Does OHS research have a Left and a Right?

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.

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Industrial Manslaughter, psychologically safe workplaces and insecure work – just another day in the Senate

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.

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Is red tape justified?

One of the interesting features of the Psychological Health regulations proposed by the Victorian Government last month is the requirement for employers to provide regular six-monthly reports on psychological incidents.

The Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) states that:

“…the proposed regulatory amendments will require employers to keep written records of prevention plans for prescribed psychosocial hazards and impose reporting requirements on medium and large employers.”

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Why is the world “enthusiastic” for regulations?

Unsurprising from a global business magazine, The Economist’s special report on January 15 2002 (paywalled*) bemoaned the new “enthusiasm for regulation”. It clearly includes occupational health and safety (OHS) laws and Australia in its consideration but stops short of asking why this new enthusiasm exists.

Many regulations, especially in OHS, are proposed and introduced to address a wrong or misbehaviour or a new hazard. A major catalyst for Lord Robens‘ OHS laws in the 1970s stemmed from industrial deaths, especially those of the public. The pattern of deaths as a catalyst for change continues today with the Industrial Manslaughter laws, for instance. Another catalyst is new cultural sensitivities; what was tolerated previously is no longer acceptable.

The workplace bullying changes late last century in Australia is a good example, but this also ties in with unacceptable levels of harm. Bullying was often part of the initiation to work and seemed acceptable until workers were severely injured and traumatised, and people found out about it.

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No psych regulation in Victoria until mid-2022

The Victorian Government has pledged to introduce regulations to address psychological risks in workplaces. According to a second consultation paper on psychological health regulations, seen by SafetyAtWorkBlog, the consultation process continues but has been extended, so the new regulations are unlikely before the middle of 2020. This extension would seem a little unnecessary given the work on this hazard already from Safe Work Australia and SafeWorkNSW.

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Odd sexual harassment guidance

Safe Work Australia has released an important national occupational health and safety (OHS) guidance called “Preventing workplace sexual harassment.” The advice included is very good, but the presentation is so plain and vanilla as to be unattractive – unattractive in that there is little to encourage anyone from reading what is very important information. No images, no flowcharts, no graphics, no infographics but perhaps most importantly – no case studies.

This is not to suggest that SWA guidance needs to look like a “Dummy’s Guide”, but readability is more than grammar, understanding comes from more than just information.

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“This is how silly OH&S has become” Not really

Truck driving is one of the most contentious areas of occupational health and safety (OHS) in Australia. The transport industry has refined a reasonably practicable level of OHS to a high degree where levels of fatigue that would not be tolerated in other occupations are the norm. There also seems to be a negative attitude to OHS as an impediment to getting the job done rather than an investment in the health of drivers and the longevity of their careers.

These attitudes were on display recently in an inquiry into the “Importance of a viable, safe, sustainable and efficient road transport industry” undertaken by the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee of the Australian Senate.

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