The Australian Human Rights Commission has released a report into the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault in Australia’s university campuses. It has revealed some shocking statistics and brings Australian universities into the global phenomenon of reassessing university obligations for the modern world.
Australia’s occupational health and safety laws and obligations could be used as a structure for preventing assaults and harassment if the government and universities would be brave enough to use them.
In 2014, Glen Turner, an environmental officer with the New South Wales government was murdered will inspecting agricultural properties for illegal land clearing. Turner was shot repeatedly by local farmer Ian Turnbull, and died at the scene in front of his work colleague, Robert Strange. 79-year-old Turnbull was found guilty and jailed but died 12 months into his prison term. Due to pressure from Turner’s family, the NSW Government has announced a coronial inquest into the death and the circumstances leading up to it.
Several media reports acknowledge that Turner was killed while at work but the occupational health and safety (OHS) context of the shootings and the actions leading up to the incident has not been investigated except where it led to Turnbull’s trial. Indications are that the coronial inquest will look at this perspective.
Professor Michael Quinlan has been writing about occupational health and safety (OHS) and industrial relations for several decades. His writing has matured over that time as indicated by his most recent book, Ten Pathways to Death and Disaster. In 1980, one of his articles looked at OHS through the prisms of Capitalism and Marxism. It is remarkable how much an article that was written early in Quinlan’s career and at a time when OHS was considered another country remains relevant today. This perspective contrasts strongly with the current dominant thinking on OHS and as a result sounds fresh and may offer some solutions.
In Quinlan’s 1980 article, “The Profits of Death: Workers’ Health and Capitalism”*, he writes that
“contrary to popular belief there is no objective irrefutable definition of illness”.
This could equally be applied to safety. But searching for THE definition of things can lead to everlasting colloquia of academic experts without helping those who need to work within and apply safety concepts.
A recent investigative report into workplace safety at Los Alamos laboratory in the United States included this statement:
“The Center’s probe revealed worker safety risks, previously unpublicized accidents, and dangerously lax management practices at other nuclear weapons-related facilities. The investigation further found that penalties for these practices were relatively light, and that many of the firms that run these facilities were awarded tens of millions of dollars in profits in the same years that major safety lapses occurred. Some were awarded new contracts despite repeated, avoidable accidents, including some that exposed workers to radiation.”
The whole article deserves reading but this paragraph in particular illustrates that deficiencies in procurement apply to large organisations in high risk sectors just as much as it can in the small to medium-sized business sector. A major reason is that detailed and diligent procurement has been seen as red tape and it seems to have taken disasters like Grenfell Tower to illustrate the moral deficiencies and short-term economic fantasies of
On 26 May 2017, NT WorkSafe announced that Austral Fisheries Pty Ltd was charged over health and safety breaches that resulted in the electrocution of Ryan Donoghue. Enforcement of occupational health and safety breaches should be welcomed but Donoghue died in 2013! Why so long?
NT WorkSafe regret the delay:
“The location of the vessel meant the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and NT WorkSafe potentially had jurisdiction to investigate.”
“The preliminary findings from our investigation were handed to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland after we received legal advice that they had jurisdiction,” Mr Gelding [Executive Director of NT WorkSafe] said.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland completed their investigation on 3 March 2015 and decided not to prosecute. The Northern Territory Coroner held an inquest into the accident in April 2016 and referred the matter to NT WorkSafe for consideration.
Why so long? Jurisdictional arguments and enforcement variation. But didn’t Australia establish a National Compliance and Enforcement Policy in 2011? Yep,