The hill that OHS needs to climb for respectability remains a mountain

The current Australian debate about sexual harassment at work illustrates the forces ranged against occupational health and safety (OHS) being seen as a legitimate approach to preventing psychological harm. Entrenched Industrial Relations perspectives appear to be the biggest barrier. Such barriers are not always intentional and have evolved over years and decades as cultures and ideologies do. Some of the recent media coverage on the release of the Federal Government’s response to the report of the 2020 National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces illustrates the dominance of industrial relations thinking – part of the reason Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has described elements of the government’s response as a missed opportunity.

The OHS profession must start to overtly tackle each of these dominant perspectives.

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What Australia can learn from other Parliaments about sexual harassment and assaults

Brittany Higgins alleges that she was raped in her employer’s office by a work colleague after a night of drinking. Since mid-February 2021, other women have claimed to have been sexually assaulted in Parliament. The Attorney-General, Christian Porter, is taking some leave after revealing himself to be the person behind historical rape allegations. At the moment, Australian politics is wrapped up in itself over these scandals. Still, similar scandals have happened in other Parliaments, and the responses to these may provide guidance for Australia.

A small survey of female parliamentarians and staff in Europe in 2018 found the following

▪ 85.2 per cent of female MPs who took part in the study said that they had suffered psychological violence in the course of their term of office.
▪ 46.9 per cent had received death threats or threats of rape or beating.
▪ 58.2 per cent had been the target of online sexist attacks on social networks.
▪ 67.9 per cent had been the target of comments relating to their physical appearance or based on gender stereotypes.
▪ 24.7 per cent had suffered sexual violence.
▪ 14.8 per cent had suffered physical violence.

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Parliamentary culture must change

Australia is in the midst of a murky investigation into an alleged rape that occurred out-of-hours in an office of a Federal Minister in Australia’s Parliament House. The incident has raised discussions and debates about workplace culture, the reporting of crimes, the uniqueness (?) of the parliamentary workplace, the rights of women, the role of the media in reporting the allegations or in being complicit in the workplace culture…….

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has got himself into a pickle about how to respond, how to investigate and what he should have known and what he was expected to do. One of the actions that he and his government could do, and should have done, was to accept, and act on, the findings of the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) early last year. The relevance of this report is obvious:

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We complicate what we know works

There is one simple way of improving occupational health and safety (OHS) in any workplace – have the senior managers and executives be more in touch with the manufacturing process or provision of services. This will improve their understanding of the risks in their businesses and, hopefully, cause them to see the importance of improving health and safety, either for increased profitability or for the quality of life of their workers. Often the executives are too busy to take the time to visit, learn and listen and Industrial Manslaughter laws are intended to cut through this business attitude.

Recently SAI Global issued a media release about Industrial Manslaughter laws which has more to do with its certification services than the improvement of worker safety or prevention of harm. Stripping away the marketing, the media release quotes Kiran Bhagat saying:

“Industrial manslaughter laws legislated in Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and the ACT place legal liability squarely at the feet of the C-suite and company directors for industrial manslaughter. Organisations must ensure their compliance to OHS laws is over and above current standards and, besides, aim to meet and exceed international standards as a safeguard. The highest-ranking leaders in an organisation must be proactively involved in these processes.”

There are few OHS professionals who would disagree with this.

The content that lets this media release down and puts it into the marketing folder rather than the OHS folder is the prominent promotion of its certification services, that should be able to stand on their own content such as this in the final paragraph:

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Biden reverses Trump’s position on workplace safety

It is fair to say that the term of office for President Trump was not supportive of occupational health and safety (OHS). Former President Trump did not seem to see the need for OHS regulations and his attitude to the COVID-19 pandemic meant that it would never be considered as an occupational disease. Reports over the last week in the United States media, and the issuing of an Executive Order, indicate that new President Biden values workplace health and safety.

The New York Times (paywalled) is reporting that

“President Biden directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] on Thursday to release new guidance to employers on protecting workers from Covid-19.
In one of 10 executive orders that he signed Thursday, the president asked the agency to step up enforcement of existing rules to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace and to explore issuing a new rule requiring employers to take additional precautions.”

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Lindstrom, Common Sense and OHS

I found Martin Lindstrom’s latest book, The Ministry of Common Sense, very funny, then anger replaced funny and I had to put down the book and come back to it later. The book is excellent but all the examples of corporate nonsense that Lindstrom provides can be overwhelming. It also contains dozens of examples that are very close to my own experience and, in many cases, nonsense that I have created or supported when advising clients about occupational health and safety (OHS). SafetyAtWorkBlog asked Lindstrom about how Common Sense fits with OHS.

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The HR approach to mental health needs to be challenged

Human Resources (HR) management may seem to be a bit of a punching bag in SafetyAtWorkBlog articles. There is no doubt that HR can do better to prevent harm, especially psychological harm, but so can ever other management profession. One 2018 article was recently reposted by Human Resources Director (HRD) magazine on workplace mental health which deserves some consideration.

Firstly the article is categorised under “Corporate wellness”, instantly locking it into a specific area of HR and occupational health and safety (OHS). The article, written by lawyer Amber Chandler of Barker Henley, also has relevance to risk management, due diligence, Industrial Relations or OHS and, as mentioned in another article recently, could benefit from being posted or cross-posted in those other categories, or even under “Leadership”. The categorisation is likely to have been an editorial decision but reveals something about HR and HR media.

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