Occupational health and safety (OHS) training has been forced to revolutionise over the last couple of plague-ridden years from face-to-face in a room to face-to-face online through Teams, Zoom and many other variations. Traditional “in-Room” training is sneaking back, but the majority remains online. However, OHS training providers in Victoria feel they are being pulled from pillar to post by WorkSafe Victoria.
“The ACTU’s 2021 Work Shouldn’t Hurt Survey revealed that 80% of workers who are injured or made ill at work do not even make a workers’ compensation claim, in the case of insecure workers this jumps to 95%. This highlights that the 120,000 workers who made a claim last year is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to measuring health and safety at work”
This is no surprise to those concerned with occupational health and safety (OHS). Sadly, the ACTU report was thin on possible solutions.
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.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released the results of its latest occupational health and safety (OHS) survey. In past surveys respondents have been trade union members. This survey was opened to non-union members, but to what extent is unclear but this has not stopped the ACTU speaking of the respondents as workers rather than workers who are all union members.
This differentiation is important. In the 1990s when union membership was much larger, the argument that the survey results were representative of Australia’s workforce was stronger although still debatable. Representation is harder to claim now with union membership being well below 20% overall and below 10% in the private sector.
Over the last week or so, as the Australian Parliament resumes operating, the Liberal/National Government is trying to reduce the influence of “militant” unions through its “Ensuring Integrity” Bill but opponents say this may affect the management of occupational health and safety (OHS).
The Federal Department of Health has established a National Dust Disease
Taskforce to develop a national approach to the prevention, early identification, control and management of dust diseases in Australia largely, it seems in response to silicosis but Black Lung had to have some influence.
There is little doubt that Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, believes that occupational health and safety (OHS) is important. His interest was on show, perhaps most significantly, during his time as a union leader at the Beaconsfield mine disaster but he has spoken at various OHS awards, the opening of the National Workers Memorial, local memorials, and was a participant in the Maxwell Review of Victoria’s OHS review in 2006.
OHS has not appeared yet in the current Federal Election campaign. It rarely does. But there is an opportunity to argue that the Australian Labor Party (ALP), of which Shorten is the leader, will not only create more jobs for Australian but that they will be safe jobs. To an OHS professional, it seems to be a simple position, a position that is extremely difficult to argue against. However, the politics of safety in Australia cannot be separated from the role and activities of the trade union movement. Yet, OHS is not just a union challenge, it is relevant to all workers and their families, but only the trade unions seem to have an OHS voice. Letting this situation continue is not sustainable.
This article is part two of an edited version of a keynote presentation I made at the a special WHS Inspectors Forum organised by WorkSafe Tasmania. The audience comprised inspectors from around Australia and New Zealand. I was asked to be provocative and challenging so posed some questions to the audience about how occupational health and safety (OHS) is managed, regulated and inspected.
The audio of the presentation is available at