Bill Shorten reflects on the Esso Longford disaster

Tonight, SafetyAtWorkBlog will be attending the launch of a new book that includes personal stories about the 1998 Esso Longford explosionWorkers’ Inferno.  The book is being released on the 2oth anniversary of the explosion that killed two workers, injured many others, disrupted gas supplies to the State of Victoria, resulted in a then-record fine for occupational health and safety (OHS) breaches and generated a Royal Commission.  It is also, perhaps, the best example of a company trying to blame the worker for a major incident.

The Federal Opposition leader, Bill Shorten, was an official of the Australian Workers Union at the time and today he published an opinion piece Continue reading “Bill Shorten reflects on the Esso Longford disaster”

The future of OHS under the Australian Labor Party

At Australia’s National Press Club on October 18 2017, 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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Proposed drug testing – a political tool

On 6 February 2014 the Victorian Premier. Denis Napthine, announced the intention to

“…require construction companies to implement comprehensive drug and alcohol screening measures to ensure the safety of workers to be eligible to tender for Victorian Government construction contracts.”

This is to be part of the occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations of companies under the Implementation Guidelines to the Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry.  Understandably the construction union, particularly, is angry and feels as if it is being singled out.  Both organisations have chosen their words very carefully. Premier Napthine is quoted as saying:

“Reports of illicit drug use and distribution on Victorian construction sites are widespread.”

The CFMEU‘s Victorian Secretary John Setka has stated that

“There is no epidemic of drug taking on construction sites…. Our Health and Safety representatives who look out for workers’ health and safety are not reporting a problem.”

It is unlikely there is an epidemic of drug use but the Premier is talking of drugs AND alcohol.  

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MP wants to close a dodgy loophole but vision is what’s needed

One of the most discussed posts on this blog concerned an insurance company that paid the fines awarded against a company director. The company director had been found guilty of OHS breaches that led to the death of a worker. Yesterday, South Australia’s Deputy Premier and Minister for Industrial Relations. John Rau, said that he will be taking action to close the loophole that allows for this situation. But this is unlikely to succeed and may be a distraction from the more significant issue of new penalties for deterrence.

In a media release, not yet available online, Rau states that

“Insurance should not be the preference over safe equipment and safe workplace standards….

Whilst most employers do the right thing, this dodge effectively means that the incentive for a company to provide a safe environment for its workers is diminished or eliminated.”

Rau’s current strategy for closing this loophole, which is not really a legal loophole at all, is weak. Rau, a Labor Party politician, says that he will bring the matter to the attention of the Federal Minister for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten. However, Australia is ten days away from an election that the current (Labor) government is tipped to lose.

Continue reading “MP wants to close a dodgy loophole but vision is what’s needed”

Legal changes on workplace bullying are forgetting the workers

The lower house (thanks, Rex) of the Australian Parliament has passed amendments to its industrial relations laws, the Fair Work Act, to allow for matters concerning workplace bullying to be heard in its Commission, once the laws pass the Senate.. But recent media and parliamentary discussion on this action seems to forgotten the welfare of the bullied workers.

Professor Andrew Stewart of the University of Adelaide is reported to have said that there is a risk that the Fair Work Commission will be “swamped” with bullying complaints and that a system of filtering should be applied. Such a mechanism is supported by Professor Ron McCallum who said in The Australian on 14 June 2013:

“I would agree with the Coalition that there should be some filtering mechanism because we don’t know how many complaints there are going to be,” he said. “There’s been wildly varying suggestions.

Continue reading “Legal changes on workplace bullying are forgetting the workers”

No one is mentioning OHS prosecution in Telstra/NBN asbestos stoush

Australian politics is currently embroiled in a dispute generated by a contractor entering the telecommunications pits of the asset owner. Some, or many, of the pits contain asbestos and the contractor’s work, the laying of new fibre-optic cables, may disturb the asbestos. There are many other concerns but that is the nub.

The Australian newspaper has been running on this issue for many weeks but one article in today’s edition called “Tak​ing a dig: will Bill come up short?” (page 9 – online paywall), by David Crowe, caught my attention. Crowe reports that:

“The Aus­tralian has been told Tel­stra chief ex­ec­u­tive David Thodey wrote to Shorten in De­cem­ber 2009 to ar­gue against his pro­posal for a ‘‘proac­tive’’ pro­gram to re­move as­bestos from the com­pany’s pits. Thodey gave three rea­sons for not pro­ceed­ing: the cost; the risk of re­leas­ing as­bestos; and the fact plans for the NBN were in train but had not been locked in.”

I realise that the OHS legislative concept of “reasonably practicable” does not extend to all facets of life but if it were applied to the current asbestos exposure (and I think it could) Thodey’s three reasons given above would be crucial in any potential prosecution, particularly if the reasons in Thodey’s response to Bill Shorten were listed in order of priority. In OHS law, cost is the last element to be considered in determining a reasonably practicable hazard control measure.

Continue reading “No one is mentioning OHS prosecution in Telstra/NBN asbestos stoush”