When Australia harmonised its occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, the management focus broadened to include work, and not just workplaces. Some “knowledge” or white-collar work can be done anywhere, and employers have often struggled to understand how to extend their OHS management systems and duties to apply to this revised or expanded system of work. Current OHS guidance on working from home is too “big picture” when employers are addressing localised decisions.
This week a colleague told me that the return to the workplace demands by companies is the most significant issue for 2023. Perhaps, but it is no longer a significant occupational health and safety (OHS) challenge. The directions of company executives are couched in terms of productivity and management comfort. A short while ago, the cause of pre-vaccine tension was masks, hygiene, “dirty” public transport and mandatory vaccinations.
The issues have shifted from the avoidance of infections to the anxieties of returning to the office, which coincidentally places the issue in the OHS contexts of psychosocial issues and worker welfare.
The end-of-year reviews are starting to emerge from Australia’s law firms. The most recent release is from Maddocks, who have released several short reports on occupational health and safety (OHS) hazards and suggested controls for employers to apply. So this is a year-in-review for 2022, but it is also a forecast of what needs to be changed in 2023.
In an article on burnout in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on December 10 2022 (paywalled), there was a peculiar quote and some paraphrasing of Sarah McCann, chief executive of the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI), indicating the size of the challenges facing human resources professionals in preventing psychosocial harm in Australian workplaces.
The article is a peculiar one. It states that burnout has been categorised as an occupational risk by the World Health Organisation but then reports on psychological support organisations who are applying the concept outside of work activities. The justification for this is that the work undertaken at home or in caring for a family is unpaid work but still work, so the occupational definition applies. That’s a stretch, but it’s possible.
Currently, Australia has an increase in hospitalisations of people with the latest COVID-19 variants and influenza. The Victorian Government, in particular, is resisting implementing a mandatory requirement for masks even though this Winter had been flagged as a season of high risk for transmissible infections, and such control measures were shown to be effective in previous years.
Regardless of the politics in the Victorian Government’s decision, and there is a lot of politics there with an election in November, what should employers do to reduce the risks of workers catching or transmitting the virus, and so maintain continuous operation and production?Continue reading “Do what you know is the right thing to do”
COVID-19 and its variants persist as real risks in Australian workplaces, but employers want workers to continue to return to workplaces. Most of these workplaces have not been redesigned to increase ventilation. Most persist with long desks of multiple users in open-plan arrangements, although some continue with almost continuous cleaning regimes. Employers can argue that they are following public health guidelines (or their absence), but the occupational health and safety (OHS) risks still need managing.
Everyone has struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have died. We have to continue to make many allowances for businesses and people due to the disruption, but some are using the pandemic as an excuse for not doing something. Occupational health and safety (OHS) inactivity is being blamed on COVID-19 in some instances, masking or skewing people’s approach to workplace health and safety more generally.Continue reading “Over-emphasising the COVID pandemic”