Emerging OHS risks and strategies in Ballarat

On 25 February 2020, I spoke at a breakfast seminar at the Ballarat Regional Occupational Safety & Health Group (BROSH) on emerging OHS risks and strategies. Below is an edited version of that talk, which touched on CORVID19, bushfire smoke, sexual harassment, mental health, safety culture and communication:

Industrial Manslaughter

Industrial Manslaughter laws will come into effect in Victoria in the middle of this year.  Anyone who thinks these laws may relate to their workplace or how their businesses are run, should be afraid.  But they should also be ashamed.  If they are worried about going to jail because their OHS decisions may be negligent, they are not managing the safety and health of their workers in the way the law intended, or the Regulator and the community expects.  They should be ashamed.

If you need an authoritative and informative speaker on workplace health and safety for your event, or just good, practical OHS advice, email Kevin Jones
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OHS law could prevent the psychological harm of sexual harassment

The prevention of psychological harm generated by sexual harassment has been a recurring theme in the SafetyAtWorkBlog. It is heartening to see similar discussions appearing in labour law research.

An article, published in the Australian Journal of Labour Law, called “Preventing Sexual Harassment in Work: Exploring the Promise of Work Health and Safety Laws” written by Belinda Smith, Melanie Schleiger and Liam Elphick strengthens the role that occupational health and safety (OHS) laws can play in preventing sexual harassment and its harm.

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Mental health prevention is still glossed over

The latest edition of CEO Magazine contains a brief report of a workplace mental health breakfast seminar. It is written by John Karagounis, the CEO of the CEO Circle, the host of the seminar. Prominent speakers included Julia Gillard, Paul Howes and Georgie Harman, all associated with beyondblue. The prevention of mental ill-health at work is only inferred in this article, which reflects the dominant, and limited, perspective of most of the mental health sector. A deeper and broader analysis of workplace mental health is deserved.

However, the article included two statements of note. Clarification is being sought on this Karagounis statement:

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Recognition for hard work and inspiration

There seems to be a spate of intelligent and knowledgeable people talking about the structural changes required by businesses to reduce and prevent psychological harm. Two Australian voices are Lucinda Brogden and Dr Rebecca Michalak. New Zealand has Dr Hillary Bennett who recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the New Zealand Workplace Health and Safety Awards. Bennett’s interview with SafeGuard magazine should be obligatory reading.

Bennett is asked about the Human Resource (HR) profession and nails a critical difference in the HR approach to the occupational health and safety (OHS) one:

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Look deeper and read wider when trying to understand

This Forbes article on the France Telecom suicides, written by Jack Kelly, is doing the rounds on LinkedIn with various lessons identified by various commentators. Sadly Kelly dilutes the significance of the suicides and the jailing of executives by implying that the action in France is a special case, as if the executives were trapped by employment laws into taking the actions that led to the extreme anxiety felt by France Telecom’s workers.

Kelly’s concluding paragraph is unnecessarily equivocal:

“The trial shows that managers waging a campaign of harassment against employees could establish a precedent in France and other countries. It may serve as a strong warning to corporate executives and management that their actions have severe consequences. Pushing employees too hard may result in serious consequences for both the workers and the purveyors of the punishing behaviors.”

Kelly use of “may” weakens the significance of the executive’ actions, the successful prosecution and the jail sentences. Why write that this may happen when the article is about a real case of cause and effect between executive strategy and suicide? Surely “may” should have been “can”.

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