“Justice Tempered” – ethics and abuse

Recently the Finance Sector Union (FSU) released a small study on ethics and capitalism. The report illustrates how poor corporate ethics and greed created a disregard for the mental health of the finance industry’s workers as well as the financial and mental health of its customers.

The report – “Justice Tempered – How the finance sector’s captivity to capitalist ethics violates workers’ ethical integrity and silences their claims for justice” – was written by John Bottomley, Brendan Byrne and John Flett. Although it is based on detailed interviews with only eight finance sector workers, the authors use these conversations as a catalyst for broader discussions of ethics with extensive cross referencing of relevant, books, publications and, especially, the findings and report of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

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Forklifts, penalties and Industrial Manslaughter

A lot of occupational health and safety (OHS) people, including lawyers, were watching the court case involving Brisbane Auto Recycling (BAR) for the Industrial Manslaughter sentence, but there is a more important, practical lesson from this case involving forklifts and the positive duty of care.

One Queensland newspaper reported on June 11. 2020 stated that the BAR has been fined $3 million and the two company directors, both in their twenties, received 10 months imprisonment, wholly suspended. (The judgement is not publicly available at the time of writing)

According to the prosecution case the incident involved

“….. a worker engaged by BAR … was struck by a forklift which was being reversed by another BAR worker…”

and

“BAR had effectively no safety systems in place. It has no system to ensure the separation of pedestrians and forklifts, which were commonly in the same work areas, and it had no system to ensure that the workers who drove forklifts were appropriately qualified and supervised. It is principally through those failures that BAR caused the death of Mr Willis.”

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All jobs are now more dangerous

The COVID19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the government agencies that regulate and enforce occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. These regulators are not the lead agencies in pandemic control but as some countries relax lock-down protocols and people return to work in changed work environments, the role and actions of the OHS regulators are being re-evaluated.

Sarah O’Connor, in the Financial Times, opened her 26 May 2020 article brilliantly with

” Covid-19 has upended our notion of what a dangerous job looks like”

Office were often dismissed as low-risk workplaces with many site safety walks, if they happened, reporting on torn carpet and other similar hazards. That way of assessing risk should have been replaced, or supplemented, with assessments of the psychosocial risks of stress, bullying, a harassment, excessive workloads and many more harmful practices. So, offices may have a low risk of traumatic physical injuries but a higher level of risk of psychological harm. On top of this reassessment comes an infection risk that can be spread by workers showing no symptoms. Office-based risk has increased again and made the workplace itself dangerous.

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Victoria’s Workplace Manslaughter laws are a misdirection

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On July 1, 2020, Victoria receives the Workplace Manslaughter laws that it missed out on by a bee’s whatsit in 2002.  Premier Daniel Andrews will complete another election pledge and will be seen as a champion for Victoria’s workers.  The Workplace Manslaughter laws will provide some bereaved relatives with comfort and a belief that bad employers will be punished for neglecting their occupational health and safety (OHS) duties to provide safe and healthy work environments. Punishment is possible, but unlikely.

The first thing that Victorians need to understand is that Workplace Manslaughter laws are not about OHS, they are about politics.  It is no coincidence that both Queensland and Victoria’s Workplace Manslaughter laws emerged during election campaigns.  Both branches of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) needed to say something about workplace relations that did not involve the hotbed of industrial relations, especially when so much IR change would bring in National politics.

OHS allows people to talk about IR without the trade union politics.  OHS is not about money, it is about quality of life and who, in politics or elsewhere, will say that deaths at work are an acceptable consequence?  The ALP leaders were on a winner and were able to take some moral high ground and criticise business groups on an issue against which business leaders could not argue.

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WorkSafe and Industrial Manslaughter webinar

On May 19, 2020, WorkSafe Victoria conducted an interactive webinar on Workplace Manslaughter laws due to be in place from July 1, 2020. The webinar was very good for those who are coming to the issue anew as the level of interaction was excellent. But the webinar also broadened beyond its topic, which was disappointing. At 90 minutes the event was too long, but revised versions of this consultation with the community should be scheduled regularly, even when physical distancing rules end.

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