Occupational health and safety (OHS) is rarely reported on in the mainstream newspapers but every week OHS is there, adding a contect to a scandal or subtext to a public health risk. Last weekend was no different. The Guardian of September 16, 2023 reported on a review of personal relationships by BP, a prison escape, deaths from air pollution, a more relaxed approach to work, shoplifting and customer aggression, and more.
The Australian Labor Party (ALP) conference has endorsed the concept of the right-to-disconnect, according to an article in The Australian. Sadly, the reporting on the change has a dismissive tone on what is an attempt to address the increasing costs of mental health at work. Readily accessible and recent survey data on the right-to-disconnect could have been used for a fuller analysis.
Journalist Ewin Hannan wrote:
Currently, many large Australian business groups are lobbying the federal government over its plans to introduce legislation to ensure that workers achieve the same pay rate for doing the same job as others. A feature of the full-page advertisement in the newspapers is that people should be able to receive more money or a higher rate of pay if they “work hard”. This phrase is never explained but may have implications for occupational health and safety (OHS).
Julian Baggini is a philosopher less well-known in Australia than in the United Kingdom but his writings can add to some of the current discussions about occupational health and safety (OHS) and business ethics.
In his 2010 book, Complaint, he analyses our grievance culture and how complaints can and should result in positive outcomes. OHS often seems to run on complaints and to understand how to respond to complaints, it is necessary to understand who is responsible for that response and why.
Work-related harm is often generated by exploitation, but exploitation is a term rarely used by the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession. If it was, the OHS approach to harm prevention may be very different, especially now that a safe and healthy working environment is a fundamental right.
Perhaps the omission of exploitation is not that surprising. It is often seen through the lens of industrial relations, and a flexible demarcation often exists between IR and OHS. It is important to note that the International Labour Organisation’s Glossary of OSH terms also fails to include exploitation though it is from 1993.
However, a recent report from the Grattan Institute, Short-changed: How to stop the exploitation of migrant workers in Australia, does discuss workplace health and safety as an element of worker exploitation.
This is the first of, hopefully, many articles about what some of the weekend newspapers and media say about issues related to occupy national health and safety (OHS). It will not be comprehensive but short takes on what I see in the newspapers.
[Note, the article below mentions suicide and workplace bullying]
Workload and Suicide
It has been a year since an employee of the Victorian Building Authority, Rob Karkut, died by suicide. According to The Age (May 13, 2023, [paywalled] his suicide occurred:
“…amid intense pressure from the authority’s managers to meet ambitious inspection targets. A litany of failings within the organisation have been exposed since his death.”
The WorkSafe Victoria Awards Night for 2022 contained three main speeches:
Pearson’s speech contained a couple of elements that implied it was written by someone without a deep understanding or history of OHS in Victoria. He mentioned “Kaizen” which was a blast from the past, being associated with lots of Lean managements and Six Sigmas. These concepts are rarely heard of in OHS circles now, perhaps because the Kaizen focus in Australia was often on individual workers and efforts rather than systems of work. Pearson said: