Australia’s OHS Law Review

Last week, the release of the final report of Australia’s review into National Model OHS Law was touted by many as immediately after the meeting of the Workplace Relations Ministers Council (WRMC).  This occurred with the first report in 2008.  WRMC met in a teleconference yesterday.  When the report is released officially (rumours are that the report is already doing the rounds of the unions and the employer associations), SafetyAtWorkBlog will provide a link to the report and some initial commentary.

However, as reported yesterday, the Australian Financial Review obtained a copy of the report and highlighted several issues of interest.  The AFR report held no great surprise for safety professionals but the union movement is going to be ideologically tested.

Early in the review process, the New South Wales union movement was very vocal about the risk of losing their right to initiate prosecutions over OHS breaches.  The right was rarely applied and could be a very costly exercise.  Since that time there has been silence from that quarter, perhaps because they realised that its contentious right was out-of-step with the rest of the country and the review process is all about legislative harmonisation.

According to media reports this week, the Review Panel’s final report recommends the omission of the right to prosecute but allows an option to instigate prosecutions through the OHS regulators.  In effect it keeps the power where it is most cost-effective and through which a similar outcome could be achieved.  It gives the unions a seat at the table, just not the same seat but still with a comfy cushion.

Prior to the WRMC meeting,  Sharan Burrows issued a media statement on several matters, the source of the ACTU quotes in today’s AFR article, in which she said

Media reports also suggest that the Ministers will tonight discuss the final report of the National Review of OHS Laws.

“It is vital that the national, harmonised health and safety laws are based on the highest possible standards.  This should include providing workers with the right, through their unions, to initiate prosecutions against employers when there are serious health and safety breaches.

“In the past, union prosecutions have been few in number but have secured important improvements for employees who work in potentially dangerous situations.  We also need a truly tripartite, well resourced national workplace health and safety watchdog that is able to set, monitor and upgrade health and safety standards,” said Ms Burrow.

It seems that Ms Burrows may, pragmatically, welcome the cushion.

Also, the union movement would be well aware of the potential boost to the revenues of OHS training providers, a status many unions and union bodies enjoy.  A national five-day training course for Health & Safety Representatives could be financially useful.  Also the courses have always been a very good recruiting opportunity.

Kevin Jones

 

Sharan Burrows speaking at the 2008 Workers' Memorial in Melbourne
Sharan Burrows speaking at the 2008 Workers' Memorial in Melbourne

The reality of First Aid

Many employees undertake first aid training because it is a relatively easy training program to arrange, it is cheap and it provides skills that can be applied outside the workplace.  

But newly trained first aiders often leave training with an unrealistic feeling of empowerment.  Regularly, small businesses regret the disruption caused by the first aider’s evangelism for safety, particularly if the first aider was trained to provide some generalist safety presence in the company.  Similar disruption can result from health and safety representative training and perhaps that is why many small businesses are wary of this.

First aid trainers need to remind students regularly of the reality of first aid.  This reality is shown in the death of a truck driver in an isolated part of Australia on 9 January 2009.  First Aid is a terrific life-saving skill but the reality is that circumstances beyond one’s control may still result in a death.

In a class once, a student asked a first aid instructor what would happen if a farmer was bitten by a snake in an isolated part of the farm and the farmer  had no first aid skills or kit.  The trainer responded, “the farmer would die”.

The reality of living in a large country of isolated roads and small population is shown in the death of the truck driver.

The role of mobile telecommunications in the article is a distraction and relates more to the current political and commercial disputes between the Australian government and the telecommunication providers, than to the truck driver’s injuries.  

The article may lead to discussion on the poor emergency resources in rural and outback Australia.

First aid and emergency response has been revolutionised by mobile phone technology over the last 20 years.  Mobile phones have caused us to find lost bushwalkers and to get emergency ambulances to accident scenes much quicker.  Thankfully, a quicker emergency ambulance response shortens the time needed applying first aid.

It is a truism that no matter how much training we have, or how much technology we can access, death is a reality of life.

Is consultation really a “two-way exchange”?

Talking about safety in the workplace is, by far, the best way to introduce and foster a healthy OHS environment.  OHS regulators in Australia have been pushing this for sometime.

A colleague of mine has pointed out an apparent anomaly in relation to consultation posted by WorkSafe Victoria on their website earlier this week.  In relation to Provisional Improvement Notices, WorkSafe says

“Consultation can still be said to have occurred even if:

* the duty holder does not respond to the HSR [Health and Safety Representative] in a reasonable time or at all.  In this case, the HSR can take the failure to respond into account before deciding to issue the PIN.  There does not have to be a two-way exchange – only the opportunity for this to occur;”

This sounds odd to me and I hope that one of the SafetyAtWorkBlog readers may be able to explain.

My colleague posed this question on the issue of consultation:

“If the duty holder generated an OHS issue and the HSR did not respond, would there still only need to be an ‘opportunity for this to occur’?”

It seems a far question when workplace consultation is supposed to be a “two-way exchange”.

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