Vaccine mandates and omission bias

Over the last two years or so, occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals seemed to have been the go-to people for handling the workplace impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Whether that is fair or not is debatable, but it is likely to repeat reality as workplaces continue to face labour shortages, production and supply disruption and variable exposure to the virus. At the moment, many politicians are uncertain about how to proceed. Employers need to have an operational plan, but they, or their OHS advisers, also need to step back occasionally and look at the larger context.

That step-back perspective is just what Dyani Lewis has done in a small but useful book called “Unvaxxed – Trust, Truth and the Rise of Vaccine Outrage“.

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Good COVID OHS book

Late last year, lawyer Michael Tooma and epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws published “Managing COVID-19 Risks in the Workplace – A Practical Guide”. Given how COVID-19 is developing variants, one would think that such a hard copy publication would date. However, the book is structured on the occupational health and safety (OHS) obligation of managing risks, and whether the variant is Delta, Omicron or Omega (if we get that far), the OHS principles and risk management hold up.

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Established safety practices should still be investigated

Every profession has safety practices that have existed for years and are integral to that profession’s character and operations. These have usually occurred because of correlation more than a cause, and occupational health and safety (OHS), in particular, advocates evidence-based decisions.

One longstanding example could be the mandatory wearing of lace-up ankle-high safety boots for working in the construction of railway infrastructure. Another could be the current debate over the effectiveness of face masks for protection from dust particles and airborne infections.

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Can the sex industry be the same as any other industry?

The Australian State of Victoria has committed to the decriminalisation of sex work. It made this decision some time ago, conducted an inquiry into how this could be achieved and is now in a further consultative process on what laws and practices need to change. The aim is honourable – to reduce the stigma of a legitimate industry. However, there is one statement repeated in media releases and discussion papers that encapsulates the challenge:

“Decriminalisation recognises that sex work is legitimate work and should be regulated through standard business laws, like all other industries in the state.”

That challenge is can, and should, Victoria’s sex industry be treated like “all other industries”?

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Exclusive Interview with Dr Tom Doig

SafetyAtWorkBlog had the chance to put some questions to Dr Tom Doig in early 2019 prior to the book’s release. Below is that exclusive interview.

SAWB: “Hazelwood” is predominantly a book that describes the social and environmental impacts of the Hazelwood. What, if any, overlap did workplace health and safety (WHS) and WorkSafe Victoria have in the fire’s aftermath?

TD: In the aftermath of the mine fire, a number of WHS issues have come to the fore. Firstly, in the 2014 Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry, a number of criticisms were made of Hazelwood’s regulatory framework, with a suggestion that there was a ‘regulatory gap’, as expressed by Mr Leonard Neist, Executive Director of the Health and Safety Unit at the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA), at that time:

‘If I identify that gap as, who is responsible for regulating for the protection of public safety, regardless of what the source of the hazard or the risk is, who’s responsible for public safety, that’s where the gap probably is and I can’t—if you were to ask me right now, I can’t tell you who is responsible for regulating public safety. I’m responsible for regulating workplace safety and responsible for public safety as a result of the conduct of that undertaking, but I couldn’t tell you who is directly responsible.’

In this case, while VWA focuses on the health and safety of mine employees, they aren’t explicitly concerned with the health and safety of the general public, if a hazard – like a 45-day plume of toxic smoke – is dispersed beyond a specific workplace.

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Important safety, environmental, political and personal stories in book on the Morwell Mine fire

Dr Tom Doig has continued to build on his earlier work about the Morwell mine fire, expanding his “The Coal Face” from 2015 into his new book “Hazelwood” (after court-related injunctions, now available on 18 June 2020).

SPECIAL OFFER: The first four (4) new Annual subscribers in the month of June 2020 will receive a copy of Hazelwood.

The Morwell mine fire created great distress to residents in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, ongoing health problems, and a parliamentary inquiry, but can also be seen as a major case study of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, enforcement, role and the obligation on employers to provide a safe and healthy working environment that does not provide risks to workers and “protect other people from risks arising from employer’s business”.  The management of worker and public safety is present in almost every decision made in relation to the Morwell Mine fire. The overlay of an OHS perspective to Doig’s book is enlightening.

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What seems odd in China may/should become normal elsewhere

The occupational health and safety (OHS) risks associated with the COVID19 induced working situations are well established although still not easily or readily controlled. Some countries are starting to emerge from the enforced lockdowns and isolations and need to restart work. This emergence will be faced by almost all countries to differing extents and OHS and infection control will be integral to how this occurs.

Recently NPR’s Ailsa Chang spoke with Eva Dou of The Washington Post about the re-emergence of Foxconn in China, a company famous for manufacturing iPhones and for a spate of work-related suicides

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