For What Steve Bell Tells – OHS issues for 2017

Steve Bell is a partner with Hebert Smith Freehills (HSF) in Melbourne, Australia.  As many law firms do, HSF conducts several events each year to inform clients and others of occupational health and safety (OHS) and labour relations issues.  In March 2017 Bell, who is the regular host at these events, spoke at a breakfast seminar held jointly with the Safety Institute of Australia, and identified several safety issues as becoming prominent in 2017:

  • Increased penalties
  • The risk of complacency
  • Increased interplay between OHS and industrial relations
  • Focus on public safety elements of OHS
  • the review of regulations.

Below are some thoughts on the issues raised by Steve Bell.

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OHS changes to come in wake of the Western Australia election result

It is rare to find an occupational health and safety (OHS) seminar that is captivating but there is almost always some useful bits of safety information, hopefully enough to make attendance worthwhile.

On March 24, 2017 the Safety Institute of Australia and Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) held the annual breakfast seminar in Melbourne.  Speakers included representatives from the HSF law firm, the SIA, WorkSafe Victoria and SafeSearch.  Perhaps of most interest was HSF’s senior associate from Perth, Sam Witton (pictured), who outlined the OHS changes likely in Western Australia now the Australian Labor Party (ALP) is in power.

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Poor worker safety through gov’t disinterest and high unemployment

Dhaka, Bangladesh – April 29, 2013: A view of collapsed Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh. Over 1,130 workers of apparel factories were killed and 2500 others were injured when the eight-storey factory build collapsed on the outskirts of Bangladesh capital Dhaka in 2013. Bangladesh is one of the major countries supplying ready-made garments to leading apparel brands of USA and Europe. Bangladesh also earns over US$ 28 billion a year by exporting apparel items.

The current edition of SouthAsia magazine has a short report on occupational health and safety (OHS) in Bangladesh that illustrate the political and social challenges for workers and citizens in a country. The article, “Poor Workplace Safety” (not available online) states that government data for 2016 list more than 1,225 workers killed and over 500 injured.  After these figures, and the fact that Bangladesh has a history of  catastrophic workplace disasters, the author, Mohammad Waqar Bilal, states

“In fact, the issue of workers’ safety has never been considered by the government on a priority basis.”

Continue reading “Poor worker safety through gov’t disinterest and high unemployment”

The challenges for Trump’s (Plan B) Labor Secretary could be huge and disruptive

Following the resignation of Andrew Puzder, President Trump has nominated Alexander Acosta to be the new Labor Secretary.  The United States media, generally, has been supportive of the nomination particularly in comparison to Puzder. However, there was a particular line in the President’s media conference that may indicate his approach to safety legislation and regulations.

“We’ve directed the elimination of regulations that undermine manufacturing and call for expedited approval of the permits needed for America and American infrastructure and that means plant, equipment, roads, bridges, factories.” (emphasis added)

President Trump’s plans for cutting regulatory red tape was forecast during his election campaign when he stated that regulations:

“…  just stopping businesses from growing.”

President Trump or his Labor Secretary nominees have not mentioned occupational health and safety (OHS) specifically but the

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“Every death is manslaughter”

The South Australian Branch of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) held a protest rally in Adelaide on 15 February 2017 in response to the political negotiations in Australia’s Parliament about the reintroduction of, what the union sees as, anti-union legislation.  Throughout the rally’s presentations (available online through the CFMEU Facebook page), the issue of occupational health and safety (OHS) was raised and it is worth looking closely at what was said and the broader political and safety context.

The issues to be addressed in the protest rally included Senator Nick Xenophon’s “deal” with Prime Minister Turnbull that the CFMEU claims will:

  • ” Make our workplaces less safe
  • Put more overseas visa workers on our building sites
  •  Cut the number of apprentices in South Australia
  •  Threaten job security and increase casual jobs
  •  Fail to mandate Australian made products on construction sites”

After Joe McDonald opened the rally, the Secretary of the CFMEU SA, Aaron Cartledge (pictured above), spoke about how workers in South Australia had been dudded on safety because the health and safety representatives (HSRs) cannot call on external safety advisers to help them with an OHS matter.  This may be the case but Cartledge’s comments illustrate a common perspective of trade unionists – a reluctance to consider safety management strategies other than those dependent on HSRs.

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Union may have overstepped and weakened its case

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is one of the most militant trade unions in Australia.  That it angers many Australians by its strong support for its members is unarguable.  Yet recently it has seemed to overstep the mark on its protest against the Australian Government’s introduction of legislation that the CFMEU sees…

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Funding granted to UnionsACT for research

Pages 13-14 of the Australian Capital Territory’s Hansard for December 14 2016 contained a curious discussion on work health and safety (WHS) funding.

The discussion was primarily looking for details on government funding of trade union WHS services. Rachel Stephen-Smith of the ruling Labor Party and responsible for workplace safety stated that part of the financial grant given to UnionsACT is for “undertaking research into work health safety”.  Alistair Coe, Liberal leader of the opposition sniffed a political opportunity and asked:

“…has any of the research which has been undertaken by UnionsACT actually been published?”

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Two old SafetyAtWork podcasts remain relevant

Over the Christmas break I was cleaning out some files and found some old SafetyAtWork podcast files that used to be on iTunes around a decade ago.  The information and perspectives remain important and to preserve the files I have uploaded them to SoundCloud.

One is an interview with Professor Michael Quinlan shortly after the Beaconsfield mine inquiry.  The other is a presentation to the Central Safety Group by freelance journalist Gideon Haigh about the corporate approach to asbestos and compensation off the back of the publication of his Asbestos House book.

More will be posted over the next few weeks.

Kevin Jones

Firefighting mental health report leaked

cover-of-mfb-mental-health-reportThe Herald-Sun newspaper has released the final report into the mental health and suicide rate of Victorian metropolitan firefighters.

The report, authored by Dr Peter Cotton, found that the issues uncovered in the review of firefighters in the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) are not dissimilar from the findings of other inquiries into emergency service organisations like the police or the ambulance service.  

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Firefighters’ mental health

More details are appearing of the findings of an independent inquiry into mental health and suicides in the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB), a report whose release has been stalled by the United Firefighters’ Union (UFU).

cover-bullying-health-sectorAccording to the inquiry’s chair, in an article in the ABC news website, Dr Peter Cotton,

“…the MFB has a mono-culture with few women or members from diverse backgrounds, making it difficult to assess the level of bullying and harassment.”

“… the MFB does not screen for alcohol or drug use, and has a lack of policies and procedures to address drug and alcohol issues.”

“Management’s handling of complaints were found to be ad hoc and inconsistent with a “lack of will to follow up” and “give them a wide berth” thought pattern.”

“the mental health of firefighters was comparable with Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria,…”

The latter point is useful to remember as a similar report into the Victoria Police was released earlier this year. The most recent inquiry into Ambulance Victoria was undertaken by the Victorian Auditor-General in 2016. Continue reading “Firefighters’ mental health”