Off-centre perspectives can offer great potential

The Australian government has failed to follow through on its early promises to provide a framework for employers to prevent and reduce sexual harassment in their workplaces. This failure is being interpreted as revealing something about employers’ attitudes to occupational health and safety (OHS) and their own legislative duties.

Employers (and other groups on non-OHS issues) who look to the government for guidance on issues that already have legislative requirements are looking to avoid the social and legal obligations that have usually existed for years. Sexual harassment is an excellent example of a workplace matter getting some serious attention regardless of the government’s inaction. A recent podcast by Maddocks lawyers Catherine Dunlop and Tamsin Webster is part of that attention.

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Established safety practices should still be investigated

Every profession has safety practices that have existed for years and are integral to that profession’s character and operations. These have usually occurred because of correlation more than a cause, and occupational health and safety (OHS), in particular, advocates evidence-based decisions.

One longstanding example could be the mandatory wearing of lace-up ankle-high safety boots for working in the construction of railway infrastructure. Another could be the current debate over the effectiveness of face masks for protection from dust particles and airborne infections.

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Frogging the National OHS Strategy

Australia has commenced its consultation process for the development of its next ten-year national occupational health and safety (OHS) strategy. These are peculiar documents as no one ever seems to be punished for not achieving the targets or the performance targets are so narrow or general that it is impossible to not achieve them.

One of the elements that all such strategies seek is “emerging hazards”. Even harder is when they seek hazards that no one else has considered or have yet to emerge. One of the challenges with these strategies is less about what they say than how they are implemented and enforced.

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OHS will ease the Work From Home transition

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to promise a return to normal but it is impossible to return to a previous point in time without denying the changes that have occurred since then. Morrison speaks of this normality in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic and may offer some understanding of his reticence to act on global warming as climate change will never allow a return to normal.

One of the workplace changes exacerbated by the pandemic is the working from home (WFH) option. Recently businesses are starting to accept this new normal, sometimes backed by research. Many businesses are in a state of (I would argue, permanent) transition. On July 2, 2021, Benjamin Clark offered a useful summary of the WFH state of play for Crikey (possibly paywalled) with some overlap to a November 2020 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on Working From Anywhere (WFA).

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Workplace wellbeing, mental health and cake

Recently Australians Jason van Schie and Joelle Mitchell released a podcast series called Psych Health and Safety focussing on psychological health and health promotion at work. Recently Carlo Caponecchia spoke on the podcast about mental health at work and the soon-to-be-released International Standard 45003 for managing psychosocial risks at work, a “child” of ISO45001 the occupational health and safety (OHS) management standard.

Caponecchia was asked to outline the statistics for workplace mental health in Australia. He stated that the official figures are that 9% of workers compensation claims related to mental health at work and that claims for this type of injury have increased substantially since the year 2000. However, he also added a caveat to those figures, a caveat that should apply to all official OHS statistics:

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A sliver of hope on the farm safety horizon

Australian farm safety received several boosts last week. FarmSafe Australia released new report on agricultural injury and fatality trends. The Victorian Government gave the Victorian Farmers Federation more money to fund farm safety inspectors, again. And the Agriculture Minister established a Farm Safety Council of the usual agricultural groups. It is hard not to take many of these farm safety activities as indications of insanity by doing the same thing but expecting different results.


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How OHS can change the world

Yesterday, I was critical of an Industrial Relations paper written by the Australian Industry Group for not integrating occupational health and safety (OHS) into the submission to Government. This omission is indicative of the conceptual silos of OHS, Industrial Relations, Human Resources, and general business decision-making, and is certainly not limited to business organisations like the AiGroup.

In a presentation at the upcoming National Health and Safety Conference conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Safety I urge OHS people to

“Provide submissions to any or all formal government inquiries, regardless of topic…”

This is an extension of the aphorism that safety is everyone’s responsibility and deserves some explanation. Through that explanation to the right people, on the right topic, at the right time, OHS could change the world.

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