The next gig job must be safer and healthier

A man in different kind of occupations. Credit:
bowie15

A lot of focus is currently on casual workers as their jobs disappear due to the responses to the COVID19 coronavirus. Australia has around 2.6 million of them and there are many more workers who may be classified as Part Time but operate on uncertain rosters and are, in reality, as precarious as casual employees. Occupational health and safety (OHS) is struggling to address the hazards presented by modern variations of precarious work, such as gig economy workers, because it, and government economic and employment policy more generally, is structured on the assumption of Full Time Employment (FTE) with work occurring mainly from nine to five, on weekdays with weekends off.

Consideration of precarious worker OHS may seem a lesser priority at the moment as many of us are quarantined or quarantine by choice but at some point, hopefully, within the next twelve months, business will resume. However, that business model and structure is unlikely to be the same. Indeed, it should not be same as the risk profile for all businesses and the community generally has changed. So, let’s have a look at some of the recent thinking about precarious work and the OHS risks so that we can build a better, safer model.

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Sexual harassment changes are percolating slowly

Discussion on the report into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces went missing last weekend which included International Women’s Day. March 8 generalised much of the discussion on the need for new approaches to feminism, wages and gender equity. This is not to say that organisations had forgotten about the National Inquiry’s Final Report or the occupational health and safety (OHS) context, but few were as blunt about the issue as broadcaster Virginia Trioli and workplace lawyer Liberty Sanger on ABC radio this week.

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Emerging OHS risks and strategies in Ballarat

On 25 February 2020, I spoke at a breakfast seminar at the Ballarat Regional Occupational Safety & Health Group (BROSH) on emerging OHS risks and strategies. Below is an edited version of that talk, which touched on CORVID19, bushfire smoke, sexual harassment, mental health, safety culture and communication:

Industrial Manslaughter

Industrial Manslaughter laws will come into effect in Victoria in the middle of this year.  Anyone who thinks these laws may relate to their workplace or how their businesses are run, should be afraid.  But they should also be ashamed.  If they are worried about going to jail because their OHS decisions may be negligent, they are not managing the safety and health of their workers in the way the law intended, or the Regulator and the community expects.  They should be ashamed.

If you need an authoritative and informative speaker on workplace health and safety for your event, or just good, practical OHS advice, email Kevin Jones
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Accountability in all that we do

“The way we do things around here” is a rough explanation to what many people mean by culture and, especially, a workplace safety culture. A culture is built or strengthened through personal interaction, conversations, relationship and a shared responsibility. Part of this is an expectation that workers will look out for each (which is also a legislative obligation), and crucial to this is the concept of the “ethical bystander“.

But recently this concept was applied in a new way in an American Court when a woman, Lisa Ricchio, who was kept and sexually assaulted repeatedly in a hotel room, sued the hotel alleging that the hotel owners financially benefited from the crime.

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OHS needs to ride the ESG wave

The current Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) movement can be seen as the latest iteration of companies and business owners reflecting on the broader purposes of running a business.  An earlier manifestation of this reflection was Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).  ESG and CSR are similar perspectives from different times but with a fundamental continuity.

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is integral to CSR/ESG/Sustainability considerations but is often overlooked or considered as a business add-on, a situation that has been allowed to persist by the OHS profession, Regulators and others over many decades.

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