Interesting but not representative

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.

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Grab bag of OHS issues – politics, dust, occupational violence and international HR

Workforce lifecycle framework

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
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.

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The politics of safety

Bill Shorten third from the right at the 2012 Safe Work Australia awards in Parliament House Canberra

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.

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The Challenges of Future Workplaces – Part 2

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

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What Boland’s Independent Review has been hearing

On July 19 2018, Marie Boland, who is conducting an independent review into Australia’s work health and safety (WHS) laws, spoke at the Closing The Loop conference, hosted by the Self Insurers of South Australia (SISA).   Boland’s inquiry has been a little quiet as it undertakes its consultation and investigation but Boland provided some insight at the SISA conference.

According to Boland’s presentation (not available online),

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It’s not “all about safety”

The Australian media on May 16 and 17, 2018 contained several articles about the dropping of a blackmailing case against two prominent trade unionists, John Setka (pictured right) and Shaun Reardon.  There are many issues and allegations in this legal action which started from a contentious Royal Commission and an ongoing dispute between the CFMMEU and the Grocon construction company.

Some unionists, such as the ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus on ABC Radio, say that the current case was “all about safety”.  It is not all about safety and such misrepresentation needs to be called out.  The original dispute was over the election of Health and Safety Representatives (HSR) – whether these could be appointed by the company or the union.  This quickly became about power and influence not specifically about workplace health and safety.

There is no doubt that Setka has a

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Look to the source of workplace conflict, exploitation and injustice

Occupational health and safety advocates are pushing for safety management and strategies to refocus on people by talking about “people-centric” approaches and recalibrating legislation to re-emphasise prevention.  This push parallels society’s frustration with political strategies that favour big business, the under-investment in education and health care systems and companies that announce record profits at the same time as sacking staff.  That frustration is becoming accepted by political parties that are starting to apply more people-centric policies or by countries and States that are appointing representatives from outside the mainstream political organisations.

At a closing event for National Safe Work Month on 1 November 2017, WorkSafe Victoria’s CEO, 

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