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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OHS is “… more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”

Occupational health and safety (OHS) may not be a common subject in the mainstream media but there is plenty of political discussion on the topic in Australia’s Parliament.

The current (conservative) federal government seems very slow to accept and respond to recommendations from official inquiries that it sees as a secondary political priority, such as sexual harassment and workplace health and safety. The hearings of the Senate’s Education and Employment Legislation Committee on March 24 2021, were, as usual, enlightening.

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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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Business voices add weight to OHS change

On February 27 2012, The Australian reprinted/tweaked a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on Burnout. A significant feature of the article is the acknowledgement of organisational factors as contributing to burnout and other workplace mental health hazards. The situation seems to have changed as these types of acknowledgements were harder to draw out of psychological health experts when SafetyAtWorkBlog spoke to some in 2019.

However, there are also clear parallels to Australian research into job stressors that could have helped HBR’s author Dave Lievens add weight to the decades-long research of Michael Leiter and Christina Maslach.

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You cannot have a future of work without a past

It seems like every other day there is an article online or in the press about the “future of work”. One I noted this morning is a two-minute video posted by Human Tech. The odd thing is that the future the speaker, Blake McGowan, discusses is very familiar, but is more about the past and the present than the future and it is very difficult to progress if you don’t acknowledge the history.

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Culture, greed and safety heckles

More business “gems” from the Australian Financial Review (AFR).

The potential for corporate change from Australia’s Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry is fading fast. Back in July 2020, the Australian Financial Review (AFR) reported on an investigation by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) that found, according to the AFR’s headline, that Westpac bank’s culture was immature and reactive.

Safety culture, or an organisational culture that integrates safety, has been a running theme in Australian occupational health and safety (OHS) circles for several decades now but it has rarely gained traction. Partly this is due to the distraction presented by corporate wellbeing programs which address symptoms of ill-health and un-safety and provide a comfortable excuse for company executives who can then claim some action even if the results are dubious.

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Building a resilient society

In the middle of a pandemic, it is easy to be locked into small issues, especially if they directly relate to you, such as lockdowns or sick relatives but it is important to be reminded of the broader social context. Professor Michael Quinlan recently wrote an editorial for the Annals of Work Exposures and Health, entitled “COVID-19, Health and Vulnerable Societies”.

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