Seven years ago, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) suffered a spike of workplace deaths in the construction sector. The then WorkSafe Commissioner produced a report, supported by at least one conference and extensive consultation, which proposed substantial changes. All of the recommendations from the 2012 Getting Home Safely report were accepted by the government and construction had no deaths for several years after but recent deaths have resurrected tensions between the ACT Government and the Master Builders Association (MBA).
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.
A short debate in South Australia’s Parliament about the upcoming World Suicide Prevention Day was illustrative of some of the politics and barriers to reducing suicide.
Independent politician, Geoff Brock moved the following in support of World Suicide Prevention Day.
That this house –
(a) acknowledges that 9 September 2020 is World Suicide Prevention Day;
(b) acknowledges that world prevention day started in 2003;
(c) acknowledges that in excess of 3,000 people die from suicide every year;
(d) acknowledges that suicide is one of the largest causes of death each year;
(e) encourages people of all ages to openly discuss and acknowledge deaths by suicide;
(f) encourages people of all ages to openly discuss their mental health and wellbeing issues with family and friends;
(g) acknowledges the everlasting impact and effect of any death on family members and others; and
(h) encourages the state government to provide sufficient support, both financial and other support, as necessary.
Last week WorkSafe Victoria followed some of the other Australian States by requiring employers to report positive COVID19 cases as “notifiable incidents”. (If they can do this fro COVID19, shouldn’t it be possible to do the same for mental health disorders?) Expanding the pool of notifiable incidents is of little practical consequence but it is indicative of how occupational health and safety (OHS) management is changing, and how Industrial Manslaughter is becoming a pervasive threat.
In the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on August 4 2020, employer liability for COVID19 incidents was discussed. Liberty Sanger of union-associated law firm, Maurice Blackburn, spoke of the importance of genomic testing to better identify the origin of the infection, ie. was it caught at work or at home.
The COVID19 pandemic is a public health challenge but what happens when workplaces are integral to the control and spread of the virus? This overlap between public health and occupational health is complicated and unlikely to be resolved in the short term, however, it can fixed in the longer term. The crisis in the Australian State of Victoria (where this author lives) offers an example of this complexity, but also an opportunity for positive change, perhaps even, a Department of Safety.