Industrial Manslaughter laws are spreading in Australia but are inconsistent

This year the South Australian Parliament will likely pass that State’s Industrial Manslaughter (IM) legislation as the introduction of these laws was an election commitment of the new Labor government. The consultation period on the draft Bill closes on February 10 2023 after being open for just over two months.

New South Wales may follow if the Labor Party wins the March 2023 election

Industrial Manslaughter laws under the broader occupational health and safety (OHS) continue to be contentious as a new research paper by Professor Richard Johnstone shows. However, the introduction of IM laws will forever be a political act at its core.

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Trucking inquiries scare the Conservatives

Australia’s newspapers have recently reported on the moves by the Federal Government to review the safety and working conditions of the country’s truck drivers. As expected, The Australian newspaper is painting this as the Government paying back its ideological and financial backers – the trade unions – and the resurrection of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT), even though the Government denies this will happen.

Occupational health and safety (OHS) sits behind some elements of the debate. As with most things OHS, it will not be a game-changer in a discussion over pay rates and minimum standards, but it is a serious consideration, and deservedly so.

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Extreme heat

Global warming is affecting how we work just as much as how we live. Working in Heat policies are designed based on experience rather than meteorological and climate forecasts, meaning these documents are always chasing reality and not getting ahead of the occupational hazard.

On January 19, 2023, Steven Greenhouse (coincidental name) looked at the topic of working in extreme for Nieman Reports writing that:

“High heat can be a big problem for the nation’s workers, not just farmworkers and construction workers, but delivery workers, utility workers, landscaping workers, and warehouse workers.”

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Mental health book should be influential due to lack of bullshit

Some of the recent guidance on mental health at work from occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators is not scintillating or even engaging. Their purpose is to provide information with the hope it is presented in a workplace by someone super-communicative and influential. (C’mon, really? We’re talking about OHS here.)

Luckily there is a recent easy-to-read book of fewer than 150 pages that reads like a conversation over a single afternoon with the reader about Mental Health At Work.

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Don’t mention profit

The primacy of profit to employers is an accepted truth. However, the size of the profit and the pathway to those profits are not absolutes, and it is in this latter context that occupational health and safety (OHS) lives.

Even though profit is a business truth, it is often a word that business representatives seem to fear. They speak of profit through synonyms like “productivity” and “competitiveness”. An example of this timidity or wariness was displayed recently by prominent businessman Michael Angwin in an opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review (paywalled) that contained many other cautious words of business jargon. Angwin misses the harm to workers and others generated by the world as he sees it.

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Who’s to blame?

All occupational health and safety (OHS) advocates should be reading the work of Jordan Barab. His latest article on “blaming the workers” for their own incidents is a great example of his writing. The article also illustrates one of the things about OHS that really gets up the noses of employers – if we don’t blame the workers, we have to blame the employers. An Australian answer to the situation would be Yeah, Nah.

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Revisiting the sociology of work

I am always surprised how few people who talk about workplace and safety cultures seem not to have read the great sociologists of culture. Raymond Williams was important when I studied sociology and literature at university in the 1980s. I was reminded of his importance by this article in Catalyst.

As neoliberalism experiences a decline in influence on governments and corporations, it is useful to look at the sociology of culture from the pre-neoliberalism days, even if only dipping into my bookshelves. The Catalyst article opens with this:

“Raymond Williams hasn’t survived the cultural turn intact. Even though he was instrumental in foregrounding the significance of culture in human affairs, his materialist methodology and commitment to socialism jarred against the textualism and cultural relativism of the last three decades. The rise of neoliberalism had an effect as well. It undercut the values of cooperation and solidarity that were key to postwar radical intellectuals like Williams. But a Williams revival is finally underway.”

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