Fixing the future by planning for the future

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) often sets the occupational health and safety (OHS) agenda, as it did on workplace stress and bullying.  On 21 May 2018 the ACTU released a research report entitled “Australia’s insecure work crisis: Fixing it for the future“.  The opening paragraph provides a clear indication of the report’s tone:

“The incidence of non-standard work in Australia is alarming. The fact that our national government and some employer groups seek to deny this reality and refuse to support reforms to better protect workers in insecure non-standard employment is a disgrace.”

There is a lot of useful information in this report but there is also a lot missing, a lot that could affect workplace safety.

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FIFO, Fairness and the Future

Trucks in Super Pit gold mine, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

SafetyAtWorkBlog’s article about the safety of Fly-In, Fly-Out workers has generated some discussion through its mention on LinkedIn which has raised some interesting points.

A common thread seems to be that it is impractical to build townships and facilities to support remote mine workers and which also provide services to workers’ families. One commenter posed these questions:

“Are we going to drag the FIFO families out to these areas, build houses for them, along with all the associated infrastructure to support them, for what may be only a 3-5 year construction program? Is it fair to drag the partners and families of FIFO workers away from their family supports (parents/friends, etc)? Away from decent medical care? Away from schools/universities?”

This may have been intended as rhetorical but prompts a question that I frequently ask when I consult with clients – “why not?”

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The future of OHS under the Australian Labor Party

At Australia’s National Press Club on October 18 207, the Australian Labor Party’s Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Brendan O’Connor spoke, ostensibly on industrial relations but occupational health and safety (OHS) was mentioned.  O’Connor provided several examples of worker exploitation and casual work and then stated

“There is something really wrong when those big, household-name companies apparently feel absolutely no responsibility, or consider themselves immune from reputational risk, for exploitation of the workers on whose labour they make a vast profit. This is why at the last election, Labor promised a National Labour Hire licencing scheme. We said we would issue a licence to only those who have a clean record of complying with employment, tax and OH&S laws, and that licences would be revoked for serious misconduct.”

In the discussions about the regulation of the labour hire industry OHS has been given, comparatively, little attention so it is useful to note even the small amount of prominence granted it by O’Connor.

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The Iceberg of Bullying

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I’ve frequently observed a manner of bullying not easily described, a below the surface iceberg of bullying.  It can range from a parent relentlessly nagging a child with “You don’t love me”, to a manager at work asking a worker – with a fixed grin, “Don’t you love me anymore, matey?” whilst requesting (always with good humour) a dangerous task to be done, for the good of The Team.  It’s here that language and gestures are used as instruments of camouflage.

A permanent tone of obligation is present, constructed on illusions marketed locally as axioms of behaviour:  “We’re a team, Team, aren’t we Team?!”, “Our first concern is the H&S of our employees”, “They are our most important resource”, “We take their safety issues most seriously”, “Nothing comes before that”.  This is a hybrid form of insidious double bind, but much more subtle than ‘You‘re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t’.  It’s a single theme with regular pin pricks often generating permanent anxiety and learnt helplessness.

I have seen workers completely worn out by it.  They are silently humiliated and angry because the truth of the matter is never exposed.  I’ve seen them sitting quietly eating their lunch surrounded by fancy documents in thin frames or dutifully laminated for posterity: The Corporate OHS Policy, The Family Support Policy, The Anti-Discrimination Policy; The Anti-Bullying Policy; The Fatigue Policy. Continue reading “The Iceberg of Bullying”

2007 interview on working hours, stress and resilience

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In July 2007, I interviewed Michael Licenblat on the issues of workplace stress for the SafetyAtWork podcast.  Although the audio quality is not of a professional standard, it is worth revisiting Licenblat’s words as he discusses hours of work, particularly in light of the latest report by the Australian Medical Association on doctors and fatigue.

Kevin Jones