Give me a young worker, and I can make them safer for life*

Trade union membership in Australia has declined to its lowest level ever of 12.5%, according to an article in The Age newspaper (paywalled) on January 6 2023. The experts mention several demographic factors that have resulted in the persistent decline. Even though trade unionists publicly state that worker health and safety is often their top priority, they never seem to use occupational health safety (OHS) in their marketing of union membership.

This article does not suggest that OHS be bastardised for commercial purposes or that the primary responsibility for safe work does not reside with the employer. Still, union membership may be purchased for a young worker, in particular, perhaps by parents or concerned relatives to assist in keeping their loved ones safe at work.

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Worker’s compensation explained in new social welfare book

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is an integral element of social welfare, even though the practitioners of the discipline self-silo. A new Australian book about Australia’s social services uses workers’ compensation and OHS as a case study for a change.

The Careless State – Reforming Australia’s Social Services” by Mark Considine illustrates the Venn Diagram overlap of public health services, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), aged care services, workplace safety and compensation and more. The book is very timely, as many of the social services essential for social harmony and justice have been neglected over the last decade under various State and Federal conservative governments.

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OHS legal changes you might have missed

If you needed confirmation that the mainstream media is disinterested in occupational health and safety (OHS) unless there is a disaster or the incident can be narrowly categorised as sexual harassment, bullying or suicide, last week, the Australian Parliament passed important amendments to the Model Work Health and Safety laws. It seems OHS cannot compete with sexual harassment laws (I’m okay with that) or Industrial Relations (or Australia’s wins in the World Cup).

On December 1 2022, Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke‘s Second Reading Speech included the removal of insurance policies that could pay for financial penalties awarded against OHS breaches and a pledge to put Industrial manslaughter back on the national agenda.

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Industrial Manslaughter presents an empty hook

New South Wales’ Opposition Minister for Industrial Relations, Adam Searle, spoke recently in support of the introduction of Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws. In Parliament on May 5 2021, he said

“… legislation is required to enable the prosecution of industrial manslaughter and to fundamentally change the approach across industry in order to raise the standard and embed a culture of workplace safety of a much higher and more stringent nature. We need a culture that supports workplace safety in our State, not a culture, as I indicated before, that allows and encourages the cutting of corners and the fostering of unsafe workplaces…..

page 43, Hansard,

Legislation can achieve many things but not by itself, and that reality often makes such penalties like Industrial Manslaughter little more than symbolic.

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Give Duty of Care and Workers’ Compensation a good shake

At the2020 Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine (ANZSOM) annual scientific meeting, Dr David Goddard spoke about “Regulation: when expectations go unmet”. In a wide-ranging presentation Goddard spoke of Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) laws touching on a couple of contentious governance issues:

“…… Robens-inspired law introduced the employers’ general duty of care with responsibility for self-regulation. Indeed, self-regulation is essential. Without self-regulation, duty of care simply becomes a game of who to blame if things go wrong.”

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The black sheep of safety leadership

Western Australia’s Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws are now in effect. The same arguments for and against were posed in Parliament and outside as they were in Queensland and Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory well before that. The IM laws will face the same institutional hurdles to application and offer the same, nominal, deterrent effect.

But WA also prohibited insurance policies that cover the financial penalties applied by the Courts. Such policies may make good business sense in managing risk, but they also remove the pain and deterrence intended in the design and application of Work Health and Safety laws.

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Managing safety on a high risk TV program

Roger Graham (left) and Todd Sampson talking safety

This article was originally published on May 15 2017 and I was reminded of it this week when talking to a colleague about the management of safety on some of the current home renovation programs.

It’s a long and, I think, fascinating article that suits a leisurely weekend read.


Todd Sampson has created a niche in Australian television by challenging himself in mental and physical tasks.  His latest program is “Life on the Line“. What is intriguing about this type of TV program is how occupational health and safety (OHS) is managed in a way that does not impede the aim of the show.

SafetyAtWorkBlog spent some time with the safety adviser on the show, Roger Graham, to better understand the demands of advising film and TV productions on workplace safety.  The exclusive interview is below.

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