Families of the Dead speak to government

Last time we looked at the Australian Senate Inquiry into “The framework surrounding the prevention, investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths in Australia“, various submissions were considered.  The Inquiry is continuing to hold public hearings, the most recent of these provided an opportunity for relatives of deceased workers to present their arguments.  It is an enlightening insight into a pain that few of us will face but also into the struggles of many to effectively enforce workplace health and safety with, and without, Industrial Manslaughter laws.

The first couple at the 17 July 2018 hearing was Michael and Lee Garrels, the parents of 20-year-old 

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Industrial Manslaughter laws remain muddled

The Australian trade union movement is confident that Industrial Manslaughter laws will be introduced in each Australian State and Territory over the next few years.  Recently the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Law Report program looked at these laws and their discussion in the current Senate Inquiry into “The framework surrounding the prevention, investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths in Australia“.

Much of the radio program contains a general discussion about workplace fatalities with agreement that the long term trend in workplace fatalities is downwards.  But no one seems to know the reason for this trend.

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It’s not “all about safety”

The Australian media on May 16 and 17, 2018 contained several articles about the dropping of a blackmailing case against two prominent trade unionists, John Setka (pictured right) and Shaun Reardon.  There are many issues and allegations in this legal action which started from a contentious Royal Commission and an ongoing dispute between the CFMMEU and the Grocon construction company.

Some unionists, such as the ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus on ABC Radio, say that the current case was “all about safety”.  It is not all about safety and such misrepresentation needs to be called out.  The original dispute was over the election of Health and Safety Representatives (HSR) – whether these could be appointed by the company or the union.  This quickly became about power and influence not specifically about workplace health and safety.

There is no doubt that Setka has a

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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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The avoidance of accountability creates legislation

This week the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) released its submission to the Independent Review of Work Health and Safety Laws.  The submission deserves reading fully as it reflects many of the positions on and perspectives of occupational health and safety (OHS) of Australia’s major businesses and, not surprisingly, it has a lot to say about Industrial Manslaughter laws.

Comparing  ACCI’s objections to the earlier attempt to introduce similar laws in Victoria in 2002 illustrates how little progress has been made.

Recent lessons from other major incidents, especially through the work of Professor Andrew Hopkins, have also shown the consequences of not taking responsibility for OHS.  The power to counter the calls for Industrial Manslaughter laws is in the hands of those corporate leaders who accept this responsibility and work with it.

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