The politics of safety

Bill Shorten third from the right at the 2012 Safe Work Australia awards in Parliament House Canberra

There is little doubt that Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, believes that occupational health and safety (OHS) is important. His interest was on show, perhaps most significantly, during his time as a union leader at the Beaconsfield mine disaster but he has spoken at various OHS awards, the opening of the National Workers Memorial, local memorials, and was a participant in the Maxwell Review of Victoria’s OHS review in 2006.

OHS has not appeared yet in the current Federal Election campaign. It rarely does. But there is an opportunity to argue that the Australian Labor Party (ALP), of which Shorten is the leader, will not only create more jobs for Australian but that they will be safe jobs. To an OHS professional, it seems to be a simple position, a position that is extremely difficult to argue against. However, the politics of safety in Australia cannot be separated from the role and activities of the trade union movement. Yet, OHS is not just a union challenge, it is relevant to all workers and their families, but only the trade unions seem to have an OHS voice. Letting this situation continue is not sustainable.

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The biggest OHS challenge is greed

As the world approaches World Day for Safety and Health at Work and International Workers Memorial Day this coming Sunday it is worth reminding ourselves of some of the immorality that unregulated Capitalism allows. A company in one of the last remaining exporters of asbestos, Russia, has used President Donald Trump’s words and image to support its production and export of asbestos*, a product known for over a century to cause fatal illnesses.

Why is asbestos still mind if the evidence of its fatality is incontrovertible? Greed, or as it has been called in the past – “good business sense”. Many authors have written about the history of asbestos globally and locally. Many have written about the injustice in denying victims compensation from exposure to a known harmful chemical. But few have written about the core support for asbestos production, export and sale – Greed.

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The dicks are swinging over OHS

A couple more election campaign publications and statements have appeared in relation to occupational health and safety (OHS), one by the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and another in response to some advertising by the Construction Forestry Mining Maritime and Energy Union (CFMEU) released by the Master Builders Australia (MBA).

Institute of Public Affairs

There is nothing in the IPA report “20 policies to fix Australia” that directly relates to OHS, but there is a continuance of the desire for less “red tape”, a desire that has often mentioned OHS regulations and licencing as examples. The IPA says:

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Where’s the harm in bullying?

The West Australian Government has released its the report on its Ministerial Review of the State Industrial Relations System. There are a few interesting bits that relate to occupational health and safety (OHS) and bullying.

The Fair Work Commission has been able to accept applications to stop workplace bullying for a few years now. Western Australia’s State system will soon also allow this, if the Government accepts the recommendations, but workplace bullying is a little different from the OHS approach. The report says:

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Safe Work Australia at Senate Estimates

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During April 2019 Executives from Safe Work Australia (SWA) attended the Senate Estimates hearings as usual. This current session was a little different as a General Election was imminent and Industrial Manslaughter laws have increased focus on occupational health and safety (OHS) organisations and regulators. Also the Committee included Senator Gavin Marshall who, late last year, was the Chair of the committee which conducted an inquiry into industrial deaths.

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