We’ve got Industrial Manslaughter laws, now what?

So, Victoria now has Industrial Manslaughter laws. Now what? Within days of the activation of these laws a worker died at the Thales worksite in Bendigo. This location is covered by the Federal Work Health and Safety laws, but this has not stopped social media from mentioning Industrial Manslaughter. It seems now that every work-related death will be assessed through the IM lens. It may be that the threat of jail should always have been the starting point for occupational health and safety (OHS) penalties and investigations but initial responses to the IM laws have been mixed, and some seem to be more interested in what, in the past, has been a sideline to the IM discussion – deaths, in work vehicles, suicides and industrial illness.

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Two steps forward, one backward

The latest media release from the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) shows a remarkable maturity and a newfound ability to be inclusive and topical.

The AIHS, in conjunction with several other occupational health and safety (OHS) related organisations, developed and released an important guidance on respiratory protection masks for the work environment. Not only is this super topical but the effort has the support of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), an organisation that, historically, has been reluctant to support OHS initiatives from outside trade union resources.

The primary purpose of the media release is to push the Federal Government for “the urgent establishment of a register for approved respirators (aka face masks)”, but this may be too simplistic and too narrow a focus especially when the issue of face masks is a critical part of the Governments’ plans to “reopen” the economy.

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Why isn’t workplace health and safety improving?

On Wednesday June 24 2020 at 1.30pm (AEST) I will be presenting my conference paper on the topic above. This is the first Australian Institute of Health and Safety conference to be conducted virtually and I am proud to be part of this year’s conference. As it is virtual, there is no limit on tickets so if you could not attend previous AIHS conferences, get to this one. Below is an extract from my paper:

The workplace fatality rates have been falling consistently for decades.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals seem to be busier than ever.  So, the world must be safer than it has been in the past?  Maybe.  But this may not be the reality if we think a little deeper about the causes of harm and about the actions the OHS profession has applied.

Here is a typical graph showing the rate of workplace fatalities since 1985, when the modern OHS legislation was enacted in Victoria.

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Important safety, environmental, political and personal stories in book on the Morwell Mine fire

Dr Tom Doig has continued to build on his earlier work about the Morwell mine fire, expanding his “The Coal Face” from 2015 into his new book “Hazelwood” (after court-related injunctions, now available on 18 June 2020).

SPECIAL OFFER: The first four (4) new Annual subscribers in the month of June 2020 will receive a copy of Hazelwood.

The Morwell mine fire created great distress to residents in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, ongoing health problems, and a parliamentary inquiry, but can also be seen as a major case study of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, enforcement, role and the obligation on employers to provide a safe and healthy working environment that does not provide risks to workers and “protect other people from risks arising from employer’s business”.  The management of worker and public safety is present in almost every decision made in relation to the Morwell Mine fire. The overlay of an OHS perspective to Doig’s book is enlightening.

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Mental health change needs to break out

On May 15 2020 Australia’s National Cabinet supported the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan developed by the National Mental Health Commission. The focus was on the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic but in the text was a reference to a National Suicide and Self Harm Monitoring System developed and run by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Given the dearth of valid data on suicide and after an earlier article questioning datasets, SafetyAtWorkBlog posed some questions to the AIHW about the monitoring system.

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