The first use of safewash to describe presenting occupational health and safety (OHS) information in a diffused truth was in the 2016 research paper by Sharron O’Neill, Jack Flanagan and Kevin Clarke, called “Safewash! Risk attenuation and the (Mis)reporting of corporate safety performance to investors” (abstract/summary available). It has turned up elsewhere since.
In December, Australian law firm Maddocks launched its 2023 Year in Review. Two items were directly relevant to occupational health and safety (OHS) – Sexual Harassment and Psychosocial Safety – both addressed by Catherine Dunlop. The size of the challenge ahead on both these topics was shown by the Australian Financial Review on December 7, 2023:
“Fewer than half of directors are confident their companies will be able to adhere to new workplace sexual harassment standards when they come into force next week, with just one in five female directors saying their boards understand the requirements of the new regime.”
Outside of the Maddocks launch, there is also some speculation that Victoria’s proposed psychosocial regulations may never happen.
Plain speaking is one of the greatest challenges of any profession. Many professionals struggle to communicate their excellent work and knowledge which has created the moves for Research-To-Practice and specialised communicators (as opposed to public relations advisers). Human Resources (HR) and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) need communications specialists, or perhaps just interpreters, if a recent article on workers compensation and mental health is anything to go by.
If we are going to achieve a successful and effective change on workplace mental health, we need to start to understand each other.
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.
Every so often, there are sufficient numbers of workplace deaths and injuries that a government feels the need to act. In 2019, the Queensland government closed down its mining sector for a “safety reset”, which required every mine worker to be retrained in occupational health and safety (OHS). Recently Western Australia needed to act on deaths in its farming sector and has established an inquiry into the issues.
Farming is perhaps the hardest industry in which to affect change. It is dominated by male workers and farmers. It has next to no union presence. OHS inspectors rarely attend farms except after a severe injury or death.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) has had an uneasy ride in political debates in Australia, often because there is a disturbing morality in laws that dictate an employer has responsibility for the safety and health of their workers, even if legal wriggle room is allowed. There is no written history of OHS in Australia except within the confines of Industrial Relations, if it gets mentioned at all.
Recently I engaged in a conversation with a professional colleague on LinkedIn (I know, didn’t your Mother always say not to engage with people on social media? Well, this is a blog so….). That colleague made some odd political statements.
Australia has entered a federal election campaign, but the mechanics of the Australian parliament continued, and various occupational health and safety (OHS) comments were voiced in Senate Estimates. These comments touched on Industrial Manslaughter, regulations on psychologically safe workplaces and insecure work.