Thanks, but we need more

Statistics are vital to any decisions about occupational health and safety (OHS). Safe Work Australia (SWA) does a great job providing statistical packages based on the data sources it can access. Last week SWA released its 2019 report on “Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities” which identified vehicle collisions as, by and large, the most common cause of worker fatalities. This category may be a surprise to many readers but perhaps the most important part of the report is what is omitted.

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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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A respect at work council is not enough

Australian discussions about workplace bullying and sexual harassment at the moment is in a mess indicating that insufficient work has been spent on clarifying what these terms mean, how the consequences are managed and whether the harm can be prevented.

In Parliamentary debate on the 2020 Budget, the Liberal Party’s Sussan Ley, said:

“The Morrison government will establish a respect at work council to provide practical support to employers and employees to prevent and address sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. We know it’s a barrier to women’s workforce participation, particularly for women working in male-dominated fields, and the government is committed to eradicating it from Australian workplaces.”

page 100, Hansard

Respect and countering incivility are important in building a workplace culture that is equitable and safe. However a discussion on sexual harassment of women by a Federal Government Minister in November 2020 rings hollow when the government has still to respond to a world-leading inquiry into sexual harassment in workplaces handed to them early this year.

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Accusations of cover-up at Senate Estimates

Safe Work Australia also attended Senate Estimates late last month. COVID19 is an unavoidable focus but we learnt that the latest fatality report will be released early this month, obtained more details on the response to the Boland Report, heard more about the gig economy but the climax was accusations of a coverup with Senator Deborah O’Neill (ALP) saying:

“Minister Porter… influenced Safe Work Australia—how independent; running for cover!”

page 65, Hansard
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What did we learn in Senate Estimates last week?

Australia has a process of accountability where Ministers and Heads of Government Departments and Authorities are required to answer attend Senate Estimates. Few people outside of the Canberra bureaucracy pay much attention to the occupational health and safety (OHS) information provided. Most media pay attention to disputes and statements that have a more general political appeal, but there is important information about workplace health and safety, such as an update of the progress on Marie Boland’s recommendations or the role and activity of Safe Work Australia (SWA).

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Truck driver death is relevant to all

Well before the push for Industrial Manslaughter laws was the occupational health and safety (OHS) offence of “reckless conduct”. A media report from the LaTrobe Valley Express recently showed how one employer’s neglect of basic safety practices and processes resulted in the death on 21-year-old Damien Taifer.

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What the judge said about Dreamworld, other than the penalty

Some readers raised eyebrows on the article titled “No lessons in the Dreamworld penalty” but the point was that the occupational health and safety (OHS) due diligence and governance lessons were there months ago following the Coroner’s damning findings.

Most of the media’s attention has been on the record size of the financial penalty but looking at Judge Dowse’s decision in the case provides a better understanding of that penalty, the breaches of the safety legislation and the opinions of the judge.

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