Two steps forward, one backward

The latest media release from the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) shows a remarkable maturity and a newfound ability to be inclusive and topical.

The AIHS, in conjunction with several other occupational health and safety (OHS) related organisations, developed and released an important guidance on respiratory protection masks for the work environment. Not only is this super topical but the effort has the support of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), an organisation that, historically, has been reluctant to support OHS initiatives from outside trade union resources.

The primary purpose of the media release is to push the Federal Government for “the urgent establishment of a register for approved respirators (aka face masks)”, but this may be too simplistic and too narrow a focus especially when the issue of face masks is a critical part of the Governments’ plans to “reopen” the economy.

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Mental health change needs to break out

On May 15 2020 Australia’s National Cabinet supported the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan developed by the National Mental Health Commission. The focus was on the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic but in the text was a reference to a National Suicide and Self Harm Monitoring System developed and run by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Given the dearth of valid data on suicide and after an earlier article questioning datasets, SafetyAtWorkBlog posed some questions to the AIHW about the monitoring system.

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All jobs are now more dangerous

The COVID19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the government agencies that regulate and enforce occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. These regulators are not the lead agencies in pandemic control but as some countries relax lock-down protocols and people return to work in changed work environments, the role and actions of the OHS regulators are being re-evaluated.

Sarah O’Connor, in the Financial Times, opened her 26 May 2020 article brilliantly with

” Covid-19 has upended our notion of what a dangerous job looks like”

Office were often dismissed as low-risk workplaces with many site safety walks, if they happened, reporting on torn carpet and other similar hazards. That way of assessing risk should have been replaced, or supplemented, with assessments of the psychosocial risks of stress, bullying, a harassment, excessive workloads and many more harmful practices. So, offices may have a low risk of traumatic physical injuries but a higher level of risk of psychological harm. On top of this reassessment comes an infection risk that can be spread by workers showing no symptoms. Office-based risk has increased again and made the workplace itself dangerous.

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COVID19 controls for sex work safety

Source: Ian Dyball, istockphoto

Thinking about the occupational health and safety (OHS) issues of sex work is fascinating and, to some, titillating. But work is work and the OHS issues are just as real in a room in a brothel as in any other workplace. The workplace hazards presented by COVID19 to the Australian sex industry have been identified and addressed in some excellent OHS advice from Scarlet Alliance.

Sex workers need to screen clients already for visible signs of sexually transmitted diseases so personal questions about health and infections is already part of the customer relations. (There are also requirements for customers to shower or wash prior to services) The questions asked in relation to COVID19 are the same as asked elsewhere:

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Lift us up (safely) where we belong

The safe number of people in an elevator gained the attention of Australia’s Attorney General, Christian Porter. The narrow consideration of the COVID19 risks faced by workers as they return to work was taken to Porter by the head of the Property Council of Australia, Ken Morrison.

According to an article in the Australian Financial Review on May 22 2022, Morrison took up the issue with Safe Work Australia who rebuffed his approach and refused to change the original guidance. He then contacted the Attorney-General’s office who, according to Morrison:

“…. engaged with the Deputy Chief Medical Officer to ensure the health issues were properly understood and then in conjunction with Safe Work Australia ensured that revised guidelines were released which were absolutely safe, but practical, and allowed the return to work that the national cabinet has been encouraging.”

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