Occupational health and safety (OHS) is rarely reported on in the mainstream newspapers but every week OHS is there, adding a contect to a scandal or subtext to a public health risk. Last weekend was no different. The Guardian of September 16, 2023 reported on a review of personal relationships by BP, a prison escape, deaths from air pollution, a more relaxed approach to work, shoplifting and customer aggression, and more.
It’s been years since I have seen anything in the Australian press about companies or individuals being penalised for asbestos contamination. That despite workers telling me since being back in Australia, they have suspected asbestos when demolishing older domestic, cultural and industrial structures or even while digging shallow excavations in preparation for construction or mining.
It seems like Australian fashion for deregulation may have bitten into OHS.
The Australian Industry Group (AIGroup) has published an article intended to rebuild trust between workers and employers and is based on a “Tight Loose Tight” concept. It seems to make sense and maybe moreso to its intended audience but it is missing essential integration.
Last year I watched Trainwreck, a documentary on the Woodstock ‘99 music festival. After watching, I took a moment to pause and reflect. I asked myself, have we as a society, and as health and safety professionals, really learned and improved as much as we could have? Over the past five years, Splendour in the Grass, Fyre Festival, Astro World and Houston Music Festival have all experienced unsafe and unhealthy practices, and even fatal occurrences. These events are not typically discussed in the occupational health and safety circle, and they are not the usual scenarios that are looked to for lessons learned. Nor are the recovery efforts presented at conferences, with improvements showcased and implemented at the next event.
A recent Crikey article quotes a Qantas pilot saying “you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”. Australian businesses are gfighting asgainst wage increases, so they must want to employ “monkeys”.
Australia is engaging in its ritual industrial relations (IR) arguments about productivity, pay and conditions. Business concerns are that the IR changes will increase business costs beyond the point of sustainability (ie. Profitability), as always. Trade unions want improved worker pay and conditions.
OK, let me own up. In 1999, I wrote Working for Life A Source Book on Occupational Health for Women. Earlier, I was posted to Indonesia to head up a program on occupational health and safety with the International Labour Organisation (ILO). I was supposed to improve the skills of labour inspectors, using specific training devised by other highly paid experts with the ILO.
What wasn’t included was how to cover corruption and studied ineptitude. Factory inspections inevitably concluded with the uniformed inspectors carting goods ‘donated’ back home.
RUOK? Day is held in September each year in Australia. The workplace suicide awareness campaign has been very successful, but over time, I have observed a decline in effectiveness, certainly at the local communication level. It may be a victim of its own success as almost all awareness campaigns struggle to maintain their original freshness. Perhaps it is time for a change. Perhaps that change is being forced upon us.