“as far as politically practicable”

Last week WorkSafe Victoria announced that it was prosecuting the Department of Health over breaches of its occupational health and safety (OHS) duties with the management of Victoria’s Hotel Quarantine program. There is very little information available beyond what is included in the WorkSafe media release until the filing hearing at the Magistrates’ Court on October 22 2021.

Most of the current commentary adds little and usually builds on the existing campaigns to charge (Labor) Premier Dan Andrews with Industrial Manslaughter. Still, it is worth looking at WorkSafe’s media release and the thoughts of some others.

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Guidance can help but change needs a challenge

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) has released a guide for employers on managing sexual harassment in workplaces. It contains a lot of helpful information, but it also illustrates the self-imposed limits that business has on preventing workplace psychological hazards. To a lesser extent, it is downplaying the preventative role of occupational health and safety (OHS).

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Revelations for wellness providers and workers

The Australian Financial Review (AFR) is Australia’s national newspaper on business issues. Recently its Editor Michael Stutchbury stated that he purposely focussed the newspaper on being business-friendly. This is understandable as businesses and employers, and entrepreneurs are the paper’s subscriber base and market, but sometimes articles can be too business friendly, and a recent article on burnout and the four-day-week may be an example. Thankfully the AFR article also included a brief mention of a more useful global survey about work in a time of pandemic.

The article, called “Pandemic burnout ignites argument for shorter workweek” (paywalled) included these quotes from a regular AFR contributor Reanna Browne on the possible mental health benefits of a four-day week:

“COVID has intensified these [mental health] issues and also given rise to new forms of workplace exhaustion such as wide-scale increases in working hours, alongside novel health challenges like digital load management and Zoom fatigue…”

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Does the tail wag the dog or vice versa?

Trade union opposition to mandatory vaccinations against the Covid-19 virus continues, primarily because they feel left out of the conversation at SPC. However, the support for at least not dismissing mandatory vaccinations is growing.

In The Australian on August 18 2021, the lawyer advising SPC on its vaccination policy, Joel Zyngier of Gilchrist Connell, said

“Twelve months ago we didn’t have the option of vaccination; it wasn’t a reasonably practicable step. Six months ago, we didn’t have the option of vaccination; it wasn’t a reasonably practicable step. Now it’s a reasonably practicable step and so it’s something that employers must consider as part of their occupational health and safety or work health and safety duties,”

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Can Australian employers make you get a COVID-19 vaccine? Mostly not — but here’s when they can

[Editor: this article has been reproduced from The Conversation’s website under the Creative Commons licence.]

Joo-Cheong Tham, The University of Melbourne

Australia’s official policy on vaccines is that they be voluntary and free. But the federal government hasn’t shut the door completely on employers pursuing mandatory policies of their own.

Last week the federal government reiterated it won’t use its powers to give employers a free hand to mandate vaccines. Yet Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said:

Decisions to require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees will be a matter for individual business, taking into account their particular circumstances and their obligations under safety, anti-discrimination and privacy laws.

So far just two Australian companies — regional air carrier Alliance Airlines and canning company SPC — have declared they will make a COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for their workers.

The reason so few have declared such intentions is because the law isn’t on the employer’s side. There are only limited circumstances where workplace vaccine mandates are likely to be found lawful.

Continue reading “Can Australian employers make you get a COVID-19 vaccine? Mostly not — but here’s when they can”

To boldly go where no Australian company has gone before

The response to SPC’s decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for its workers, contractors and visitors illustrates a common misunderstanding of occupational health and safety (OHS) management, poor OHS literacy and some industrial and media rent-seeking.

On ABC Radio’s PM program in early August 2021, the main objection of Andrew Dettmer of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union was insufficient consultation prior to SPC’s decision. (Really?! What about the validity of the company’s OHS decision?) Dettmer said:

Continue reading “To boldly go where no Australian company has gone before”

SPC shows leadership on mandatory vaccinations

The first week of August 2021 has been a big week for the discussion of mandatory vaccinations for Australian workers. A major Australian fruit cannery in regional Victoria, SPC, has stated that all of its workers, visitors to the site and contractors will need to be fully vaccinated by November 2021. This is being done to protect workers, the community and to maintain the food supply.

There are many lessons from SPC’s decision and the subsequent discussion has been largely predictable. What has been missing from almost all of the discussion is the occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective. This article and others will look at the issue and how the health and safety benefits have been presented in the mainstream media.

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