Ross Gittins is a prominent Australian economics journalist. In The Age on September 20, 2023, he wrote an article about the recent spate of corporations being prosecuted and penalized for breaking the law. Many of his points can also relate to companies and executives breaking occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.Continue reading “Toothless enforcement”
Occupational health and safety (OHS) is rarely reported on in the mainstream newspapers but every week OHS is there, adding a contect to a scandal or subtext to a public health risk. Last weekend was no different. The Guardian of September 16, 2023 reported on a review of personal relationships by BP, a prison escape, deaths from air pollution, a more relaxed approach to work, shoplifting and customer aggression, and more.
The Australian Industry Group (AIGroup) has published an article intended to rebuild trust between workers and employers and is based on a “Tight Loose Tight” concept. It seems to make sense and maybe moreso to its intended audience but it is missing essential integration.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) is a remarkably insular profession. It tends to narrow its focus on legislative compliance even though Social Determinants of Health is a core unit of tertiary OHS education. OHS professionals are also notably weak in understanding the business realities that their employers and customers face. This inability to understand the economic realities is a common criticism of OHS, not reflecting “common sense” and being naïve.
To understand OHS’ limitations and potential, it is necessary to have a basic knowledge of the economic and political ideologies under which clients and employers work. “The Big Myth – How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market”, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway, contributes to that understanding.
The Australian Labor Party (ALP) conference has endorsed the concept of the right-to-disconnect, according to an article in The Australian. Sadly, the reporting on the change has a dismissive tone on what is an attempt to address the increasing costs of mental health at work. Readily accessible and recent survey data on the right-to-disconnect could have been used for a fuller analysis.
Journalist Ewin Hannan wrote:
As with most political party conferences, occupational health and safety (OHS) is a fringe issue. OHS or safety is sometimes mentioned in the big political speeches but often as an afterthought or obligatory mention that is rarely explored to the extent it deserves. The Australian Labor Party (ALP) recently held its national conference in Brisbane. Work health and safety was mentioned.
The ALP Conference is not intended to change Australian government policies. Its aim is to review and revise the ALP Party platform; it drops what may be redundant and improves the policy platform’s relevance. The conference may indicate party member concerns to the parliamentary members, but the government’s positions are for the parliamentary members to decide.
It should come as no surprise that the ALP has again refrained from banning the import and use of engineered stone even though the silicosis risks are well-established.
Last night Sharan Burrow delivered the 2023 Laurie Carmichael Lecture in Melbourne. Her lecture was a little rambling and full of essential industrial and environmental changes but with little innovation on how to achieve them. (A transcript will be publicly released shortly) There was, however, an opportunity to ask her about the role of occupational health and safety institutions as change agents. Her response is below.