At last week’s Asia Pacific Occupational Safety and Health Organisation conference, I bumped into Jen Jackson, a young creative thinker on occupational health and safety (OHS) and the author of “How to Speak Human”. We had a quick chat about OHS leadership and gender issues. Below is an edited transcript with a link to the raw audio.
If Industrial Relations is the lifeblood of the economy and the nation, then Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is the lymphatic system, a less well-known supplementary system without which blood circulation fails and the body stops working.
Australia’s Job and Skills Summit that has just concluded focused on the blood. Media analysis offered mixed interpretations. The event was politically stage-managed with many agenda items pre-prepared for the Summit to confirm, but it was not a worthless gabfest, as some (who chose not to attend) have asserted. On the matter of occupational health and safety, there was one new initiative but most of the OHS change, if any, is now more likely to come through the (wellbeing) budget in October.
In July 2022, RMIT University release a three-part series on physical and mental health in Australia’s construction industry consisting of Evidence, Exploration and Evaluation. By themselves, they make a strong case for structural reform of the construction sector to improve workers’ mental and physical health.
WorkSafe Victoria has actively campaigned against occupational violence for the last few years. The pandemic, understandably, brought the focus onto violence against emergency services workers and healthcare staff. Recently the campaign has focussed on gendered violence at work. The intention is to be inclusive, to address the variety of violent acts and the variety of people gendered violence affects, but it is not as inclusive as it could be.
The recent report on sexual harassment at West Australian mine sites deserves national attention for several reasons. The stories are horrific, partly because many of us thought such stories were in the distant past. The fact that many are recent should shock everyone into action.
The report “Enough is Enough”is highly important, but its newsworthiness seems disputable. Some media have covered the report’s release but the newsworthiness, in my opinion, comes less from this one report but from the number of reports and research on sexual harassment, bullying, abuse, disrespect and more in the mining sector over the last twenty years that have done little to prevent the psychosocial hazards of working in the mining and resources sector and especially through the Fly-in, Fly-Out (FIFO) labour supply process.
In the Weekend Australian newspaper, workplace relations journalist Ewin Hannan reported on a presentation (paywalled) made by the Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke to the Attorney-General’s Department staff. (Safe Work Australia, currently, exists in this department) From Hannan’s report, the focus seems to have been on industrial relations but it’s useful to consider Minister Burke’s words from an occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective given that it is highly likely that Safe Work Australia personnel were one of the “hundreds” attending or listening in. Burke said:
Twenty years ago, John Gray published a bestseller that discussed the binary split between Men and Women, a division that was allowed to reflect humanity’s biology and social constructs until very recently. Since the publication of “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”, our understanding of gender has almost been revolutionised from the reality of two sexes and genders to a spectrum of varieties, but our institutions and disciplines have not. Our socioeconomic structures are not so flexible, and it may take many decades to reach a consensus on sex and gender, if not equality.
Workplace relations is similarly slow to adapt to change mainly because it fails to have its own structure, instead piggybacking on business activity. Business has developed primarily from the male perspective to benefit men much more than women directly. Business reflects the gender roles of men and women both in job activities and power. The workplace relations subsets of Human Resources (HR) and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) also reflect these binary practices and perhaps have the strongest long-term potential on the future of work.