Victoria’s Workplace Manslaughter laws are a misdirection

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On July 1, 2020, Victoria receives the Workplace Manslaughter laws that it missed out on by a bee’s whatsit in 2002.  Premier Daniel Andrews will complete another election pledge and will be seen as a champion for Victoria’s workers.  The Workplace Manslaughter laws will provide some bereaved relatives with comfort and a belief that bad employers will be punished for neglecting their occupational health and safety (OHS) duties to provide safe and healthy work environments. Punishment is possible, but unlikely.

The first thing that Victorians need to understand is that Workplace Manslaughter laws are not about OHS, they are about politics.  It is no coincidence that both Queensland and Victoria’s Workplace Manslaughter laws emerged during election campaigns.  Both branches of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) needed to say something about workplace relations that did not involve the hotbed of industrial relations, especially when so much IR change would bring in National politics.

OHS allows people to talk about IR without the trade union politics.  OHS is not about money, it is about quality of life and who, in politics or elsewhere, will say that deaths at work are an acceptable consequence?  The ALP leaders were on a winner and were able to take some moral high ground and criticise business groups on an issue against which business leaders could not argue.

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NZ reviews its workplace death data to include vehicle incidents and shows a big increase

North island, New Zealand- October 29, 2017 Truck on the wet road. Source: istockphoto

2020 will be the year when Victori0’s work-related death statistics receive a shake-up with the inclusion of road transport deaths for the first time. There is the potential to redefine Victoria’s occupational health and safety (OHS) risk profile if the recent New Zealand experience is anything to go by.

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Mining comments are revealing

The reader’s comments on online articles can be very revealing. Below is a discussion of some of the comments posted on The Australian website in response to an article about the accuracy of workplace fatality data in the mining industry. Given that this is one of the few mainstream media articles about occupational health and safety (OHS), they are telling.

One commenter asked the newspaper:

“… if one of your accountants based in the Sydney office were to have a car accident in Parramatta while driving to work in the morning, would you include that in your OHS statistics as a workplace fatality?”

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Paper provides historical context to OHS laws

Barry Naismith of OHSIntros has provided excellent independent analysis of Victoria’s occupational health and safety (OHS) data for many years. His latest “Deaths at Work” report (available publicly for a limited time) includes a detailed discussion on the social context of Victoria’s proposed Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws.

But of more immediate interest is Naismith’s longitudinal analysis. One of his graphs showing death statistics back to the commencement of Victoria’s modern-era OHS laws in 1985 supports the statement popular with politicians that the rate of work-related deaths is declining over that time but Naismith points out that the five-year trend to 2018 is reversed and that this is part of the justification for the IM Laws.

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Cocky on Industrial Manslaughter and confident on OHS of vehicles

Even before the Victorian Parliament (maybe) passes the Industrial Manslaughter amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Premier Daniel Andrews is promising new, targeted investigative resources. Even though Andrews acknowledged that the laws may not pass, he seems super-confident and we know that politics is littered with cases of over-confidence.

If the opposition Liberal/National Party coalition wanted to seriously embarrass the Premier and this Labor Government, it could nobble the changes in the Legislative Council in a move that would be popular with the major business organisations, agricultural industry groups and farmers.

Many of the issues Andrews’ raised at the Victorian Labor Party conference on 16 November 2019 make a lot of sense, but why jeopardise a crucial vote on the Industrial Manslaughter laws? And how will he bring commercial vehicles into the occupational health and safety statistics, as he has promised?

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