Over the last few months, various seminars from law firms and others have focussed on how to comply with new and impending occupational health and safety regulations related to psychosocial hazards at work. Over the last fortnight, I attended two such seminars; they were as different as chalk and cheese, even though both had strong voices from lawyers, illustrating the sources of some of the confusion over the issue felt by some employers.
Category: state of knowledge
Can we move on from HSRs, please?
Occupational health and safety (OHS) needs new thinking. One of the most important elements of successful OHS comes from Consultation – a sensible process and one required by law. A major process for OHS consultation in those laws is through the Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs). This legislative (recommended) option was practical but is now almost an anachronism, yet the OHS regulators continue to support the process because it is in the OHS laws. And few will speak against the process because it is being maintained by the trade union movement as one of the last legacies of political influence over workplace health and safety.
This month Queensland government released its report into the review of its Work Health and Safety laws with these two of the three categories of recommendations:
- “elevation of the role of health and safety representative (HSR) at the workplace
- clarification of the rights of HSRs and worker representatives to permit them to effectively perform the role and functions conferred upon them and to remove unnecessary disputation,….”
The absurdity of HSRs’ persistence can be illustrated by the rumour that WorkSafe Victoria will encourage sex workers to follow the HSR consultative process through the OHS guidance expected to be released later this year.
The continuation of engineered stone can no longer be supported
The Housing Industry Association (HIA) is an effective government lobbyist for its members who can be relied on to make a submission to whatever opportunity the governments offer. The HIA does not provide details of membership numbers or names, but it does list its sponsors and partners. Recently HIA made a submission on “the prohibition on the use of engineered stone”. Its position held few surprises.
Perhaps also unsurprising is Kate Cole’s justification for a ban on engineered stone.
The cultural impediments to OHS improvement in agriculture need to be confronted
Recently Western Australia concluded its WorkSafe inquiry into the Agricultural Industry. The recommendations for improvements in occupational health and safety (OHS) are remarkably dull as they largely fit with business as usual. It is much more useful to file this as a reference document which offers some safety insights.
The inquiry was established after a spate of farm deaths (Don’t all OHS inquiries come from disasters!?). Most of the terms of reference relate to the collation of data, which, in itself, is an implied criticism of the past OHS Commissioners and governments (and national leadership).
The inquiry report is an excellent analysis of the cultural relationships between farming and OHS regulation, with some brutally honest findings that other States and OHS professionals should heed.
Confusing positions on mental health at work
On March 28 2023, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (the Chamber) issued an important media release called “Preparing for workplace psychological health reform”. As with most media releases related to occupational health and safety (OHS) matters, it received little attention.
Anton Zytnik a consultant for the Chamber, warned against “mental health washing”, but this media release also contains examples of avoidance and misdirection. And he’s not the only one.
OHS tidbits from the latest Productivity Commission Report
On March 17 2023, the Australian government released the Productivity Commission’s latest 5-year Productivity Inquiry report. At well over a thousand pages, few people are going to read it to the level it deserves. Nor will I, but I have dipped into it and found a couple of important comments that relate directly to the management of occupational health and safety (OHS).
OHS is now a fundamental human right. So what?
Last year the International Labour Organization (ILO) added occupational health and safety (OHS) to its Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. So what? I hear you cry. According to one trade union website:
“Contrary to Conventions – which are subject to ratification by individual Member States to be applicable, all Member States (187 Members) are expected to respect, promote and realize Fundamental Principles and Rights .”
This change has been a long time coming. Expect to hear a lot of discussion about this change at the 23rd World Congress in Sydney later this year, if not Ap[ril 28 and May Day. What Australia will say about this change is unknown, but it will be expected to say something.