University sexual assault – an OHS perspective

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The community and media responses to the Australian Human Rights Commission report into sexual assault and harassment in Australian universities continue but until the Australian Government responds, it is unclear how the risks will be reduced, particularly as many members of the current Federal Government have been openly hostile to the AHRC and its previous Commissioner, Gillian Triggs.  After having rubbished the Commissioner and the institution, how will the government respond?

Following on from the very popular SafetyAtWorkBlog article about the report yesterday, it is worth looking at the AHRC recommendations in the occupational health and safety (OHS) context.

It should be noted that OHS places the principal responsibility on the employer, in this instance, the universities and the Vice-Chancellors.  Some have already started to call on the government to play a role, with implications that it should be leading the change: Continue reading “University sexual assault – an OHS perspective”

OHS is PHS (public health and safety) but government needs to catch up

The Australian Human Rights Commission has released a report into the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault in Australia’s university campuses. It has revealed some shocking statistics and brings Australian universities into the global phenomenon of reassessing university obligations for the modern world.

Australia’s occupational health and safety laws and obligations could be used as a structure for preventing assaults and harassment if the government and universities would be brave enough to use them.

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Building a better future but maybe not a safer one

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Cover of ACTU Blueprint 2015The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has a strong commitment to safe and healthy workplaces in Australia and would likely assert that nothing is more important than the safety of workers. However the latest submission to government on economic and social reform, “Building a Better Future – a Strong Economy for All” (not yet available online), has missed the chance to bring occupational health and safety (OHS) into the current policy debate on economic and productivity reforms. Continue reading “Building a better future but maybe not a safer one”

Safety change through rape?!

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At many occupational health and safety seminars and conferences in Australia there is often an OHS professional in the audience who says that jail time is the only real and effective deterrent for those breaking safety laws, usually in the context of gross negligence, reckless endangerment or industrial manslaughter.  The threat of imprisonment is indeed a deterrent for some people.

But sometimes there is an OHS professional who colours their call for imprisonment by suggesting that, once in prison, offenders should be harmed or even raped.  An example appeared on an OHS discussion forum within the last week.  The comment, on an issue of fall prevention, included this phrase:

“Only need to send a few for a short holiday with “Bubba” and some soap on a rope, to get the message across to the masses.”

This person is suggesting that the deprivation of liberty is insufficient punishment for an OHS offence and that the offender should also be raped.  What does this say about the real values of a person whose profession is based on harm minimisation and the elimination of hazards?

If, as The Guardian newspaper says, the two main principles for jail are “in order to punish wrongdoers, and to remove the danger they would otherwise pose to the wider world”, where is the justification for abuse?

The “Bubba” comment above, and many similar comments I have heard over the years, may be an extension of the cynicism that many OHS professionals seem to acquire over their time in the profession.  But it is also offensive and shows an approach to humanity that I do not share and that I believe has no place in the OHS profession, or anywhere, for that matter.  It is lazy thinking, and these thoughts come from those who advise Australian businesses!  It is a shameful situation.

Kevin Jones

Brothel safety gains new media attention

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The occupational health and safety of sex workers is one of the most difficult areas to write about as the industry is politically and ideologically charged with matters of feminist ideology, human rights and sex trafficking, religious morality and NIMBY lobbying.  In such an environment, it is important that the OHS needs of sex workers not be forgotten.

On 13 July 2011, The Age newspaper reported on the threat of legal action by one sex workers on a Victorian licensed brothel, Butterflys of Blackburn.  The article raised many OHS issues for the brothel industry.  In short, the article reports that a sex worker is suing the brothel because the brothel, allegedly, established an expectation that the sex workers would allow unprotected sex, sexual acts without a condom or other protection, an offence under Victorian law.  This particular sex worker’s experience in Butterflys of Blackburn was that, when refusing unprotected sex to a client, the client assaulted her, attempted to rape her and threatened her with a gun.

The Age reports that the woman “has since been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, whiplash in her neck and a torn muscle in her shoulder.”  The worker is already receiving workers’ compensation and is pursuing compensation for permanent impairment.  Her plans for suing the brothel relate to the accusation that the brothel failed to provide a safe workplace. Continue reading “Brothel safety gains new media attention”