that

“…the promise of industrialised society that hard work brings its own rewards is a lie”

and that this is a necessary and important challenge to the current political consensus. Continue reading “Sen. Doug Cameron launches “Hard Work Never Killed Anybody””

The evolution of Broken Windows

One year ago, this blog included an article about possibly applying “broken windows” theory to occupational health and safety (OHS) as both involve the enforcement of rules. The article said:

“The principal OHS lessons from Broken Windows Theory are that one needs to scratch the surface of any new OHS approach, that these theories need time to mature and to be verified or questioned and that it remains an important exercise to look beyond our own experiences, but to look with an analytical eye.”

The theory is evolving according to the architect of the theory, William J Bratton in an audio report in  NPR’s All Things Considered for 4 May 2015.  According to that article:

“Bratton says he’s open to some revisions of the city’s broken windows philosophy, including more warnings for first-time offenders. But his larger message seems to be: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

All theories require adjustment to make sure they remain practical and relevant.

OHS professionals who correct the workplace hazards, particularly worker behaviours, that are the “low hanging fruit” seem to be following Broken Windows, theory to some extent. But to continue to do this, without addressing hazards higher up the hierarchy of controls,  the organisational structure and the managerial prerogatives will devalue the original intention of enforcing worker behaviours and improving the work environment.

Mark Griffith illustrates the risk of devaluing the enforcement effort when he says, in the NPR article:

“We all want a better quality of life…. What we’re saying is the approach to it — the tactics that are used to arrive at that — are overly aggressive, and are ultimately on some level counterproductive to the very goals you’re trying to achieve.”

This seems equally valid to workplace safety management.

Kevin Jones

OHS and public health at The Coal Face

The Hazelwood mine fire has faded from the memory of most Victorians following the Parliamentary inquiry but not so for those who continue to live in the Latrobe Valley and with the health consequences of the fire.  Tom Doig has written a short book on the incident and its consequences that will put pressure on the Andrews (Labor) Government to honour its election promise and reopen the inquiry.

Doig’s book, The Coal Face, summarises many of the issues raised by the inquiry by looking at a selection of personal stories from residents, neighbours and firefighters.  It is a short book of just over 100 pages but it is an important reminder that the consequences of the mine fire are still being felt. Continue reading “OHS and public health at The Coal Face”

OHS professionals should be more politically active

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is inextricably linked to everyday life and everyday politics but it is treated as somehow separate, even by those who are experts in OHS.  This is not the case with industrial relations which is much more grounded in the political realities.

Industrial relations has been pushed by the trade union movement that has always seen workers’ rights as a social issue.  The OHS profession and its associations have been content, largely, to live within the factory fence.  Until recently OHS laws related solely to the workplace and OHS professionals had the luxury of a clear demarcation for its operations.

But new OHS laws acknowledge the responsibility for the effects of work on those other than workers, and those who are neighbours to workplaces.  Australian OHS professionals have been slow to embrace the social role that has been foisted on them.  There seems no excuse for this.

Recently, a

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Dead Men Tell No Tales – Safety Storytelling

A common theme throughout presentations at the Safety Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur was the need to communicate safety and health clearly and concisely to variety of nationalities with a variety of literacy levels. My presentation aimed at reminding the OHS professional delegates that they may already have skills that they could use in communicating safety issues to their audience or workers and contractors.

Every culture has stories. Stories have been the dominant way of teaching for centuries but we are gradually losing some of our innate storytelling skills or we do not see how they may be relevant to the workplace. OHS professionals could benefit from redeveloping those skills and also encouraging those skills in others. Stories can be a base for teaching,listening and, in OHS parlance, consultation.

The story

Quite often people in business talk about “the story” without really appreciating the complexity of storytelling, or the power of storytelling. Here are two quotes about stories that I plucked from a marketing brochure:

“The story is what drives the bond between the company and the consumer.”

“Stories can be used to communicate visions and values, to strengthen company culture, to manage the company through change and to share knowledge across the organisation.”*

There is some truth in these quotes but the purpose of the quotes undermine their value. The book these are from discusses storytelling in terms of branding and advertising, in other words the purposeful manipulation of people’s desires. For marketing and advertising is the sector where storytelling has been most effective in supporting the selling of products and the selling of ideas.
Continue reading “Dead Men Tell No Tales – Safety Storytelling”

Media tips for Australian OHS professionals

The occupational health and safety (OHS) profession in Australia has suffered from the lack of a public voice.  This is partly due to ineffective and disorganised professional associations but more it is due to fear – fear of embarrassment, fear of ridicule, fear of failure….  This is peculiar because a fundamental element of OHS is communication.  Below is some information from an Australian journalism textbook that may help reduce some of that fear.

Code of Ethics

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (ie. the journalists’ “union” in Australia) publishes a Code of Ethics. (Similar organisations round the world have equivalent documents and obligations)  This is vital information for any journalist but also important for those who want to engage with the media, perhaps through interviews.  For instance, on the use of sources, the Code says

“Aim to attribute information to its source.  Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source’s motives and any alternative attributable source.  Where confidences are accepted,  respect them in all circumstances.”

Continue reading “Media tips for Australian OHS professionals”

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