OHS is a journey but does it have to be so long?

Commitments to occupational health and safety (OHS) not only appear in Parliamentary debates on workplace safety. Last week, Labor Party politician Will Fowles reiterated the Victorian government’s OHS commitment in a speech about justice amendments and the police.

“This justice legislation amendment bill also establishes a legislative framework for the restorative engagement and redress scheme to support current and former Victoria Police [VicPol] employees who have experienced past workplace sex discrimination or sexual harassment.

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Sunlight on “an atmosphere of fear’

The Queensland Government and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk have been under heavy criticism for their workplace cultures and leadership since the release of the Coaldrake report last week – a “review of culture and accountability in the Queensland public sector”.

The report is very critical of the Queensland government’s management of the public service, identifying problems with the overuse of external consultants, issues of unfairness, the lack of transparency and openness, bullying and more. These findings could apply to most of the contemporary public sectors in Australia nationally and locally (as well as most medium- to large-sized companies).

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Best book yet for the OHS professional

The star of Australian academic Dr David Provan is on the rise. Academic, podcaster, author, local and international conference speaker and more, Provan is challenging the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession and professionals on many fronts. This month his self-published book “A Field Guide to Safety Professional Practice” went on sale. It is a unique book and is an essential addition to every OHS professional’s library and practice.

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New Perspectives in OHS

Yesterday the Central Safety Group (CSG) invited me to talk at its monthly lunchtime seminar. The topic was New Perspectives on OHS. These perspectives are likely to be familiar to subscribers of this blog but were intended to be provocative and foster reflection and discussion. Below is a substantially edited version.


Thanks for inviting me to be the first speaker in CSG’s 60th anniversary year. The Central Safety Group has been an important part of my OHS journey since the very start in the early 1990s. It is a remarkable achievement for the Group and, as a Life Member, I am very proud of my association with it.

OHS can become very insular. It can become too focussed on issues within a single industry, a single worksite or a discipline. This insularity can lead to OHS reaching seemingly operational dead ends, such as “this is the way it is” or what is “reasonably practicable are”. We may seek continuous improvement, but our employers and clients often see “reasonably practicable” as the endpoint of activity. It can become their comfort point of compliance.

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Steve Bell outlines the challenges for the OHS profession and Regulators

Almost every year, for a couple of decades, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) and the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) have conducted a breakfast seminar to “launch” the year. That schedule has been cocked up by COVID-19, but the events continue.

The August 2021 breakfast featured several of the usual speakers but with the omission of the Minister for Workplace Safety or a senior representative of Worksafe Victoria. As a result, the event dragged a little. Most of the information was useful, but the event lacked the spark it often has. Perhaps this was the online format, perhaps the mix of speakers, perhaps the 90-minute length.

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More workplace bullshit, but in a good way

Bullshit is starting to gain some serious analysis with four researchers recently publishing “Confronting indifference toward truth: Dealing with workplace bullshit” in Business Horizons. One attraction of this research paper is its focus on workplace business communications and conversations, but it is almost impossible to read it without thinking of the recently ousted United States President and how lies and “fake news” have dominated international political discourse.

Another attraction is that it is not just an analysis but one that also suggests pathways to detect and reduce the bullshit. What I was unprepared for was to start to feel sympathy for the bullshitter.

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Integration struggles at workplace mental health conference

The Criterion Conference called “Improving Integrated Approaches to Workplace Mental Health” is a curious one. There is a lot of information about workplace mental health but a lot less about a “integrated approach”.

The audience had a good mix of delegates from Australian States and as well as occupations of Human Resources (HR) and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), as well as some State Safety Regulators. The separate silos of HR and OHS were on display even though it is these very disciplines that must be integrated for Australian businesses to truly grasp how mental ill-health can be prevented. One example of the gap could be seen in relation to resilience training.

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