As the dominance of neoliberalism weakens around the world, people are fearful of what comes next. In some sectors, that fear includes occupational health and safety (OHS). OHS is a business cost, in the same way as every other cost of running a business, but it is often seen as an interloper, a fun-sucker, a nuisance and/or an impediment to profitability. This misinterpretation needs to be contested.
One of the common questions I am asked, usually face-to-face rather than online curiously, is what changes I would suggest for improving occupational health and safety (OHS). Following on from the broad perspective thesis by Dr Clare Tedestedt George, here are some of my thoughts.
Entrenched workplace cultures
Workplaces and industry sectors have established rigid norms, work practices, expectations, and a culture, that are no longer considered as safe and healthy as they were intended to be. This has happened due to the economic demands of neoliberalism, the (fake) empowerment of the individual and after years of weakness and neglect by the OHS profession and regulators.
The strong readership of the article on truck driver safety based on the research of Dr Clare George resulted in one reader remind me of Australian research from 2017 that looked at similar issues.
In 2017 Louise Thornthwaite and Sharron O’Neill published “Regulating the work health and safety of Australian road freight transport drivers: summary report“. The authors wrote:
“Work health and safety (WHS) is a significant issue for the heavy vehicle road freight transport industry. The sector has a history of the highest fatalities and serious injury rates of any industry in Australia. While media focuses on drivers killed in road crashes, these represent only a subset of the hundreds of drivers killed or permanently disabled, and thousands more injured, in and around trucks each and every year.
The Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) has recently published an article about the significant Human Resources trends for 2019. The trends identified include
- “A Change of Government”
- “Gig Economy Classification”
- “Sexual Harassment”
- “Technology Trends”
SafetyAtWorkBlog will be more specific in its occupational health and safety (OHS) “trends” for 2019.
This article is part one of an edited version of a keynote presentation I made at the a special WHS Inspectors Forum organised by WorkSafe Tasmania. The audience comprised inspectors from around Australia and New Zealand. I was asked to be provocative and challenging so posed some questions to the audience about how occupational health and safety (OHS) is managed, regulated and inspected.
“The purpose of this session is to provide insight into the future challenges for work health and safety regulators due to changes in the nature of work, the workforce, supply chains, and the social and political environments, and encourage inspectors to consider how the way they do their work may need to change to meet these challenges.”
I encourage you all to analyse what you say, what you are told, what you do and how you do it. Too often we accept information and our situations uncritically and I want you to question everything, including what you read in this article.