What employers need to know: the legal risk of asking staff to work in smokey air

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The following article is reproduced from the excellent academic communication website The Conversation, and is written by Elizabeth Shi, a Senior Lecturer, in RMIT University‘s Graduate School of Business and Law. The article is a very useful contribution to managing the risks of working in smokey environments but is only one contribution to a discussion on occupational health and safety in smokey workplaces that has many, many months to go.

Amid thick bushfire smoke in cities including Canberra and Melbourne, employers need to consider their legal obligations.

Some have directed their workers not to turn up in order to avoid to occupational health and safety risks. Among them is the Commonwealth department of home affairs which last week asked most of its staff to stay away from its Canberra headquarters for 48 hours. Other employers want to know where they stand.

Continue reading “What employers need to know: the legal risk of asking staff to work in smokey air”

How much is safety a choice?

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Some time ago I had a run-in with a worker who repeatedly chose not to wear his hard hat.  He reasoned that as there were no overhead or head-high hazards in the work area the personal protective equipment (PPE) was not necessary.  He applied what some would call a risk-based decision and he was right.  But the worker was dismissed from the project (not by me) over his decision and because of his belligerence and verbal abuse over the matter.  The reality was that he showed disrespect to his employer (a subcontractor) and disregard to the safety rules of the contractor thereby eroding the safety culture that the contractor was trying to establish and maintain in order to, ultimately, satisfy the client.

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, September 8, 2018: Many road workers in orange vests are working on a busy inner city street. Source: istockphoto

There has been an increasing amount of discussion in the occupational health and safety (OHS) sector about trust.  There is little chance of achieving any change in a workplace without first of all establishing trust between the stakeholders, or at least a little bit of trust. But part of this trust is also respect. And part of this trust is that it should be earned… by everyone. Continue reading “How much is safety a choice?”


In 2015, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) took legal action against the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and one of that union’s organisers, Pomare Auimatagi, over the organiser’s actions seemed to breach one of  John Holland’s personal protective equipment (PPE) policies. The CFMEU and Auimatagi were found guilty of breaching the Fair Work Act and fined over A$58,000 by the Federal Circuit Court on 9 March 2018.  The case raises a couple of occupational health and safety management issues.

According to

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