Building an honest state of knowledge about suicide

Bizarre dark painting

The apparent suicide of former Australian Football player, Shane Tuck, last week has again sparked discussion in the media and the community about suicide. The Victorian Coroner, John Cain, believes that how we talk about suicide needs a review. As workplace and work-related suicides also occur, the discussion is relevant to occupational health and safety (OHS).

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Work that is meaningful, secure and safe

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is integral to how work and job should be designed in the post-COVID19 world, but you wouldn’t know it from the current discussions in the media. On May 13, 2020, the day after a major economic statement from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Jennifer Westacott, Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, told ABC Radio that:

“…. there’s some pretty sobering numbers that the Treasurer gave yesterday and fundamentally I think we’ve all got to come back to basics here. This is about people’s lives and so what we have to do, as the kind of leadership dynamic, is to focus on getting people back to work and getting them into secure and meaningful work.

emphasis added

It is not unreasonable to add safety to that “secure and meaningful work”.

OHS fits into this phrase in many ways, but one of particular note is job security and its links to mental health, especially as mental health has been a policy priority repeatedly identified by Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and others.

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Communicating about OHS in New Zealand

Safety conferences rarely generate media interest unless the relevant occupational health and safety (OHS) Minister is speaking or there has been a recent workplace death or safety scandal. At the recent SafetyConnect conference held by the NSCA Foundation in Melbourne, SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to chat with the Editor of New Zealand’s SafeGuard magazine, Peter Bateman. Peter has been editing the magazine and writing about workplace health and safety for a long time and, as an outsider to the OHS profession, he has some useful perspectives on how to communicate about safe and healthy workplaces.

Peter Bateman and Kevin Jones in 2015

SAWB: Peter, great to see you at the Safety Connect conference in Melbourne, hosted by the National Safety Council of Australia Foundation.  So, day one, thanks for coming over from New Zealand.  You’ve been coming to safety conferences for a long time.  How important are safety conferences to your magazine given that Safeguard runs its own conferences as well?

PB: We’ve had the opportunity, through growing the credibility of the Safeguard brand through the magazine, that’s given us I think the trust and the credibility with readers so that when we launched the awards actually, the first event we launched way back in 2005 and then the main conference a couple of years later.  And they were small, but they were successful in their own way and we’ve just been fortunate to grow them year on year, so New Zealand Workplace Health and Safety Awards have been going for 15 years and the main Safeguard National Health and Safety Conference for almost as long.  Then from that we’ve managed to create some more specialist one-day conferences as well.

SAWB: I think I’ve seen a LegalSafe one.

PB: LegalSafe, which is more on the compliance side for those people who want more compliance side even though that’s not my particular area of interest.  But I recognise that a lot of people are very focused on compliance and fair enough.  Then more recently we’ve developed HealthyWork which started off as a way of bringing together traditional occupational health interests with the emerging wellbeing side but has really gone more into the wellbeing and psychosocial stuff as we’ve progressed. And in the last couple of years we’ve launched SafeSkills for H&S reps.

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Government Department gets an enforceable undertaking following a workplace death

Yesterday (April 4, 2019) SafeWorkSA dropped charges against the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) over breaches of the workplace health and safety legislations that contributed to the death of 54-year-old Debra Summers, in exchange for an Enforceable Undertaking (EU). This move had been flagged earlier noting that it was unusual to accept an EU when a workplace fatality had occurred.

SafeWorkSA’s Executive Director, Martyn Campbell, spoke exclusively with SafetyAtWorkBlog earlier this week to provide more context to the acceptance of the EU. He has spoken to the Summers family in the preparation of the EU and said that some of the request of the family have been incorporated. He also outlined the circumstances of Debra Summers’ death:

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Exclusive interview with independent WHS reviewer, Marie Boland

SafetyAtWorkBlog had the opportunity to interview Marie Boland earlier this week after the release of her review into Australia’s Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. Below is an edited version of that interview.

Marie, thanks for talking to me, it’s a terrific report you’ve produced. What was it like to undertake a national investigation of this type, given that it was pretty much you and just a couple of others?

…It was quite daunting at the beginning, but as I said in the introduction and nothing kind of clichéd about it, it was very much a privilege to be able to do it.  And the privilege was enhanced by having the opportunity to go travel all around Australia, and some places I’ve never been before like Tamworth and what it really brought home to me was the diversity of people, workplaces, geography and that these laws are covering and the diversity of people who are dealing with the laws on a daily basis.  So, it was certainly a once in a lifetime experience for me I suppose, and maybe a point in history for the laws as well.

I was very much aware throughout the process of my privilege and being able to do it and also the waves of expectation I suppose and this being the first review of the national laws and also very much aware of all the work that went into creating the laws in the first place.  And certainly, a lot of the people who put so much effort into that work were still obviously very keen on how they were being applied and as I said I was very conscious of respecting all of that as I went around the country.

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Interview with Dr Gerry Ayers

This weekend is the International Workers Memorial Day.  In Victoria, in particular and in Australia more generally, it is highly likely that the issue of Industrial Manslaughter laws will be raised as part of a trade union campaign.

Dr Gerry Ayers, the OHS&E Manager of one of the branches of the CFMEU, features in an online petition about these laws and it seemed the right time to interview Dr Ayers about these laws but also about workplace health and safety enforcement and practices more generally.

The full audio of our conversation is available in the Safety At Work Talks podcast available on SoundCloud and Podbean.

SAWB:           Gerry I’ve seen your photograph on various petitions and flyers about industrial manslaughter laws in Victoria where the trade union movement is asking people to sign petitions and pressure the government into bringing in industrial manslaughter laws.  Why is the trade union movement doing this now and what’s the purpose of the laws?

GA:     And it’s a bit like what the industrial campaign is all about, it’s rules are broken, or our rules don’t seem to be working in terms of the legislative framework and the sanctions that are afforded to people when they break the OH&S laws and when it all goes horribly wrong and someone is killed. It’s very rare that the full financial penalty is ever applied to any employer who goes to court for a workplace fatality. Continue reading “Interview with Dr Gerry Ayers”

Near Kill – Jim Ward speaks

Jim Ward is hardly known outside the Australian trade union movement but many people over the age of thirty, or in the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession, may remember the person Esso blamed for the Esso Longford explosion in 1998.  Just after the nineteenth anniversary of the incident that killed two workers and injured eight other, SafetyAtWorkBlog interviewed Ward about the incident but, more significantly, also about how that incident changed his world view.

For some time now Jim Ward has been the National OHS Director for the Australian Workers’ Union.  Here is a long interview with Ward that provides a useful perspective on OHS while Australia conducts its National Safe Work Month.

[Note: any links in the text have been applied by SafetyAtWorkBlog]

SAWB: Jim, what happened at Longford, and what did it mean for you.

JW:   So, on 25 September 1998, I got up out of bed and went to work, just as I’d done for the previous 18 years of my working life, at the Esso gas plant facility at Longford in Victoria.

There was nothing unforeseen or untoward about that particular day.  But due to, as one judge elegantly described it, “a confluence of events”, it turned out to be the most significant day of my life.

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