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”

Employee Accommodation and Executive Accountability

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SafetyAtWorkBlog has been following the aftermath of the rape and assault of a nurse working in a remote area of Australia for well over a year.  The issue has many personal and political aspects to it.  The most recent blog mention was the demotion of the CEO of the Torres Strait District Health Service.

Queensland is in the middle of a close election campaign and the Premier Anna Bligh on 11 March 2009 made an extraordinary move of removing the responsibility for employee housing from the Department of Health to the Department of Public Works.  Bligh was also scathing of her own ministers.  Her statement is below.

What Bligh’s decision seems to affect is a removal of the OHS obligations for a safe and healthy work environment from the organisation that is the employer of the health staff.  This will obviously need some clarification.

It may mean that Queensland Health may have to be the go-between between staff requests for repairs and the agency that undertakes the repairs.  It is doubtful that such an administrative process will be any quicker than what has already occurred – a process that Bligh says “does not meet a reasonable timeframe”. 

The broader political messages for the Premier’s Cabinet colleagues is discussed in an article in today’s Australian newspaper.

The issue of the security of government employees was again in the media when commonwealth government-employed staff were attacked in remote areas of Australia.  

“Statement by Premier – health staff housing

This afternoon I have spoken with both the Health Minister and the Director General of Queensland Health and have been advised as follows:

  • All health staff houses classified as extreme or high risk by the audit in the Torres Strait region have had all required work completed
  • Two of the 101 houses identified are no longer used for staff accommodation and the remaining 99 have all had locks checked and passed inspection or had new locks fitted
  • To date, 45 houses have had all work completed
  • Further work to be completed on the remaining 54 houses includes additional work such as the installation of path lighting

However, even though progress on this work is on-going in regional centres, it has failed to meet a reasonable time frame.

This failure to meet a reasonable time frame highlights that the core business of Queensland Health is running our hospitals and other health facilities and taking care of sick Queenslanders – not the business of maintaining staff accommodation and housing.

Accordingly, today I have directed that responsibility for health staff accommodation maintenance and upgrading be transferred in full to the Department of Public Works.

Further, I have directed that the work on this staff housing be completed by Easter.

It is completely unacceptable that this work has taken such a long period of time to bring to this standard and I’ve made this absolutely clear to both the Minister and the Director General.

From tomorrow, Queensland Health will no longer be responsible for staff accommodation.”

Kevin Jones

CEO loses job over safety failures

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Health funding and management is a constant political issue.  The attention increases hugely during election campaigns like the one that is currently occurring in the Australian state of Queensland.

This week the leader of the opposition parties, Lawrence Springborg, called for the release of a government report into the sexual attack on a nurse and security in Torres Strait islands.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has written repeatedly on OHS issues associated with the attack in February 2008.  Springborg has pledged increased safety resources for remote area nurses.

Queensland Health reports on 25 February 2009 that the CEO of the Torres Strait District’s health service CEO has been stood aside as a result of the government’s investigation.  The statement reads

“Director-General Michael Reid said the Crime and Misconduct Commission had reviewed the report by the Ethical Standards Unit and was satisfied with the investigation.
“Some allegations that members of the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Health Service District executive did not act appropriately were upheld by this investigation,” he said. “We accept this investigation has found serious faults in the way Queensland Health staff responded to this critical incident and we are taking immediate action.”
The CEO of the Torres Strait-Northern Peninsula District has been stood down, effective immediately, while her role with Queensland Health is under further consideration.”

Many of the issues raised relate to possible corruption and improper behaviour by the Queensland Health and others.  These are the political points that Springborg is likely to chase.  

In terms of occupational health and safety, the focus of this blog, Queensland Health says

“There is substantial evidence that there has been a systemic failure by the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Health Service District to acknowledge and address workplace health and safety issues within the District over a long period of time.”

“There is sufficient evidence to conclude, on the balance of probabilities, that members of the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Health Service District (TSNPHSD)
Executive responded inappropriately and insensitively when notified of the alleged rape of a Remote Island Nurse on Mabuiag Island on or around 5 February 2008.”

“Further, there is sufficient evidence exists to find, on the balance of probabilities, that the repatriation of the remote area nurse from the outer islands as not managed or coordinated at a level cognisant with the seriousness of the events which had occurred.”

It is no wonder the CEO of the health service has lost her job.  It is a little surprising that more, and more prominent, heads have not rolled.  It is suspected that this may be one of the aims of the opposition politicians during the current election campaign.

To return to our core issue of OHS and accountability, this result clearly indicates that senior executives, particularly in the public sector in this instance, must take a preventative approach to the health, safety and security of their staff, wherever the employee is located.

Kevin Jones