Unrelated to the article earlier today about working in extreme heat, last week Australia’s Cancer Council released an occupational health and safety (OHS) guide for working outdoors and to prevent and avoid skin cancer. It is a timely release for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere as it allows us several months to review our sun protection policies and practices.
In the prevention chapter the guide follows the established Hierarchy of Controls but perhaps too closely on one issue. There is an assumption that outdoor work occurs primarily in daylight hours, the time of highest risk of ultraviolet (UV) risk. Under administrative controls the guide advise to Reschedule outdoor work programs” perhaps planning
“work routines so outdoor tasks are carried out earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon, when UV levels are lower”page 17
Parts of Europe are sweltering in extreme Summer temperatures similar to what Australian workers have experienced. A comparison of just temperatures is unreasonable as the European challenge is greater than Australia’s because the society, buildings and operational structures are largely designed and configured for low temperatures and snow. In many ways climate change will be more disruptive for European businesses as Australia has always been hot and dry.
The occupational health and safety (OHS) advice on how to address, or cope with, extreme heat has always been focused on the individual’s capacity to work in heat rather than reconfiguring work to avoid these unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Here is some advice from an American law firm from early this month:
“Summer temperatures can create hazards for workers, and employers can be liable for not addressing conditions that could lead to injuries and illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Liability can arise whether work is being done outside in construction, landscaping, and agriculture, or inside in non-air conditioned manufacturing plants and warehouses.”
[Updated 12 noon 12 June 2019]
Why do some companies accept or propose an Enforceable Undertaking in relation to breaches of occupational health and safety law? This media statement from WorkSafeNT dated June 7, 2019 illustrates one answer:
“Car Festivals Pty Ltd and the Northern Territory Major Events Company Pty Ltd committed to spend a combined $1.2 million in legally binding agreements, when it became clear NT WorkSafe was considering laying charges over the incident.” (emphasis added)
This reads like someone has calculated the potential cost (fines, etc) to the companies from an OHS prosecution and has opted for the cheaper option. And $1.2 million is a hefty financial commitment.
In October 2018, the Australian Financial Review (AFR) reported (paywalled) on an occupational health and safety (OHS) investigation into overwork and staff fatigue being conducted by WorkSafe Victoria. The AFR has followed this with a report on June 6 2019 (paywalled) by its Legal Affairs Editor, Michael Pelly. It is a positive article about how the law firm, King, Wood & Mallesons (KWM) has improved its OHS performance since October last year. However there is much between the lines that hints at the OHS approach used and how limited it is.
The debate on the risks of using glyphosate products to control weeds continues to ripple around the world largely sparked by the global penetration of media reports from the United States. It is important to look at the risks without the unique litigation climate in the United States. A recent Australian report by SBS television emphasises to the occupational health and safety (OHS) risks of glyphosate.
The report started with mention of reviews into the use of glyphosate products by New South Wales councils and the Victorian Government. It would disappointing if such reviews had not already been conducted given the glyphosate was identified as possible carcinogenic several years ago. That change in the state of knowledge of a hazard should have been sufficient for all glyphosate users to reassess their risks.
This was followed up by information on the residual environmental impacts that was reminiscent of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring but is not strictly an OHS matter.