Why is the world “enthusiastic” for regulations?

Unsurprising from a global business magazine, The Economist’s special report on January 15 2002 (paywalled*) bemoaned the new “enthusiasm for regulation”. It clearly includes occupational health and safety (OHS) laws and Australia in its consideration but stops short of asking why this new enthusiasm exists.

Many regulations, especially in OHS, are proposed and introduced to address a wrong or misbehaviour or a new hazard. A major catalyst for Lord Robens‘ OHS laws in the 1970s stemmed from industrial deaths, especially those of the public. The pattern of deaths as a catalyst for change continues today with the Industrial Manslaughter laws, for instance. Another catalyst is new cultural sensitivities; what was tolerated previously is no longer acceptable.

The workplace bullying changes late last century in Australia is a good example, but this also ties in with unacceptable levels of harm. Bullying was often part of the initiation to work and seemed acceptable until workers were severely injured and traumatised, and people found out about it.

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Industrial Manslaughter and Australian Standards

Earlier this month, SAI Global issued a media release headlined

“1 in 2 organisations don’t meet State industrial manslaughter laws, new executive survey finds – Plus, seven tips for executives to prepare their organisation to meet the laws”

This was based on internal research compiled in their “2021 Australian Business
Assurance Report” (not publicly available). SAI Global’s headline findings from the report are

  • “45% of executives not confident their organisations meet industrial manslaughter laws
  • Senior leaders do not have OHS responsibilities in 33% of organisations
  • Businesses will put 62% more budget, resources and people toward OHS”

There were several odd statements in the report about which SafetyAtWorkBlog sought clarification, particularly about Industrial Manslaughter. SAI Global’s workplace safety expert Saeid Nikdel responded.

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The PM misses an opportunity for OHS leadership

Last week in Devonport, Tasmania, an inflatable jumping castle flew into the air injuring and killing several primary school-aged children.  Shortly after Prime Minister Scott Morrison conducted a press conference in conjunction with the Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein and others in which he spoke about the incident and its impact on the local community.  It is worth looking at the PM’s comments from an occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective.

Many readers will be aware that fatalities related to inflatable amusement devices becoming airborne are uncommon but not unknown, as the ABC article linked above shows.  Most Australian jurisdictions have issued OHS guidelines for amusement devices, including inflatable jumping castles. Here are links to two examples that illustrate the state of knowledge of the risk. This article makes no comment on the OHS circumstances of the Devonport incident.

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Increased OHS accountability sought

The political strategy of Ken Phillips of Self Employed Australia (formerly of the Independent Contractors of Australia) received a boost in The Age newspaper on December 12 2021, in an article headlined “Group to mount legal challenge to force prosecution of Premier over hotel quarantine disaster” online (paywalled) or “Business owners seek prosecution of Andrews over hotel quarantine” in the print version.

Phillips uses a section of Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act to make a political point about accountability. Previously, Phillips, his usual mainstream media contact Robert Gottliebsen, and others have called for Premier Daniel Andrews to be charged with Industrial Manslaughter (IM) over the deaths of over 800 people linked to a COVID-19 outbreak from the failure of Victoria’s hotel quarantine program. (The recent non-hotel outbreak is around 597 deaths)

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Some OHS approaches need the Industrial Relations touch

Several years ago, there was a proposal to produce a book of research linked to the work and themes of Professor Michael Quinlan. That book became “The Regulation and Management of Workplace Health and Safety“, and I recently obtained an affordable copy for my Summer break. (An excellent book review has been written by Eric Tucker on which this article is based)

There are many labour and industrial relations concepts in the book, many that I had to look up – pluralism, unitarism, politicalism. Read enough industrial relations (IR) research papers, and these terms might become second nature, but occupational health and safety (OHS) texts (what few there are of them) seem simpler and blander, generally avoiding the politics of work and therefore the politics of safety. Most of the recent OHS books seem to be dominated by Leadership and neuroscience *.

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OHS must understand business perspectives and vice versa

This week Forbes magazine included a peculiar article about Australian occupational health and safety (OHS) headed “If You Think Managing Worker Health And Safety Is Expensive, Try An Accident“. The article written by Susan Galer includes several curious perspectives and mentions industrial manslaughter (IM).

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“as far as politically practicable”

Last week WorkSafe Victoria announced that it was prosecuting the Department of Health over breaches of its occupational health and safety (OHS) duties with the management of Victoria’s Hotel Quarantine program. There is very little information available beyond what is included in the WorkSafe media release until the filing hearing at the Magistrates’ Court on October 22 2021.

Most of the current commentary adds little and usually builds on the existing campaigns to charge (Labor) Premier Dan Andrews with Industrial Manslaughter. Still, it is worth looking at WorkSafe’s media release and the thoughts of some others.

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