Australian OHS awards need reviewing now more than ever

The various government safety awards process in Australia needs a thorough coordinated review in order to maintain their relevance.  Earlier last year WorkSafe Victoria tried a new strategy to increase community participation in their awards process.  This involved monthly mini-awards and nominees calling on their friends and professional networks for support and votes.  It was worth a try but WorkSafe Victoria went it alone and it will be difficult to sustain this strategy without broader support, probably from the other States.

SafetyAtWorkBlog stated following last year’s national safety awards ceremony that change was required but no one took up the challenge.  The need for review was even more evident at this year’s Safe Work Australia Awards held last week.  The lacklustre atmosphere could have been partly due to an MC, Paul McDermott, who is more comfortable piercing the pretensions of institutions.  In these awards, it would have been rude to make fun of workplace safety.  McDermott understood this and could only make jokes of his own brushes with danger, such as having his scrotum pierced with a winklepinker. But it is more likely that the awards had more serious deficiencies. Continue reading “Australian OHS awards need reviewing now more than ever”

Bill Shorten speaks at the Safe Work Australia Awards

Australia’s Employment and Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten had a very busy day on 26 April 2012 with the recent actions over the management of the Health Services Union.  Tha evening he spoke eloquently and passionately at the Annual Safe Work Australia Awards. Not only did he speak but he also spent several hours speaking with award finalists winners. At these sorts of functions many politicians cannot wait to escape. But Bill Shorten is enormously well qualified for his role as the minister for employment relations, including workplace safety.

He diverged strongly from his written speech yet there was one section that he clearly felt strongly about and it is a point that many safety professionals should remember:

“Hazards and risks and the entire approach to risk assessment and risk management generally do not address what really happens at work. Beaconsfield gold mine had such a system. Longford oil and gas refinery had such a system before sections of it blew up in 1998.

It is not the systems or the fancy talk about culture that will save people’s lives.” (link added) Continue reading “Bill Shorten speaks at the Safe Work Australia Awards”

Is OHS harmonisation a dead parrot or is it just pining?

In The Australian newspaper on 3 April 2012, Judith Sloan presents a useful summary of the status of the OHS harmonisation process.  Many of her criticisms are valid but she has not realised that the new Work Health and Safety laws stopped being occupational health and safety laws some time ago.  It is easier to understand the proposed changes if one accepts that these laws have broadened beyond the workplace to operate more as public health and safety laws.

It is possible to accept Sloan’s assertion of the “demise”of OHS harmonisation but if seen in the light of an integrated public/workplace health and safety law, the harmonisation process may be a welcome beginning to a broader application of safety in public and occupational lives.

The acceptance of this interpretation provides very different comparisons and linkages.  For instance, the shopper tripping on a mat in the vegetable section of a supermarket was likely, in the past, to receive recompense through public liability insurance. Now it could equally be under OHS laws.  The regulation of potential legionella sources was through the Health Department, even though many of these are in workplaces and often affect workers first.  Should cooling towers have been assessed by hygienists or occupational hygienists?  Should these be managed under an employer’s OHS management system or through the facilities manager or landlord?
Continue reading “Is OHS harmonisation a dead parrot or is it just pining?”

New Workers’ Memorial announced for Australia

In May 2011, the Australian Government announced the development of a National Worker’s Memorial.  The winning design, selected by an independent jury from a competitive pool of 26 entries, was announced in Canberra this evening.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten announced that Architects Johnson Pilton Walker have been awarded the task.  In a media statement Shorten said that

 “The memorial will honour and pay tribute to all working Australians who have died as a result of work-related accidents, incidents and disease… It will also provide an important focal point for the national commemoration of Workers’ Memorial Day, recognised internationally on 28 April each year.” Continue reading “New Workers’ Memorial announced for Australia”

The Australian newspaper dismisses workplace deaths as “sickies”

Safe Work Australia has released two important statistical reports. One concerns the number of Work-Related Traumatic Injury Fatalities for 2009-10 and the other is called The Cost of Work-Related injury and Illness for Australian Employers, Workers and the Community: 2008-09 .

These reports have gained minimal mainstream media coverage. In a very short article The Australian newspaper preferred to focus on productivity clauses in workplace agreements following a departmental report, as is its choice, but, more significantly, the newspaper’s headline dismisses the report’s cost estimates on “work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths” as “sickies”.  The report on costs, from where The Australian drew its $A60 billion reference, includes an evaluation of the cost of workplace fatalities, defined in the report on page 18 as

“a work-related injury or disease, which results in death.”

It is enormously insulting that the newspaper includes workplace deaths in its disparaging headline “Workers’ sickies costing us $60bn”. Minister Bill Shorten states in his media release accompanying the reports that:

“Work-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities have a huge impact on Australian society. They can physically and mentally affect workers, colleagues, employers, families and the community. This latest research is evidence of the significant cost to Australia’s economy. Workplace safety is not just about avoiding human tragedy it is also about reducing economic cost for the nation.”

At a time when the Federal Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, is trying to bring some rigour and dignity to the issue of workplace safety, The Australian newspaper should be ashamed.

Kevin Jones