New inquiry into sexual harassment – an OHS opportunity and challenge

On June 20 2018, the Australian government announced a National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, claiming it to be a world-first. Sexual harassment is not an occupational health and safety (OHS) hazard in many ways BUT the psychological harm it can create is. The job of an OHS person is to encourage employers to reduce work-related harm through prevention, so we need to prevent sexual harassment, just as we do for all the work activities that contribute to poor psychological health and safety.

The macroeconomic costs of sexual harassment in the workplace may be of interest to politicians and business lobbyists but this can be a significant distraction from identifying ways to prevent psychological harm, which should be the most important legacy of this type of inquiry.

Addressing the OHS impacts of

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Duty of Care to the safety and health of “others”.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) has released a very good report about Australia’s immigration detention centres which includes a long discussion on duty of care to detainees under Common Law. The report, “In Poor Health: Health care in Australian immigration detention” does not include any discussion on the duty of care under work health and safety (WHS) legislation however it can be argued that the Australian Government, through its supply chain, chain of responsibility and contract management, also has a duty of care to detainees under health and safety laws.

Several recent legal actions and workplace safety guidance indicates that clarification about the duty of care on physical and psychological risks to “others” is overdue.

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Australian Workplace Safety Bureau

There seems to be a growing community frustration with regulators who hesitate to prosecute about breaches of laws, including occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, and about options that sound reasonable, like Enforceable Undertakings, but still let businesses “off the hook”.  The calls for Industrial Manslaughter laws are the most obvious manifestations of the anger and frustration from perceived injustices.

But perhaps there was another way to achieve change in workplace safety, a way that could be based on a model that Australia and other countries already have.

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You have to be in it to influence it

Kevin Jones with Marie Boland in March 2018

The public submission process for Australia’s Independent Review of Work Health and Safety Laws closes today.  So finish up your draft and tell the Government what is working and what is not. BUT if you cannot finish the draft, do what I did, and contribute directly to the Review using its online (Engage) portal which will remain open until the end of May 2018.

Safe Work Australia has told SafetyAtWorkBlog that the Review continues to seek: 

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iWitnessed tool holds promise for workplace safety

On April 3, 2018, the University of Sydney launched a new app

”to assist victims and witnesses record information in a way that can help with convictions and prevent miscarriages of justice”.

This immediately sparked my interest in using the app as a record of workplace incidents.

iWitnessed is intended as a tool to assist a person’s memory when confronted by an incident or a traumatic event.  The app steps you through the basic evidence-gathering questions of what happened, where, when, who was injured etc.  

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