Several readers have raised their eyebrows over recent media reports in South Australia that say that SafeWorkSA is in the process of accepting an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) related to the death of 54-year-old Debra Summers, who was found dead in a freezer at the Echunga police training reserve on October 4, 2016. The use of EUs when a fatality is involved deserves discussion and resolution, especially when the workplace death involves a hazard that was so well-known.
Several years ago I attended an occupational health and safety (OHS) conference at which Cristian Sylvestre was speaking. He was in one of the secondary rooms, it was packed with conference delegates and he was talking about neuroscience and its potential to affect safety. In 2017 he self-published a book called “Third Generation Safety: The Missing Piece“.
OHS has a lot of people talking about new approaches to address the plateauing of safety performance. We are pushed to reassess how we got here and how we look at OHS – Safety II, psychology of risk and others, or we need to have OHS fit with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Sylvestre advocates a third generation of safety. This is his take on the previous two generations and how we should progress in the future.
One of the common questions I am asked, usually face-to-face rather than online curiously, is what changes I would suggest for improving occupational health and safety (OHS). Following on from the broad perspective thesis by Dr Clare Tedestedt George, here are some of my thoughts.
Entrenched workplace cultures
Workplaces and industry sectors have established rigid norms, work practices, expectations, and a culture, that are no longer considered as safe and healthy as they were intended to be. This has happened due to the economic demands of neoliberalism, the (fake) empowerment of the individual and after years of weakness and neglect by the OHS profession and regulators.
The trade union movement has often been instrumental in affecting and sometimes creating government policy on occupational health and safety (OHS). The latest generation of hazards – psychosocial – can be traced back to a survey late last century of workplace stress conducted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). This week the ACTU released its survey into sexual harassment at work.
The current survey should not be seen as representative of any social group other than trade union members even though the survey was completed by 10,000 of them. Also, this survey is far less likely to be as newsworthy as last century’s surveys as the agenda on workplace sexual harassment has already been established by reports from groups like Universities Australia and, especially, the current work by the Sexual Discrimination Commissioner and the Australian Human Rights Commission. It is also likely to be covered, probably as a secondary issue, in the various mental health inquiries scheduled for 2019.
The ACTU survey provides additional information to our understanding of sexual harassment at work but certainly not the whole picture.