Broadening the OHS perspective

Over the last decade, the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession has been challenged by a new perspective on OHS and its professional interaction with it. Safety Differently, Safety II or some other variation are important and intriguing variations, but they seem to remain confined to the workplace, the obligations of the person conducting a business or undertaking, and/or the employer/employee relationship. The interaction of work and non-work receives less attention than it deserves.

Many OHS professionals bemoan OHS’ confinement to managerial silos but continue to operate within their own self-imposed silo. One way for OHS to progress and to remain current and relevant is to look more broadly at the societal pressures under which they work and how their employees or clients make OHS decisions. Some recent non-OHS books and concepts may help.

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Day One – more useful than not

A short report on Day One* of the Australian Institute of Health and Safety’s (AIHS) National Conference in Melbourne. Given a previous blog article asking for new thinking, new approaches etc. Has the Day One satisfied me? Selectively, Yes.

The keynote speaker, Richard De Crespigny had an extraordinary tale to tell about safely landing a heavily damaged passenger aircraft over a decade ago. Some delegates would have been familiar with De Crespigny’s presentation as many of his points had already been made in a recent article in the AIHS’ journal. More on his presentation in a future article.

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We deserve new OHS ideas, research, initiatives, strategies, epiphanies and enlightenment

This week, the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS, formerly the Safety Institute of Australia) is hosting its national conference in Melbourne, Australia. The heyday of occupational health and safety (OHS) conferences seems to have passed in Australia as, perhaps, was confirmed by the varying responses to last year’s World Congress on Safety and Health at Work. But expectations for this week’s conference are high; at least mine are.

But are those expectations too high? There is a direct competitor for OHS ears and eyes (no matter the arguments) in the same building at the same time, the Workplace Health and Safety Show. The AIHS Conference needs to work hard to retain its prominence and, most importantly, its influence. It is worth reflecting on how this messy situation came about.

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The future of OHS and Safe Work Australia

Marie Boland‘s work and reviews have been prominent features in Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) for over a decade. Last year, she took on the CEO role at Safe Work Australia, the country’s principal workplace health and safety policy body. Recently Boland spoke to the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS).

The interview/article starts with the unavoidable moral argument for the importance of workers’ lives in Australia and the social ripple effect of deaths and serious injuries. Inevitably, economic cost is mentioned:

“Our research shows that, in the absence of work-related injuries and illnesses, Australia’s economy would be $28.6 billion larger each year, and Australians would be able to access more jobs with better pay,”

page 27, OHS Professional, March 2024

Economics is always mentioned in articles about the importance of workplace health and safety but, really, who cares?

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A curious Worksafe awards night of omissions and shadows

If I was asked to describe last week’s awards night conducted by WorkSafe Victoria, it would be curious. This article does not question the legitimacy of the award winners and finalists: all deserve the accolades and the glory. In fact, there perhaps should have been more of them.

The atmosphere of the event was relatively muted. There were no tables of loud finalists from previous years, but the tables associated with the night’s final award, the Health and Safety Representative (HSR) of the Year, were rowdy at the end. The Master of Ceremonies was a last-minute replacement and made little attempt to entertain. Her job was to read the script and announce the winners, and she was good at that, but there was no lively personality as in previous years, no one to warm up the crowd.

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Moral distress = moral injury = workplace mental ill-health = burnout.

On December 29 2023, The Guardian newspaper’s cover story was about doctors in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service experiencing high rates of “moral distress”. It is common for hospitals and health care services to consider themselves as workplaces with unique hazards rather than suffering similar occupational health and safety (OHS) challenges to all other workplaces. What makes the OHS challenge so significant in the NHS is the size of the challenge rather than its nature or cause.

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Working in Heat, and Gwarda

New research into working in excessive heat concisely summarises the socioeconomic impacts but misses the obvious strategies to prevent or diminish these impacts. It also includes impacts on productivity, but heat and climate change are not in the current Australian business group discussions about productivity. Those groups could benefit from understanding Gwarda.

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