Be careful of the Precautionary Principle

The Precautionary Principle has appeared regularly in SafetyAtWorkBlog articles. There is a new publication from the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) in which this principle is succinctly explained in relation to COVID-19 but equally applicable to decisions on occupational health and safety (OHS).

The new publication “The Role of the Industrial Hygienist in a Pandemic, 2nd edition” includes a chapter on the Precautionary Principle. It is the first section of that chapter that is most relevant. It says:

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“how-to-lift training does not work”

In 2017, this blog reported on an article from WorkSafe Queensland that said that manual handling training in “correct manual handling” or “safe lifting” did not prevent musculoskeletal injuries. WorkSafe supported this by extensive research, but training courses continue today, perpetuating an over-reliance on manual handling as a suitable risk control measure, which does not meet the compliance requirements of the occupational health and safety laws.

Last month WorkSafe Queensland released a video that updated and reinforced their position.

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Quad bikes, compliance, mandates, misdirection and rules

Last week it became illegal for a new or second-hand quad bike to be sold in Australia without a crush protection device (CPD) fitted at the point of sale. This achievement has been decades in coming and has involved bitter fighting between advocates of safety and the sellers and manufacturers of this equipment.

This blog has followed this controversy for years. Quad bike safety is a significant illustration of the political and commercial pressures that have argued for a lowered level of safety than was possible. This conflict is perhaps the most public display of a moral conflict whose resolution is at the heart of occupational health and safety (OHS). (This controversy deserves a book similar to those about glyphosate and asbestos)

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COVID vaccination concerns exist in workplaces too

Recently NSCA Foundation conducted an online seminar on mandatory vaccinations. As happens with many online seminars, this one became more of a lecture because there was insufficient time allocated to answer the questions from the audience. The online seminar was in three sections – Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), Industrial Relations (IR) and Privacy. The information from Sparke Helmore lawyers was fine and current, but the questions from the audience provide an interesting insight on some of the main COVID vaccine challenges facing employers.

The seminar started with a useful poll. Below are the questions and results:

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It’s not the laws, it’s the implementation

A major criticism of the Australian government about its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has provided mixed messages about what to do and when. Those messages are sometimes amended by State Governments, and the messages from both these sources could change in a matter of days. This creates an enormous challenge for businesses and their occupational health and safety (OHS) personnel, if they have any.

This is a major factor in the campaign by business and industry groups and trade unions for the government to issue Public Health Orders (PHO). PHOs take the risk assessments out of the hands of the employers by establishing specific criteria that are legally binding. This is convenient in the short term, but PHOs are regularly updated to address the changing COVID-19 situation, so the stability of messaging that PHOs hopefully remove could end up with similar administrative results for employers and business operators. This veneer of security was discussed recently by lawyer Michael Tooma.

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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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No psych regulation in Victoria until mid-2022

The Victorian Government has pledged to introduce regulations to address psychological risks in workplaces. According to a second consultation paper on psychological health regulations, seen by SafetyAtWorkBlog, the consultation process continues but has been extended, so the new regulations are unlikely before the middle of 2020. This extension would seem a little unnecessary given the work on this hazard already from Safe Work Australia and SafeWorkNSW.

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