The review of Australia’s OHS laws starts

In 19 February 2018, Safe Work Australia (SWA) “launched” the independent review of Australia’s Work Health and Safety laws under former Executive Director of SafeWorkSA, Marie Boland.  SWA has released a 49-page discussion paper, a summary and a list of questions.  Below is an initial response to some of those questions.

What are your views on the effectiveness of the three-tiered approach – model WHS Act supported by model WHS Regulations and model WHS Codes – to achieve the object of the model WHS laws?

The structure works well, when business owners know of the relevant documents.

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New workplace mental health clinical guidelines provide clarity

In 2016, a survey of General Practitioners (GPs) conducted by Monash University identified that GPs frequently struggled with patients involved with workers compensation and that mental illnesses were particularly problematic.

In January 2018 Monash University, with the support of major institutions and safety

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“so we know we’ve had laws, but why haven’t we had change?”

Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, has been prominent in recent seminars about sexual harassment, particularly in the entertainment industry.  In February 2018, Jenkins spoke at a seminar in Melbourne hosted by Screen Producers  Australia and provided strong advice on how businesses can control sexual harassment.

Jenkins began her presentation with an uncomfortable reminder that business has been lax in addressing unlawful workplace behaviour.

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Embrace the irrational

In 2008 the brothers Brafman wrote “Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior“.  They tell the story of Ori Brafman being told, on his first day in his MBA course in Tel Aviv in the 1980s, that

“People aren”t rational.”

In my 1990s tertiary course into OHS Risk Management, we were still being referred to the 1965 book, “The Rational Manager“.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) seems to still be based on an assumption of rationality in OHS management systems, decision-making and working yet it does not take too much exposure to the reality of work to understand that we must anticipate irrationality.

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The reality is all about perception

Occupational health and safety (OHS) policy makers are keen on making decisions based on evidence.  But evidence seems hard to get, for many reasons.

Some people, including those in workplace relations and OHS, often fill the evidence gap with “anecdotal evidence”.  Frequently people being interviewed are asked for evidence to substantiate their claims and respond that “anecdotally” there is a problem yet there is no sample size for this evidence, there is no clarity or definition of the incident or issue – it is simply “what I heard” or “what I’ve been told”.  Using anecdotal evidence is okay as long as its inherent uncertainty is acknowledged and it is not used as a basis for substantial change.

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