Business is getting some clarity on COVID-19 vaccines and a reminder to act

On August 12 2021, the Chair of Safe Work Australia, Diane Smith-Gander entered the fray over making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory in an article in The Age. Later that day, in the absence of any clear guidance on the issue from the Federal Government, The Age reported that the Fair Work Ombudsman will be providing guidance on 4 tiers of workplaces relevant to assessing COVID-19 exposure risks.

The combinations of advice from these sources, greatly clarify what businesses can do to improve the safety of their workers and customers. The reticence to take reasonable occupational health and safety (OHS) steps by business groups will remain but the clarity they have been requesting will soon be available.

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To boldly go where no Australian company has gone before

The response to SPC’s decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for its workers, contractors and visitors illustrates a common misunderstanding of occupational health and safety (OHS) management, poor OHS literacy and some industrial and media rent-seeking.

On ABC Radio’s PM program in early August 2021, the main objection of Andrew Dettmer of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union was insufficient consultation prior to SPC’s decision. (Really?! What about the validity of the company’s OHS decision?) Dettmer said:

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SPC shows leadership on mandatory vaccinations

The first week of August 2021 has been a big week for the discussion of mandatory vaccinations for Australian workers. A major Australian fruit cannery in regional Victoria, SPC, has stated that all of its workers, visitors to the site and contractors will need to be fully vaccinated by November 2021. This is being done to protect workers, the community and to maintain the food supply.

There are many lessons from SPC’s decision and the subsequent discussion has been largely predictable. What has been missing from almost all of the discussion is the occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective. This article and others will look at the issue and how the health and safety benefits have been presented in the mainstream media.

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Frogging the National OHS Strategy

Australia has commenced its consultation process for the development of its next ten-year national occupational health and safety (OHS) strategy. These are peculiar documents as no one ever seems to be punished for not achieving the targets or the performance targets are so narrow or general that it is impossible to not achieve them.

One of the elements that all such strategies seek is “emerging hazards”. Even harder is when they seek hazards that no one else has considered or have yet to emerge. One of the challenges with these strategies is less about what they say than how they are implemented and enforced.

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Reuse of safety photos

I have been told that any image loaded to Twitter becomes the property of Twitter. As a social media user, this type of situation seems common, but I was surprised when an image of unsafe work activities that I took and posted to Twitter appeared as an “Absolute Shocker” in a construction safety newsletter produced by WorkSafe Victoria. I sought more details from WorkSafe on the image’s use.

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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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