On the afternoon of May 8 2020 the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, revealed the decisions of the National Cabinet. This is a national plan developed with the agreement of State Premiers and Chief Ministers who will be largely responsible for how this plan is implemented in their local jurisdictions. Many of the occupational health and safety (OHS) challenges have been anticipated by business owners as discussed in this morning’s blog article but it is worth looking at the infographics of the plan revealed by Morrison and Murphy but also the transcript of the press conference as that provides an important context to what the government expects to happen.
The government released two infographics, one was four pages of the broad plan, the other is that plan split into industry sectors.
Many Australian workplaces will be reopening in the next few weeks. Their productivity capacity will change, their workplaces, will change and their approach to, and understanding of, occupational health and safety (OHS) will need to change. But there are signs that some business owners and employers are embracing risk and safety in this new operating climate but there are others who are either denying the changes needed, are struggling to think creatively, are ill-informed or are stupid. Most of these realities were on display in a single edition of the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on May 8, 2020 (paywalled) – the primary source for this article.
The timing of the newspaper edition is important as it was published on the morning before the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, revealed the decisions of the National Cabinet. A further blog article will be produced on those decisions shortly.
Lifts and Whinging
The AFR front page carried a short story called “Elevated risks in office lifts” that shows the deficiencies of several thought processes mentioned above.
One indication that the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) is a different beast to the Safety Institute of Australia is the willingness for its CEO, David Clarke, to speak honestly about occupational health and safety (OHS) issues. In early February 2020, Clarke spoke at a breakfast seminar about Australian Standards, “the false promise of harmonisation”, engagement and leadership.
The discussion of “organisational culture” has tried to remain apolitical or amoral, but it always relies of case studies to illustrate the academic and ephemeral. Largely these studies involve major disasters, but few people work in heavy industry, chemical plants, or offshore oil rigs. Better examples could be sought by looking at other industries, such as the Catholic Church. (I really hope someone is examining this relationship in a PhD)
The discussions about occupational health and safety (OHS) and its relevance to COVID19 has finally touched the mainstream media with an article in The Age newspaper on May 7, 2020. The article is largely a reiteration of statements made by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the Minister for Industrial Relations over the last few days but it is the first time that Safe Work Australia (SWA) has joined in.
The Chair of Safe Work Australia, Diane Smith-Gander has stated that additional regulations may have unintended consequences. She is quoted saying:
“We’ve got to let that system operate,… If we try to over-regulate and over-legislate, we will have unintended consequences for sure.”