Ross Gittins is a prominent Australian economics journalist. In The Age on September 20, 2023, he wrote an article about the recent spate of corporations being prosecuted and penalized for breaking the law. Many of his points can also relate to companies and executives breaking occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.Continue reading “Toothless enforcement”
Occupational health and safety (OHS) is rarely reported on in the mainstream newspapers but every week OHS is there, adding a contect to a scandal or subtext to a public health risk. Last weekend was no different. The Guardian of September 16, 2023 reported on a review of personal relationships by BP, a prison escape, deaths from air pollution, a more relaxed approach to work, shoplifting and customer aggression, and more.
It’s been years since I have seen anything in the Australian press about companies or individuals being penalised for asbestos contamination. That despite workers telling me since being back in Australia, they have suspected asbestos when demolishing older domestic, cultural and industrial structures or even while digging shallow excavations in preparation for construction or mining.
It seems like Australian fashion for deregulation may have bitten into OHS.
As with most political party conferences, occupational health and safety (OHS) is a fringe issue. OHS or safety is sometimes mentioned in the big political speeches but often as an afterthought or obligatory mention that is rarely explored to the extent it deserves. The Australian Labor Party (ALP) recently held its national conference in Brisbane. Work health and safety was mentioned.
The ALP Conference is not intended to change Australian government policies. Its aim is to review and revise the ALP Party platform; it drops what may be redundant and improves the policy platform’s relevance. The conference may indicate party member concerns to the parliamentary members, but the government’s positions are for the parliamentary members to decide.
It should come as no surprise that the ALP has again refrained from banning the import and use of engineered stone even though the silicosis risks are well-established.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) has long been stripped of emotion through an emphasis on evidence, finances, compliance, objectivity, rationality, auditing and key performance indicators. The tide is turning slightly with increased attention on mental health, respect, psychosocial factors, and regaining a professional humanity. This OHS approach remains on the fringes of OHS as the dominance of profit from decades of neoliberal economics and politics continues.
But perhaps what the OHS profession needs is to connect with Love.
Recently the Australian Industry Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, addressed the National Press Club in Canberra. The AIGroup is one of the “go to” business groups, along with the Business Council of Australia and mining industry groups, that the business media knows will comment on anything when asked, and frequently when not asked. Willox’s August presentation was on Industrial Relations, but it also illustrates the workplace and political culture in which occupational health and safety (OHS) must operate.
When Australia harmonised its occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, the management focus broadened to include work, and not just workplaces. Some “knowledge” or white-collar work can be done anywhere, and employers have often struggled to understand how to extend their OHS management systems and duties to apply to this revised or expanded system of work. Current OHS guidance on working from home is too “big picture” when employers are addressing localised decisions.