The “Right to Disconnect” should have been “Obligation-To-Leave-Workers-Alone”

The Australian Greens announced on February 7, 2024, that the Right-To-Disconnect (RTD) bill would pass Parliament as part of workplace relations reforms. On February 8, 2024, the mainstream media wrote as if the laws had already been passed. However, several issues with these laws indicate they are unlikely to be applied in practice as widely as advocates claim and in the way anticipated.

The closer the RTD laws come to reality, the more useless they appear.

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Understanding Grief

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has always dealt with death. Many of the most significant legislative and operational changes have resulted from one or more work-related deaths. The horror and tragedy of each death cause us to redouble our efforts to prevent untimely death.

The reality of occupational deaths and the quest to prevent death are crucial elements of OHS’s beliefs, philosophy and principles. Each of these deaths generates grief, an emotional and mental state that an Australian book explores from the “lived experience”.

Life After is a curious book published in 2021.

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Moral distress = moral injury = workplace mental ill-health = burnout.

On December 29 2023, The Guardian newspaper’s cover story was about doctors in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service experiencing high rates of “moral distress”. It is common for hospitals and health care services to consider themselves as workplaces with unique hazards rather than suffering similar occupational health and safety (OHS) challenges to all other workplaces. What makes the OHS challenge so significant in the NHS is the size of the challenge rather than its nature or cause.

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OHS seems to be no more than a “nice-to-have” to Australian politicians

Several events or non-events at the recent 23rd World Congress on Safety and Health at Work illustrated the political attitude to occupational health and safety in Australia, especially the lack of presence of national figures on official duties.

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Psychosocial laws may encourage political risks

In December, Australian law firm Maddocks launched its 2023 Year in Review. Two items were directly relevant to occupational health and safety (OHS) – Sexual Harassment and Psychosocial Safety – both addressed by Catherine Dunlop. The size of the challenge ahead on both these topics was shown by the Australian Financial Review on December 7, 2023:

“Fewer than half of directors are confident their companies will be able to adhere to new workplace sexual harassment standards when they come into force next week, with just one in five female directors saying their boards understand the requirements of the new regime.”

Outside of the Maddocks launch, there is also some speculation that Victoria’s proposed psychosocial regulations may never happen.

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New international and local workplace data should cause a reassessment of national OHS strategies

Earlier this week, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) released new data showing that in 2019:

“According to the latest estimates developed by the ILO and covering the year 2019, over 395 million workers worldwide sustained a non-fatal work injury.”

More research on global work-related deaths has been released. This time, it was through the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment, and Health and with regional data breakdowns. This latest report includes some important statistical data about psychosocial exposures at work.

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