OHS is a key process for control of COVID

It is always important to note when those outside the traditional occupational health and safety (OHS) networks speak in favour of OHS and its critical role in business decisions.

On September 20 2021, ABC’s Mary Gearin spoke with Emeritus Professor Malcolm Sim of Monash University about the likelihood of mandatory vaccinations on the ABC Drive program. Sim said:

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Avoiding COVID-19 distractions is essential

Recently Australian law firm Herbert Smith Freehills conducted a webinar on mandatory vaccinations. (2,000 attendees = hot topic) This workplace issue is moving quickly in each Australian jurisdiction and almost every day. There was some helpful advice in this seminar that was, thankfully, not reliant on case law and the avoidance of occupational health and safety (OHS) liability. Below is a discussion of some of the self-analysis and risk assessment that all employers should undertake to manage their workforce through COVID-19.

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Mandatory vaccinations without making vaccinations mandatory

In a little over a month, the Australian conversation about mandatory vaccinations at work has changed dramatically. In early August, food processing company SPC was treated suspiciously over its requirements for its workers, customers, and contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Recently, the New South Wales Premier, Glady Berejiklian, required vaccinations for workers to move outside of certain residential locations. And today, the Victorian Health Minister, Martin Foley, has all but made vaccinations mandatory for the construction industry.

As Berejiklian has shown, you don’t need to impose mandatory vaccinations to make vaccinations mandatory.

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Back to the old office in a new world

Many employers are rattling around floors of empty offices while their employees are working remotely or at home and almost entirely due to modern telecommunications. This has not been at the request of employers but due to government lockdown requirements. The push to have workers return to multi-storey offices is reflective of the desire to return to normal rather than accepting that established business structures have been rendered impractical or unfeasible for the coronavirus future.

A recent article in the New York Times illustrates this new circumstance well. The article, titled “New surveys show how pandemic workplace policies are shifting“, says that the major information technology companies in the United States that every business seems to want to emulate even though their practices are very questionable are continuing to postpone the return of workers to bricks and mortar (or glass and stainless steel) offices. The NYTimes article is the first to discuss this phenomenon and its relation to mandatory vaccinations.

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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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Revelations for wellness providers and workers

The Australian Financial Review (AFR) is Australia’s national newspaper on business issues. Recently its Editor Michael Stutchbury stated that he purposely focussed the newspaper on being business-friendly. This is understandable as businesses and employers, and entrepreneurs are the paper’s subscriber base and market, but sometimes articles can be too business friendly, and a recent article on burnout and the four-day-week may be an example. Thankfully the AFR article also included a brief mention of a more useful global survey about work in a time of pandemic.

The article, called “Pandemic burnout ignites argument for shorter workweek” (paywalled) included these quotes from a regular AFR contributor Reanna Browne on the possible mental health benefits of a four-day week:

“COVID has intensified these [mental health] issues and also given rise to new forms of workplace exhaustion such as wide-scale increases in working hours, alongside novel health challenges like digital load management and Zoom fatigue…”

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Attendee list of IR Minister’s business roundtable

Last week, Australian business and union representatives failed to gain the additional support on COVID-19 issues they wanted from the Federal Government during their meeting with the Industrial Relations Minister, Michaelia Cash. The Minister’s media release of the event seems to indicate business as usual.

One piece of information that has not been released before is a list of the organisations that attended. That list, published below and in no particular order, shows the attendees but, perhaps more interesting is those who were not invited.

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