“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:

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Make sure you are serious about deeper and better thinking on workplace mental health

In October 2018, the Australian Financial Review (AFR) reported (paywalled) on an occupational health and safety (OHS) investigation into overwork and staff fatigue being conducted by WorkSafe Victoria. The AFR has followed this with a report on June 6 2019 (paywalled) by its Legal Affairs Editor, Michael Pelly. It is a positive article about how the law firm, King, Wood & Mallesons (KWM) has improved its OHS performance since October last year. However there is much between the lines that hints at the OHS approach used and how limited it is.

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New Safety Podcast focuses on Law

One of the prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) lawyers in Australia has started a podcast. The first episode discusses Industrial Manslaughter.

Steve Bell of law firm Herbert Smith Freehills recently published the Safety Podcast, but the title is a bit of a misnomer as, judging by the first episode, the discussion is more about safety law than safety. Regardless, the podcast adds to our state of OHS knowledge.

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OHS thoughts trapped in the bubble

For the first time in many years, the Safety Institute of Australia’s National Conference heard from two prominent industry association leaders, Mark Goodsell from the Australian Industry Group (AiGroup) and James Pearson, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI). The absence of a representative of the trade union movement to “balance” some of the comments was a weakness of the conference but perhaps unavoidable a few days after a very busy Federal Election campaign. Both conference speakers addressed OHS issues and the topic-de-jour, Industrial Manslaughter laws.

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The political cycle of OHS irrelevance

So, the Australian Labor Party (ALP), the political arm of the trade union movement, the friend of all Australian workers, failed to win government from the Conservative parties. Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) improvements are likely to be left to the magnanimity of the employers, Persons in Control of a Business or Undertaking (PCBUs) and those ideologically opposed to regulatory impositions.

But does the OHS future under Conservative governments mean that workers will be worse off? Sadly, Yes, if the experience of the United States is anything to go by, as illustrated in the analysis of the “Laissez-Faire Revival” by Thomas O. McGarity.

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