This article is about SafeWorkNSW’s recently released Draft Code of Practice for Managing the Risks to Psychological Health, but it is not going to focus on the Code. Instead the focus will be on the supplementary Explanatory Paper because this presents the rationale for the Code’s contents and, in many ways, is a more useful tool for occupational health and safety (OHS) discussions. However, just as the Code has structural and legislative limitations as part of its Purpose, the Explanatory Paper is a support document for submissions on the Draft Code and therefore has its own limitations.
A lot of recent attention has been given to incidents of sexual harassment in Australian legal and finance corporations, in particular, and how these are being (mis)managed. COVID19 has thrown a big focus on the working conditions of health care workers. Last month, Australian research on sexual misconduct was released that is, essentially, a Venn diagram of the issues of sexual harassment and misconduct with health practitioners.
The lead author of the study, Associate Professor Marie Bismark, professor of Public Law at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, spoke exclusively with SafetyAtWorkBlog about the research findings.
If prominent Australian lawyer, Josh Bornstein does not like something, it’s worth looking more closely at it. Last week on Twitter, Bornstein scoffed at the suggestion that occupational health and safety (OHS) could be a new approach to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. He tweeted:
“To all those clamouring to support the idea that sexual harassment should be treated as an OHS issue, I have a simple message: Wrong Way, Go Back”
The OHS and sexual harassment nexus appeared primarily in response to a couple of articles (paywalled) in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) based on a leaked report from the Male Champions for Change (MCOC) organisation. Although the report is not publicly released for another couple of weeks, MCOC (hopefully not pronounced My Cock), proposes consideration of applying OHS laws and principles to sexual harassment.
The full report is likely to discuss the mechanics of this further but the advocacy of OHS is less interesting that the admission that MCOC and other leadership-based approaches to reduction and prevention of workplace sexual harassment have failed.
Victoria, perhaps, has the best chance of applying occupational health and safety (OHS) principles to the prevention of sexual harassment and the psychological harm that harassment can generate. In the wake of the sexual harassment allegations against former Justice Dyson Heydon, several reviews into the legal profession have been announced.
Sexual harassment at work remains on the national agenda with the Federal Government yet to respond to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) Respect@Work Report which has been sitting with the government since March 2020.
Discussion on the sexual harassment allegations against former High Court judge Dyson Heydon continue even though some Australian States’ media have returned to COVID19 clusters and football. On July 6, 2020, five hundred women in the legal profession published an open letter calling for
“… wider reforms to address the high incidence of sexual harassment, assault and misconduct in the legal profession”
The signatories call for an independent complaints body for the Australian judiciary and changes to the appointment of judges. What is missing is Prevention.
The Australian Institute of Safety and Health’s online national conference offered some big topics this year. One of the most anticipated was the discussion of sexual harassment in the workplace. Luckily the panel discussion included big hitters such as Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins whose week was about to get a lot busier with the revelations of sexual harassment by Australia’s High Court Justice Dyson Heydon.
The Dyson Heydon sexual harassment accusations, which he emphatically denies, were revealed in an independent investigation for the High Court of Australia. The Justice Heydon case has generated copious media attention for many reasons including his prominence in a politically-charged Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. His sexual harassment offences are awful, but the most startling revelations are not necessarily about one man’s inappropriate actions. Here was an organisational, maybe even a professional, culture that permitted this behaviour to continue unchallenged for many many years. It is this context that, I believe, offers the most significant lessons for the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession and where OHS skills can help others.
Yesterday, I was critical of an Industrial Relations paper written by the Australian Industry Group for not integrating occupational health and safety (OHS) into the submission to Government. This omission is indicative of the conceptual silos of OHS, Industrial Relations, Human Resources, and general business decision-making, and is certainly not limited to business organisations like the AiGroup.
“Provide submissions to any or all formal government inquiries, regardless of topic…”
This is an extension of the aphorism that safety is everyone’s responsibility and deserves some explanation. Through that explanation to the right people, on the right topic, at the right time, OHS could change the world.