Some good presenters, some great, but OHS conferences need more work

What was missing most from the recent conference of the Asia Pacific Occupational Safety and Health Organisation was a strong Asia-Pacific voice. Certainly, there were presentations by Asian OHS professionals and some westerners working in Asia, but the keynote speakers were almost from Anglo-European cultures. This made it hard to understand if the conference was designed for Asian safety and health professionals to learn from us or for Australians to learn from them. Perhaps it was just for all of us to learn as a profession.

Some of the keynote speakers offered universal suggestions for improving the management of workplace health and safety, but perhaps these were so universal as to be generic or safe. For instance, one of the greatest challenges for the Asian region, in particular, is ensuring the safety of migrant workers. There was one mention of the deaths of the World Cup construction workers, and that was in passing.

Below is a summary of the conference and some of the occupational health and safety issues (OHS) raised.

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More OHS activists needed

The Australian Government is set to introduce new workplace sexual harassment laws and obligations through Parliament. In The Saturday Paper on November 5 2022 (paywalled), businesswoman Lucy Hughes Turnbull wrote a short article that reminds us of the purpose of the new laws.

“The whole idea of the Me Too movement and the Respect@Work report was to make workers safer. So it was surprising that the politicians who resisted some of the Jenkins recommendations are often the ones most willing to drape themselves in worker safety gear. Protection from abuse and harassment is another key aspect of safety, like guardrails and fire exit signs. Now the legal system recognises it as such.
This latest work safety bill is the best gift the parliament could give to mark the fifth anniversary of the global Me Too movement. Together with more paid parental leave and greater access to more affordable childcare, it has been a great few weeks for women and indeed all Australians.”

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When exemplars are far from

Extensive multinational auditing and consulting firms have been hammered for the last few years over the potential conflict of both auditing and advising the same companies and a toxic workplace culture. Most companies will not be able to afford these consultants’ prices, but the conduct of the large companies, the “corporate leaders”, affects every business by setting the standards. The influence of these large companies over public (and work health and safety) policy should also be noted and is being reviewed by some governments.

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The good and the odd in Oz Minerals’ “Safety Stop”

Oz Minerals Managing Director Andrew Cole is reported in today’s Australian Financial Review (paywalled) saying:

“.. there had also been an ‘‘unacceptable’’ trend in workplace safety during the past three months at the mines, but he was confident the trend had stabilised.”

This is likely to have come from the company’s September 2022 Quarterly Report and webcast released yesterday.

The company’s one-day “stop” for safety consultation is admirable, but some of the discussion reported in other media implies that an older-style attitude to worker safety persists.

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Minister could have spoken stronger on OHS at a business event

Recently Australia’s Minister for Resources, Madeleine King, spoke at an event hosted by the Western Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The speech aimed to reassure the State’s mining sector to not feel threatened by the new Australian Labor Party government. However, her words about sexual harassment were a little odd.

According to the publicly released speech, King said this on the issue of the labour shortage in mining and resources:

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Who is responsible for Burnout? And for preventing it?

I apologise for often referring readers to paywalled content. This restriction can affect the impact and flow of a story, but I want readers to be able to verify the sources of my comments and my information. And I acknowledge that this blog, for many, is an example of the economic reality of paywalled content.

However, there was an article in The Guardian on October 11, 2022, about burnout that is well worth reading (You may be able to get short-term access). Below are some extracts from that article with my thoughts.

The Guardian article “‘I didn’t see how I could ever get back to a normal life’: how burnout broke Britain – and how it can recover” by Gaby Hinsliff,, recounts several cases of burnout and near-burnout that are typical of responses to work-related mental ill-health.

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Pressure on local government over procurement and OHS

On a chilly night in Ballarat, over a hundred people gathered outside the Town Hall, within which the City Council was meeting, to let the Council know that the awarding of millions of dollars of ratepayers’ money to a local company that admitted to breaching occupational health and safety (OHS) laws and that led to the deaths of two local workers was not acceptable.

The event seem coordinated by the local Trades Hall Council, for the usual inflatable rat and fat cat were next to the ute, which was blasting out protest songs. Almost all the speakers were trade unionists, although one was Andy Meddick from the Animal Justice Party. The protest may not have achieved the changes that many speakers called for, but as is the case with these types of events, Council has given some ground with a likely review of the OHS procurement criteria.

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