Brexit, Boris and OHS

One reader has asked about the occupational health and safety (OHS) impacts of Brexit. This article looks specifically at The Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto to identify potential OHS-related actions and intentions. The relevance for Australian readers is that UK and Australian politics frequently feed off each other.

The United Kingdom’s OHS laws have been greatly affected during the country’s membership of the European Union (EU). This has been seen as a nuisance by some but some EU safety Directives, such as Seveso 1, 2 & 3, have assisted many countries in establishing or strengthening their own regulations on specific hazards. EU safety rules seem amazingly complex for someone who has no involvement with them but then any economic community of over two dozen countries can seem baffling to an OHS writer who operates from an island with a small population in the Southern Hemisphere.

What can be said is that the UK will need to accommodate the “best” of the EU OHS laws in their own legislative structure, if it has not already. It is unlikely the UK will remove OHS rules that serve a positive, i.e. harm prevention, purpose unless there is a very good reason. But sometimes it seems that good reasons are not required, only political reasons.

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Alright stop, collaborate and listen

On 2 December 2019, Australia’s Attorney-General, Christian Porter released a discussion paper about workplace relations in the hope of sparking contributions on how cooperative workplaces can create productivity improvements. Any discussion paper on productivity and workplace from the current conservative government is loaded with neoliberal ideology but one of the questions posed is:

“What has been the experience with techniques and practices to foster cooperative workplaces including…. Collaborative development of Health and Safety policies.”

It is not unreasonable for this to be seen as an opening for a broad discussion about the concept of Consultation included in Australia’s workplace health and safety laws, as the improvement of health and safety requires collaboration, trust respect and other elements in the discussion paper. The parallels between Collaboration and Consultation were on show at the Australian Labor Party’s national conference twelve months ago.

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New Zealand leads on wellbeing

A couple of months ago, SafetyAtWorkBlog mentioned New Zealand’s Wellbeing Budget. Last week a representative of the NZ Treasury, Ruth Shinoda, spoke about it from direct experience in Melbourne at the 7th Global Healthy Workplace Summit. The Wellbeing Budget and a complimentary Living Standard Framework provide important contrasts to how Australia is valuing the healthy and safety of its citizens and workers.

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Looks good but could be better

The Australian Financial Review on October 1 2019 contained an exclusive report on consulting firm (paywalled) Deloitte’s approach to mental health at work matters coinciding with National Safe Work Month. The original document is unlikely to be publicly released but Edmund Tadros‘ report provides some quotes and insights. The initiative seems very positive until you consider it in light of organisational changes recommended to control and prevent this psychological hazards from Safe Work Australia (SWA) guidance.

Tadros quotes Deloitte’s Australian CEO Richard Deutsch:

“Mr Deutsch said in the message that individual differences could mean “what I find stressful you may find motivating, and vice versa. I don’t want anyone to feel their health and wellbeing is compromised because of work”.

This broad statement fits with the employer’s duties under occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, so it’s a good start. But doubts about the strategy start to emerged when Deutsch mentions workload, a contentious issue for Deloitte’s junior staff:

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Red Tape comeback

The need to reduce Red Tape is getting another run in Australia through the lobbying of the Business Council 0f Australia and its CEO, Jennifer Westacott. “Red Tape” can be defined in many ways but it is often synonymous with government interference, of which occupational health and safety (OHS) regulation and enforcement is considered part.

In an interview with Laura Tchilinguirian on ABC News Radio on 16 September 2019 Westacott said that the community, which sounds mostly like business people:

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