OHS will ease the Work From Home transition

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to promise a return to normal but it is impossible to return to a previous point in time without denying the changes that have occurred since then. Morrison speaks of this normality in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic and may offer some understanding of his reticence to act on global warming as climate change will never allow a return to normal.

One of the workplace changes exacerbated by the pandemic is the working from home (WFH) option. Recently businesses are starting to accept this new normal, sometimes backed by research. Many businesses are in a state of (I would argue, permanent) transition. On July 2, 2021, Benjamin Clark offered a useful summary of the WFH state of play for Crikey (possibly paywalled) with some overlap to a November 2020 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on Working From Anywhere (WFA).

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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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Norms and culture continue to impede change in Australia’s transport sector

Australia’s heavy vehicle transport industry has been involved in arguing about workplace health and safety for decades. It is also one of those issues that have been largely dominated by anecdotal evidence, as shown by the recent Australian Senate Committee hearings into the “Importance of a viable, safe, sustainable and efficient road transport industry“, much to the detriment of the occupational health and safety (OHS) of the drivers, the public safety of other road users and the families of those who die in road incidents.

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“safety theft” in the gig economy

An opinion piece by Dr Elliot Fishman, of the Institute for Sensible Transport published in the HeraldSun newspaper on January 3, 2021 mentions Industrial Manslaughter in relation to food delivery drivers. (The article appears to be unavailable online) The link is tenuous and seems outside of Dr Fishman’s main area of expertise, but that seems to be the nature of Industrial Manslaughter penalties, they pop up in all sorts of discussions, many unrelated to the point being made.

The point Dr Fishman seems to be making is that the delivery of food on two-wheeled vehicles is dangerous, as shown by recent deaths of several riders in Victoria and New South Wales, and he poses several questions and suggestions to improve the situation:

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“exponential increase in mental injuries in the workplace” and other statements in a Victorian Parliament committee

Three years ago, WorkSafe Victoria indicated that it would consider prosecuting farmers for breaches of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. That possibility seems to have disappeared based on the latest Minister for Workplace Safety’s appearance at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC).

Ingrid Stitt‘s appearance centred on questions related to the 2020-21 Budget Estimates and touched on Industrial Manslaughter, gig workers, mental health, and construction and farm safety.


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Federal leadership misses State action

Australia’s Industrial Relations Minister and Attorney-General, Christian Porter, has popped up on occupational health and safety (OHS) issues several times in the last few weeks. It is fair to say that each time he has not really shone, partly due to political ideology and partly due to constitutional structures. Some of these barriers, the Minister can address.

As mentioned recently, several food delivery drivers have died. Minister Porter was asked specifically about one of these deaths, that of Chow Khai Shien, in Parliament by the Australian Labor Party’s Josh Burns. Porter said that he had talked to representatives of the Transport Workers Union about this type of work, but:

“One of the things that we discussed in that meeting was the fact—that is acknowledged, I think, inside the union—that occupational health and safety for those drivers is, not just predominantly, but essentially, a state based responsibility.”

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