Is it time for a Department of Safety?

The COVID19 pandemic is a public health challenge but what happens when workplaces are integral to the control and spread of the virus? This overlap between public health and occupational health is complicated and unlikely to be resolved in the short term, however, it can fixed in the longer term. The crisis in the Australian State of Victoria (where this author lives) offers an example of this complexity, but also an opportunity for positive change, perhaps even, a Department of Safety.

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“Soldier On” should be “F### Off”

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Many workers continue to work when sick. This is called presenteeism and in a time of infection pandemic, is a major problem. Many countries have addressed the COVID19 risks of presenteeism by requiring people to work from home if they can. In Australia, the message is not totally working with people ignoring the rules for various reasons.

However, presenteeism also has a deeper cultural and institutional origin that has been exploited by some and downplayed or ignored by others.

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Important gig economy report unlikely to affect change

Then current coronavirus pandemic has disrupted workplaces around the world with those most effected being low socioeconomic sectors, including those working on a casual basis or in precarious, gig occupations. Last week the Victorian Government received the final report from its Inquiry into the Victorian On-Demand Workforce. This report is likely to be crucial in assisting the government to develop a safe and healthy strategy for the post-pandemic world of work.


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No OHS voice in this paper

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has always been part of the politics of industrial relations (IR) but it has rarely understood which part it plays as it has never really stood on its own two feet. In Australia, OHS advocates have been, primarily, from within the trade union movement. And for OHS professionals that was okay, as it allowed us to stay within our box, having others fight our battles. When those others weren’t as successful as we wanted, we remained content with the small achievements because they were achieved with minimal effort from us.

Australia, as it emerges from the COVID19 pandemic, is hoping to bring the camaraderie shared by the business groups, government and trade union to a new consensual IR strategy. OHS is an historical element of this discussion, but it needs to be more, and an OHS analysis of the Australian Industry Group’s IR reform paper released on June 6 2020 (but not yet publicly) may provide some clues on what to do about OHS influence.

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The gig tightrope over a receding tide

The Australia Institute conducted a webinar on Australia’s economic future during and after the COVID19 pandemic. Former Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan and economist Richard Denniss were the featured speakers. Two particular issues were of relevance to occupational health and safety (OHS) – the future of the gig economy and re-industrialisation.

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