A traditional farm safety campaign with tweaks

For the last few years, farm safety has been dominated by arguments over the safety of quad bikes. Squabbles continue in Australia, but that topic is largely over, and many are returning to a broader and more contemporary approach to health and safety in farming.

It looks like WorkSafe Victoria has begun to roll out its farm safety ambassadors with Catherine Velisha on the cover of a recent edition of Stock and Land newspaper and in a Youtube video. This is supported by a full article on page 3 with an additional article in a glossy supplement provided with WorkSafe’s support.

The article is a blend of promotion for Velisha’s farm management training company and media releases from WorkSafe Victoria. The occupational health and safety (OHS) statistics are new but not very different from previous statistics. Middle-aged men continue to be a feature of the fatality statistics, and 58 on-farm deaths happened in 2020, the same as the year before. Quad bikes have been a major factor in those deaths.

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The duty of care to “others”

In 2019 a man took his own life while being detained in the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre. At the time media reports said that the death was being referred to the appropriate authorities and the New South Wales Coroner.

On March 10, 2021, Comcare charged:

“The Department of Home Affairs and its healthcare provider (IHMS) ……with breaching Commonwealth work health and safety laws over the death of a man in immigration detention.”

Such an action against a government department under occupational health and safety (OHS) was always possible, as SafetyAtWorkBlog and others discussed in 2016.

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WorkSafe Victoria intends to change the farm safety culture

WorkSafe Victoria has launched a new campaign about health and safety on farms. Safety and health in this sector needs constant promotion as high rates of death and serious injury persist. The latest video campaign deserves a broad audience and hopefully is pushed heavily on television in rural areas and through local newspapers (what’s left of them) as these media continue to be major influences.

Farming is one of the hardest industries in which to achieve tangible change in occupational health and safety as discussed only recently on this blog. This latest campaign is fresh and looks good but the message is confusing if, as WorkSafe Victoria claims, the aim is to affect cultural change in the agriculture sector. The video takes a narrow focus on the male farmers implying they are the major cause of injuries. (Gender is a sensitive issue in farming, even though the statistics show older male farmers continue to be at high risk of injury) There is a little bit of “blame the worker” which is contrary to most strategies for cultural change.

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Is WorkSafe jumping the gun?

In mid-February 2021, WorkSafe Victoria issued a media release informing the community that it has charged a contractor following a worker’s death at a residential building site in Ballarat. Informing the community in such an early stage of a prosecution raises the issue of fairness and, according to one prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) lawyer, appears a little “unseemly”.

The revelation of legal action in any area of enforcement is tricky, with each case raising unique combinations of concern. Does the accused know of the prosecution? And before anyone else is told? Is the revelation in the public interest? Does it taint any future hearing or court appearance? Does it affect the chance of a successful prosecution or a successful defence? All of these are valid questions that need asking and answering in each case. Worksafe would surely have considered these matters before the February 2021 media release, but let’s look at the release in a different context.

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Interesting? Yeah. Useful? Nah.

The last six months have seen a spate of marketing surveys about the impact of COVID19 on workplaces as well as the secondary consequences, such as mental health. On 18 January 2021, The Australian Financial Review (AFR) published an article based on one of these types of surveys conducted by the “work management platform Asana” which claimed:

“Almost three-quarters of Australians suffered burnout last year and the average office worker’s overtime nearly doubled from 236 hours in 2019 to 436 hours, a global study of more than 13,000 office workers reveals.”

This is inaccurate.

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WorkSafe Victoria’s COVID19 OHS investigations

WorkSafe Victoria and its CEO Colin Radford have been pilloried by a couple of political and economic commentators recently, especially over the handling of the Hotel Quarantine Program. Radford and WorkSafe have wisely not reacted to the loudest voices and have continued their work investigating COIVID19-related breaches of the occupational health and safety legislation.

One of the accusations of the commentators is that the OHS regulator has been slow to act. The Herald-Sun newspaper published an article on January 7, 2021 based on the list of companies being investigated but mentioned only a handful. The full list is included below.

Newspapers must make editorial decisions in relation to newspaper space so the omission of the full list is understandable. However, the online version, for which space is not an issue, still omitted the list or at least a hyperlink to the list. The online and printed articles are almost the same except that the online version omits the name of Australia’s largest hardware stores, Bunnings, from the first paragraph; an editorial decision (or error) that is hard to understand.

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Seeking accountability in a pandemic

The Australian newspaper’s Robert Gottliebsen continues to bash the Victorian Premier and WorkSafe Victoria over the outbreak of COVID19 that originated from workers in the Hotel Quarantine Scheme. He insists that the government has occupational health and safety (OHS) responsibilities for the workers in the hotels, especially the security guards through which transmission to the community occurred. His arguments are logical, but what he is really searching for is accountability and, perhaps, in a global pandemic, there is none.

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