Last week’s article on the occupational health and safety (OHS) risks of Working From Home (WFH) reminded me of a report from late 2019 that I always meant to write about but forgot. In November 2019 the International Labour Organisation (ILO) released a report called Telework in the 21st century: An evolutionary perspective. It ‘s a collection of articles on teleworking from around the world and, although it is pre-COVID19, it remains fairly contemporary on telework and WFH practices and risks.
Seven years ago, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) suffered a spike of workplace deaths in the construction sector. The then WorkSafe Commissioner produced a report, supported by at least one conference and extensive consultation, which proposed substantial changes. All of the recommendations from the 2012 Getting Home Safely report were accepted by the government and construction had no deaths for several years after but recent deaths have resurrected tensions between the ACT Government and the Master Builders Association (MBA).
The pursuit of Premier Dan Andrews and the Victorian Government for Industrial Manslaughter reached a frenzy in Parliament on September 4 2020, when Liberal Parliamentarian Tim Smith expressed his opposition to the extension of Victoria’s state of emergency. His florid speech masked his principal, and admirable, aim, to hold the Government accountable.
Most of the frustration of the manufacturers of quad bikes is aimed at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for imposing new safety requirements. However, another independent assessment of the evidence and the Australian controversy recently released its findings.
The debate over the safety of quad bikes on farms continues but it is increasingly one-sided. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and workplace safety advocates continue to hold the line on the need to install operator protection devices (OPDs) to all quad bikes being sold in Australia. Farmers, often supported by commercial interests, want to keep their quad bikes and as they are, because there are no alternative vehicles that are as versatile as the quad bike.
“Evidence suggests in some circumstances CPDs do prevent injuries, other times they create more injuries and that’s not a satisfactory outcome we should address the fundamental problem and that is the way in which humans behave around this machine…”
This quote neatly summarises the points of argument in the safety debate which have been reported on extensively in this blog previously – evidence, most benefit, design, use….
James Curtin and I have been trying to find time to sit down and talk about occupational health and safety (OHS) and Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws ever since I interviewed trade unionist Dr Gerry Ayres in 2018. The most recent IM laws have recently passed in Victoria and James and I finally found some time to talk.
Below are the personal and professional points that James made in the interview. The rest of the article contains the full interview.
- Workplace manslaughter has not been found to improve safety and pushing ahead with a model that excludes some duty holders from the offence was/ is wrong
- There was no gap in the law that this new offence sought to fill. It was an ideologically fuelled position.
- The model should have been one in all in (like reckless endangerment) or one out all out (and replicate the UK’s Corporate Manslaughter Laws)
- Working for an employer or employee organisation is a great privilege. You need to represent your constituents effectively but in doing so be mindful of any bias. Some Associations represented their members very well throughout this debate. Some did not. That was very disappointing.
- Employers have to take their OHS obligations seriously. WorkSafe play a vital role in regulating Victoria’s OHS laws.
- If you are in business you have to take your obligations seriously. Everyone should have the opportunity to start a business, if they wish, but they must have high regard to their obligations. An effective way of ensuring this is through regulator involvement – proactively and reactively.
- Compliance and enforcement needs to be looked at differently. Larger fines and custodial sentences is not the answer. Each case needs to be dealt with on its merits and enforceable undertakings can play an integral role
Ministerial accountability. Occupational health and safety (OHS). Leadership. Industrial Manslaughter. These issues have existed in various combinations in various jurisdictions and discussed by many people. At the moment in Australia, this combination has in relation to COVID19 but some of the discussion contains tenuous links and some is masking long held political agendas. Much of it harks back to arguments put to the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program.