Scarlet M for Manslaughter

In March 2019, the Northern Territory government released its “Best Practice Review of Workplace Health and Safety in the Northern Territory”. This report was written by Tim Lyons who reviewed the Queensland work health and safety (WHS) Laws not so long ago. Lyons is creating a career path as sustainable as Alan Clayton who seems to have reviewed all the workers’ compensation systems in the Asia Pacific!

There are many similarities between the two reports which is not surprising – same Model WHS laws, same reviewer….. Yes, Industrial Manslaughter laws were recommended but this is almost a pro forma recommendation at the moment, as it has been supported by at least two State governments, recommended in a Senate inquiry into industrial deaths and pragmatically recommended by the Boland Review. In many ways these WHS-related reviews are feeding off each other.

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Business groups miss the target on sexual harassment

Two business associations have released the submissions they provided to Australia’s National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces – the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and the Australian Industry Group (AiG). These submissions have been eagerly anticipated as these two groups are politically influential.

ACCI has based its submission on 13 “principles”:

  • Employers oppose sexual harassment
  • Sexual harassment is not good business
  • More Australians need to be able to recognise sexual harassment
  • We need to improve the attitudes Australians bring to work
  • The law needs to support employers in turning values into action
  • We need to recognise/reward learning and change
  • Individuals must be made more accountable for their own behaviour
  • Greater effectiveness does not demand more law
  • Regulation needs to be smart, simple, clear and balanced to be effective
  • Jurisdictional overlap / repetition detracts from effectiveness
  • Businesses have differing capacities and cultures
  • Sexual harassment can be challenging to manage
  • This is a moving target; new sexual harassment risks are emerging

Each one of these sound positive but can be argued over. For instance “sexual harassment can be challenging to manage”. This is less of a principle than a reason, or even an excuse. Sexual harassment is complex to manage as it is not just about poor relationships, it involves a sexual element which involves power and disrespect; power that is sometimes misinterpreted as leadership or part of a manager’s entitlement.

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Another generation of safety thinking

Several years ago I attended an occupational health and safety (OHS) conference at which Cristian Sylvestre was speaking. He was in one of the secondary rooms, it was packed with conference delegates and he was talking about neuroscience and its potential to affect safety. In 2017 he self-published a book called “Third Generation Safety: The Missing Piece“.

OHS has a lot of people talking about new approaches to address the plateauing of safety performance. We are pushed to reassess how we got here and how we look at OHS – Safety II, psychology of risk and others, or we need to have OHS fit with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Sylvestre advocates a third generation of safety. This is his take on the previous two generations and how we should progress in the future.

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New film provides an update on legal action over the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire

An independently-produced documentary, Our Power, about the Hazelwood mine fire had its Victorian premiere on March 2 2019. The Hazelwood coal mine fire was a major workplace disaster than generated substantial public health damage in the neighbour communities in the Latrobe Valley. An early record of the event and its impacts can be found in Tom Doig‘s book The Coal Face.

The documentary provides unique vision of the fire and how it burned and polluted the neighbourhood for over a month in 2014. As time goes on, the fire is seen more as an environmental disaster as it is workplace incident and speakers in Our Power are certainly confident in linking the fire with the privatisation of State-owned assets and the social injustice that underpins neoliberalism.

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Responses to the Boland Report into Australia’s Work Health and Safety Laws

The mainstream Australian media has almost entirely ignored the release of Marie Boland’s Final Report of the independent Review of Australia’s Work Health and Safety laws. but some of the usual players in the workplace relations sector have responded. Below is a longer responsive from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) but first some simpler responses.

The trade union movement has almost entirely focused on the Industrial Manslaughter recommendations in the Boland Report. As well as a couple of media statements, the Australian Council of Trade Unions released a video on February 25 2019 with Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien accompanied by the parents of two deceased workers. The first to speak were Tony and Robyn Hampton whose son, Jarrod, died while working for Paspaley Pearls. The second couple were Janice and Mark Murray whose son, Luke, died when parts of a crane that was being unpacked fell on him.

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