Getting distracted from safety

Seven years ago, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) suffered a spike of workplace deaths in the construction sector. The then WorkSafe Commissioner produced a report, supported by at least one conference and extensive consultation, which proposed substantial changes. All of the recommendations from the 2012 Getting Home Safely report were accepted by the government and construction had no deaths for several years after but recent deaths have resurrected tensions between the ACT Government and the Master Builders Association (MBA).

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Will IR reform again ignore OHS?

Government policies that directly affect occupational health and safety (OHS) have been determined on a tripartite structure for many decades. This model comprises of representatives from business groups and trade unions in a consultation usually led by the government representatives. SafetyAtWorkBlog believes that this structure excludes important voices and is outdated, especially in a time when technology and the internet allows for a much broader consultation.

The limitations of the tripartite structure were on display recently when the Australian Government released the names of the organisations involved in the review of the industrial relations system. It is worth reading the list for you to understand who will be deciding your working future. It is also worth considering whether the negative OHS impacts of job and employment structures will be given the attention they deserve.

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No OHS voice in this paper

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has always been part of the politics of industrial relations (IR) but it has rarely understood which part it plays as it has never really stood on its own two feet. In Australia, OHS advocates have been, primarily, from within the trade union movement. And for OHS professionals that was okay, as it allowed us to stay within our box, having others fight our battles. When those others weren’t as successful as we wanted, we remained content with the small achievements because they were achieved with minimal effort from us.

Australia, as it emerges from the COVID19 pandemic, is hoping to bring the camaraderie shared by the business groups, government and trade union to a new consensual IR strategy. OHS is an historical element of this discussion, but it needs to be more, and an OHS analysis of the Australian Industry Group’s IR reform paper released on June 6 2020 (but not yet publicly) may provide some clues on what to do about OHS influence.

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What is needed to get us out of this crisis

As parts of the world begin to emerge from the disruption and lockdowns of COVID19 some academics and experts are advising that the future must be built on the past but should not seek to replicate it. Over a dozen prominent, global academics (listed below) have written a discussion paper to be published in the Economic & Labour Relations Review (ELRR) in June 2020 entitled “The COVID-19 pandemic: lessons on building more equal and sustainable societies” which includes discussion on workplace relations and factors affecting mental health at work. These big picture discussions are essential in the development of strategies and policies for the post-COVD19 world and occupational health and safety (OHS) has a legitimate, and some would say unique, voice.


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Quick OHS News – Danger Money, Red Tape and Toilets

Below is some interesting occupational health and safety (OHS) issues that have appeared over the last week that I don’t have the time to explore in the usual depth but are useful.

Danger Money appears

David Marin-Guzman reports that unions are asking for an extra

“$5 an hour to compensate [disability workers] for risks in assisting clients suspected of having coronavirus.”

The reporter’s Twitter account justifiably describes this as “danger money“, an issue forecast as likely by this blog recently. That such an offer is made by the Health Services and United Workers Unions is disappointing but unions can do little else as the employers have the primary OHS responsibilities. What such action also does though is let the employers off lightly from their OHS duties to continuously improve workplace health and safety. The $5 danger money may be cheaper than implementing other risk control options but OHS laws have a process for this type of decision making that has Cost as the last option to be considered. Allowances do not reduce worker safety risks and they can undermine future OHS initiatives.


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Workers and COVID19 survey

Last week the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released some research into workers and COVID19. It is not peer-reviewed and there will certainly be much more research into the disruption and personal and occupational responses to the coronavirus disruption over the next few months. The survey results do not specifically analyse occupational health and safety (OHS) issues but there are clues to future considerations.

The media release, understandably, discusses the changed employment status or arrangements. The OHS hazards associated with precarious work are well-established and the survey illustrates the extent of precarity in Australian workplace, so mental health issues are going to come to the fore as government-imposed isolation continues and/or businesses reopen.

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Beware a resurgence in Danger Money

Danger Money” is an occupational health and safety (OHS) and Industrial Relations (IR) concept that must always be watched out for as it can perpetuate a hazard or risk in apparent contravention of the OHS legislative obligations that each employer and worker carries. The concept is at risk of reappearing as the role, income and wages of essential workers are reassessed in this time of COVID19 pandemic and economic reinstatement.

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