The politics of safety

Bill Shorten third from the right at the 2012 Safe Work Australia awards in Parliament House Canberra

There is little doubt that Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, believes that occupational health and safety (OHS) is important. His interest was on show, perhaps most significantly, during his time as a union leader at the Beaconsfield mine disaster but he has spoken at various OHS awards, the opening of the National Workers Memorial, local memorials, and was a participant in the Maxwell Review of Victoria’s OHS review in 2006.

OHS has not appeared yet in the current Federal Election campaign. It rarely does. But there is an opportunity to argue that the Australian Labor Party (ALP), of which Shorten is the leader, will not only create more jobs for Australian but that they will be safe jobs. To an OHS professional, it seems to be a simple position, a position that is extremely difficult to argue against. However, the politics of safety in Australia cannot be separated from the role and activities of the trade union movement. Yet, OHS is not just a union challenge, it is relevant to all workers and their families, but only the trade unions seem to have an OHS voice. Letting this situation continue is not sustainable.

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Hopkins challenges safety culture advocates to look at structure

One of the major influencers on occupational health and safety (OHS) management in Australian has been Andrew Hopkins. His influence comes from a combination of being outside the formal OHS profession and establishing a platform that is inclusive of information from a range of sources. In short he is a sociologist.

Hopkins’ latest book has just been released. “Organising for Safety – How structure creates culture” is a radical departure to his previous books about organisational culture. Here Hopkins questions whether cultural change is the gradual spreading of new ideas and instead proposes that

“… the culture of an organisation is determined to a large extent by its organisational structure.”

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He also mentions power, a concept rarely discussed in OHS and almost entirely left to exist in sociology (Oh, the need for more Humanities study!). Power pops up in Human Resources but not to the same extent.

Hopkins also refers to, and creates, organisational charts that were in place at the time of a disaster and then to the reorganised structures after the disasters. Hopkins discusses how those new structures are in direct response to the new understanding of risk from the CEOs and Boards.

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What was overlooked during Budget week

Last week the Australian media was dominated by discussions on the Federal Budget and it being the precursor to a Federal Election in May 2019. But there were several actions in the few scheduled days of Parliament which relate to occupational health and safety (OHS). Below is a summary of some of them.

Labour Hire

In support of the Morrison Government Budget, Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations, Kelly O’Dwyer, issued a media release stating that in response to Migrant Workers Taskforce Report, the Government (should it be re-elected, in reality) will establish:

“….a National Labour Hire Registration Scheme to ensure compliance and transparency in the labour hire industry in high-risk sectors;”

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Rotting fish and leadership

Free Access

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has been obsessed by Leadership for a long time. Leadership is important to establish safe and health workplaces but there is certainly a lot more to change than waiting for the boss to see the light. In many of these discussions, someone will use this phrase to emphasize the importance of leadership:

A fish rots first from the head

This is a biologically suspicious statement that SafetyAtWorkBlog has been eying to verify or dismiss for several years, unsuccessfully. A new fact checking website site drawing on the scientific community has been established and SafetyAtWorkBlog recently posed this question to www.metafact.io:

Does a fish rot from the head?

Let’s see what the experts say but in the meantime, please post your thoughts and comments on the question below.

Kevin Jones

Exclusive interview with SafeWork SA’s Martyn Campbell

Last year SafeWork South Australia was evaluated by that State’s Independent Commission against Corruption. A couple of years ago Martyn Campbell (pictured right) took on the role as the Executive Director. SafeWork SA had obvious challenges and Campbell has needed to recalibrate the organisation to meet contemporary standards and expectations.

SafetyAtWorkBlog had the chance to put some questions to Martyn Campbell recently. Below are his responses.

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