When a ban is an understandable stunt

Australia has yet to offer a good reason for hazardous engineered stone products not being banned from import and use. On November 23 2022, Australia’s most influential construction union, the CFMEU, stated that it would ban these products from mid-2024 if the Federal Government does not. Trade unions no longer have the level of influence or numbers to achieve these sorts of bans. As with asbestos many years ago, such campaigns risk taking more credit for the potential occupational safety and health reforms than they deserve.

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Silicosis risk controls exempted for the moment

In 2019, Dr Graeme Edwards said this of the cutters of engineered stone:

“We can’t just rely on the industry to self-regulate. We need to licence the industry and we need to regulate the product….. If we can’t do this, [banning] is a realistic option.”

Recent research commissioned by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and conducted by Curtin University seems to support a ban on the import of engineered stone products with such a high level of silica that cutting them, without suitable controls, can lead to silicosis.

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The OHS agenda of the Australian Labor Party

Given that the protection of worker health and safety will gain more attention and support under progressive parties and governments, the release of the 2021 National Platform for the Australian Labor Party (ALP) is notable. The 2021 document, unsurprisingly, focuses on the role of Health and Safety Representatives, appealing to its financial and political trade union base as major influencers on occupational health and safety (OHS).

This article will focus on the chapters in both the 2021 and 2018 platform documents related to safe and healthy workplaces, although there are OHS-related issues dotted throughout both documents.

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OHS data still in short supply

The Peter Sandman quote concerning delivery people and infections that appeared in an earlier SafetyAtWorkBlog article highlighted an issue from 2005 that was taken up in Senator Tony Sheldon‘s questioning of the head of Safe Work Australia, Michelle Baxter, in Senate Estimates on March 4 2020. Sheldon has challenged SWA in earlier committee meetings but his confidence is increasing as he covered more issues than delivery workers and coronavirus.

Michelle Baxter was also questioned on the provision of OHS guidance in languages other than English, silicosis data and the banning of engineered stone.

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More on David Michaels’ book – “statistics are people with the tears wiped away”

I found time to read the rest of David Michaels’ latest book “The Triumph of Doubt“. It was loaded with information that is directly relevant to the Australian occupational health and safety (OHS) sector but more about the manipulation of facts and the stealth of lobbyists and influencers than on the hazards themselves. Here’s my take on some of his thoughts.

Two Australian case studies that would not have been out of place in a book like Michaels’, or even an Australian supplement to his book, were quad bikes and workplace mental health. Quad bike safety is the better fit with Michaels’ approach as many of the techniques of Zellner and Dynamic Research Incorporated, and the strategies of international all-terrain vehicle manufacturers, reflect the those strategies in the book.

David Michaels writes about chemicals, primarily, but many of his words hint that similar “doubt scientists” could be already in the psychological health and wellness sector, except these scientists are less about reacting to litigation and legislation than supporting and strengthening an industry in anticipation of increased regulatory scrutiny. “Pre-action”, perhaps?

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The Triumph of Doubt is essential reading

When a former head of a national occupational health and safety (OHS) regulator writes a book, it may be a curiosity (and it is rare). But when the writer is the former Assistant Secretary of Labor for the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the book becomes interesting. When the book is called “The Triumph of Doubt – Dark Money and the Science of Deception“, it becomes a must-read. SafetyAtWorkBlog dips into David Michaels‘ new book (as I only received it yesterday) and finds treasure.

This is not the first time that Michaels has written about Doubt and how whole industries have developed to create, market and exploit Doubt for the benefit of the Establishment. However, the new book is super-topical in this time of “Fake News” and blatant disregard of science and scientists.

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Stories of engineered stone companies moving interstate to avoid safety obligations

In late December 2019, Dr Graeme Edwards provided an update on Australia’s silicosis situation to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s PM program in which he mentions the movement of businesses to avoid occupational health (OHS) and safety obligations and duties.

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