OHS and wage theft

Australia is several years into a scandal of underpayment of workers referred to, by some, as wage theft. Occupational health and safety (OHS) would not normally figure in a wages and industrial relations (IR) scandal but the scandal has a legitimate OHS context.

The previous, and ongoing, scandals are not going to be summarised in this article as there are plenty of articles elsewhere in lots of different media but there is a common thread in many of the scandals. Workers are not being paid for some of the time they spend at work, work that is commonly described as unpaid overtime. This unpaid overtime extends the working day, for a variety of reasons, and OHS may not accommodate these additional hours (as they are “not official”) or OHS may be “stretched”, or risks downplayed.

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Hand washing and safety

The appearance of a new coronavirus (Covid19) has again thrown a focus on hand hygiene. This is an occupational health and safety (OHS) issue as the risk could appear at work and, in Australia, suitable toilet amenities are required under OHS Acts and Regulations. But how do you wash your hands safely? Let’s look at one recommendation.

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We’ve had enough awareness, now act

Mental health and burnout are workplace hazards with which many companies and workers are struggling. No matter what international or national organisations say about the hazard, it remains difficult to implement positive change at the workplace level. It is not helped by mainstream media articles that claim to prevent burnout and then provide very little information about how to prevent it.

A recent article in The Times, and reproduced today in The Australian, written by John Naish, is an example. The original article was headlined “How to prevent burnout at work”. This was retitled “Workplace burnout can lead to numerous serious health issues — and even premature death” in The Australian” (both are paywalled).

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New air quality standards for outdoor work

On January 30 2020, the Victorian Trades Hall released a new “approved safety standard” on air quality risks for outdoor workers. It is the latest of a series of alerts and guidelines generated by the persistence of bushfire smoke in urban areas of, especially, New South Wales and Victoria. Bushfire smoke is only going to become more frequent in Australia, and its persistence over weeks, requires a coordinated discussion on how Australian workplaces and practices need to change to adapt to the new climate.

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Good progress, but………

The Australian Government is starting to address the silicosis risk associated with engineered stone. The Health Minister, Greg Hunt, has said in a media release on January 23 2020 that the government will accept all five recommendations of the interim advice of the National Dust Disease Taskforce. However, some of these seem half-hearted and some actions will take a long time, which does not necessarily help those workers currently at risk.

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