The OHS agenda of the Australian Labor Party

Given that the protection of worker health and safety will gain more attention and support under progressive parties and governments, the release of the 2021 National Platform for the Australian Labor Party (ALP) is notable. The 2021 document, unsurprisingly, focuses on the role of Health and Safety Representatives, appealing to its financial and political trade union base as major influencers on occupational health and safety (OHS).

This article will focus on the chapters in both the 2021 and 2018 platform documents related to safe and healthy workplaces, although there are OHS-related issues dotted throughout both documents.

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What is behind the fluctuation of mental health claims?

If you are contemplating running a survey about workplace health and safety, make it longitudinal. That is, structure your survey so that data can be compared over a long period of time by clearly defining your questions to the general rather than the topical. Topical questions can be included occasionally (they can freshen up a survey), but the core of the survey needs to be robust.

Recently Safe Work Australia (SWA) released the 6th edition of workers compensation claim data for psychosocial health and safety and bullying in Australia. It is a short statement of data that offers some interesting trends and continues the survey’s limitations.

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The causes of unsafe behaviours

This blog has always had strong reservations about the occupational health and safety (OHS) focus on the unsafe behaviour of workers to the exclusion of organisational and socio-economic factors. A recent research study on Iranian workers provides a fresh look at the causes of unsafe behaviours applicable to a wide range of occupations.

The report* by Mahdi Malakoutikhah, Mehdi Jahangiri, Moslem Alimohammadlou,
Seyed Aliakbar Faghihi, Mojtaba Kamalinia of the Shiraz University in Iran found three factors contributing to unsafe behaviours:

  • Organisational
  • Individual
  • Socio-economic

Nothing radical in those categories but the subcategories and themes are more useful as this table shows.

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“Hmm, do tell me more” – safety leadership

Recently the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) conducted a lunchtime online seminar on leadership. The speakers were prominent Australian women – Naomi Kemp, Diane Smith-Gander, Kirstin Ferguson and Queensland Minister Grace Grace. Although the seminar was hosted as part of the Women in Safety and Health group, these events are open to everyone. As work-related sexual harassment has shown, men are as involved in the process of safety and harm prevention as are women.

One of the biggest weaknesses of any safety management system, safety culture or safety leadership, comes from hypocrisy. Leaders state the importance of occupational health and safety (OHS) to the business then make decisions where OHS and worker welfare is dismissed or minimised, or rationalised dubiously to “as far as is reasonably practicable”.

Smith-Gander spoke about how executives should embed OHS into all the Board and executive decisions beyond the obligatory and often poor quality “Safety Moments” at the start of a meeting.

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Non-military safety lessons from the latest Royal Commission (open access)

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast an episode of The Signal on April 21, 2021, which discussed the complexity of the culture of Australia’s military, and I strongly recommend you listen to it. It does make some points about culture worth contemplating in the context of one’s own workplace and profession.

The most useful point was that an established institution cannot have a uniform culture that meets the expectations of all relevant stakeholders. Generations take their culture with them. So those who started in the military in the 1980s and 1990s (and later) will bring the values and lessons of that time into their maturity and when they move into senior and leadership positions – positions that are intended to both preserve and progress the organisation’s culture. This will result in conflict between the expectations of new recruits and the realities of the established military executives. Not open revolt, but a dissatisfaction that may or may not result in leaving the organisation.

The topic used by The Signal to illustrate the extremes of the defence force members and stakeholders was mental health.

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Should we feel safe or be safe?

A major impediment to establishing safe and healthy workplaces is that there is a widespread expectation for everyone to feel safe at work. Yet, the legislative occupational health and safety (OHS) obligation on employers and workers is for them to be safe. It is a significant difference, for the former addresses perception, and the latter requires action.

Recently the Australian Government responded to a major inquiry into sexual harassment at work. Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, launching the official response with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, said:

“In terms of sexual harassment in the workplace, I think we’d all agree – in fact, it needs to be just a basic fundamental – everybody has the right to feel safe in the workplace.”

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A traditional farm safety campaign with tweaks

For the last few years, farm safety has been dominated by arguments over the safety of quad bikes. Squabbles continue in Australia, but that topic is largely over, and many are returning to a broader and more contemporary approach to health and safety in farming.

It looks like WorkSafe Victoria has begun to roll out its farm safety ambassadors with Catherine Velisha on the cover of a recent edition of Stock and Land newspaper and in a Youtube video. This is supported by a full article on page 3 with an additional article in a glossy supplement provided with WorkSafe’s support.

The article is a blend of promotion for Velisha’s farm management training company and media releases from WorkSafe Victoria. The occupational health and safety (OHS) statistics are new but not very different from previous statistics. Middle-aged men continue to be a feature of the fatality statistics, and 58 on-farm deaths happened in 2020, the same as the year before. Quad bikes have been a major factor in those deaths.

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