Truths? Maybe. But Hard? Nah.

Professions often learn more from those in other professions that they do from their own. As such SafetyAtWorkBlog looks in lots of places for insights that may help the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession.

Recently the Australian Human Resource Institute published a discussion paper called “5 Hard Truths about Workplace Culture”. OHS operates in the same workplace culture so there may be lessons for all.

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Oral biffo over safety in Queensland Parliament

Before Christmas, the Victorian Government will be presenting a Bill for Industrial Manslaughter laws to the Parliament. The core elements of accountability and penalty are expected to be little different to the Bill that failed to pass Parliament earlier this Century by a bee’s whatsit. The debate is likely to be on the same benefits and costs, so one can reread Victoria’s Hansard from 2002 or look at the debate in Queensland Parliament last week where that Government’s “Safety Reset” has generated arguments about which party is more committed to occupational health and safety (OHS).

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Safety remains a muddle in Australia’s trucking industry

SafetyAtWorkBlog believes the fact that commercial vehicles are also workplaces remains under-utilised in Australia. There are hints that this position is shared by others and that the analysis of occupational health and safety (OHS) in the transport sector is maturing. An Issues Paper released in May 2019 by the Productivity Commission (PC) as party of the review of the 2009 National Transport Regulatory Reform program looks at potential safety outcomes.

In each of the sectors within the reform program – heavy vehicles, rail and maritime – safety improvements, enhancements and improvements were expected. The PC accepts the multidisciplinary and multi-factorial elements of OHS:

“…. the national laws and regulators are only one influence on safety outcomes. The multiplicity of influences on safety outcomes raises challenges for measurement of the contribution of the national system to any changes in safety outcomes since the system was introduced. The Commission envisages that the direct net benefits from safety related reforms must be assessed by the use of simple methods such as benchmarking (including to other countries) and other descriptive analyses. For example, Hassall (2014) estimates the accident rate (broken down by accident severity) per 100 million kilometres.”

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(Given that the PC has a separate inquiry into mental health, it will be interesting to see if this perspective is consistent across different sectors)

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Language, labels, thoughts and restraints

Carsten Busch is a committed voice for improvement in occupational health and safety (OHS) and our understanding of it. Recently he published a research paper entitled “Brave New World: Can Positive Developments in Safety Science and Practice also have Negative Sides?” (open access). The paper is of note for several reasons, not including the use Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel “Brave New World” a book about a dystopia that many Australian high school students in the 1970s were required to read.

Dystopian novels suit the study of OHS as the structure often reflects a character with new experiences of an unfamiliar culture or an awakening or realisation of their place in the world. Brave New World fits the former and George Orwell’s 1984, the latter. OHS professionals often step into a workplace culture that is foreign to what they have understood to be the norm. They evaluate the new culture, find it wanting and suggest repairs, if they can. Over time some OHS professionals, often through an epiphany, realise that they have not achieved what they expected and either leave or turn on the OHS discipline. Some OHS professionals are able to blend both these experiences and perspectives.

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Make sure you are serious about deeper and better thinking on workplace mental health

In October 2018, the Australian Financial Review (AFR) reported (paywalled) on an occupational health and safety (OHS) investigation into overwork and staff fatigue being conducted by WorkSafe Victoria. The AFR has followed this with a report on June 6 2019 (paywalled) by its Legal Affairs Editor, Michael Pelly. It is a positive article about how the law firm, King, Wood & Mallesons (KWM) has improved its OHS performance since October last year. However there is much between the lines that hints at the OHS approach used and how limited it is.

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