Australia Day and OHS

[Article updated at 5.00pm]

Three Australians have received recognition on today’s Australia Day HonoursKate Cole, Michelle Baxter and Sharann Johnson for occupational health and safety work, The official citations are for “For service to workplace health and safety”, “For outstanding public service to the health and safety of Australian workplaces and the community, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic” and “For significant service to community health as an occupational hygienist, and to service groups” respectively.

I have never met these recipients, but I have heard several of them speak in various locations and media. The Australia Day process itself provides very little detail of accomplishments, so it is up to each of us to watch for mentions and profiles in the media over the next week or so. To help in this endeavour, below are some relevant links and hashtags.

Many award recipients have affected health and safety conditions in various workplaces. The health care setting and COVID-19 are of particular relevance, but occupational health and safety rarely gets this level of recognition. Often, no one receives an award in this sector, so this year is unique and important.

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The unmentioned OHS

Occupational health and safety (OHS) people know how to fix most hazards at work but often have very little power and insufficient influence to apply the fix. That is why OHS people need to read the business sections of major newspapers and mainstream media business websites. It is there that the executives and corporate leaders discuss OHS changes, even if they never say “workplace health and safety”. An article in last weekend’s The Guardian provides a good example.

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We know how to prevent burnout but we have little desire to change

Probono Australia is reporting that employee burnout is on the rise. Burnout is increasingly being used as an alternative term for mental ill-health or stress at work. The report on which the writer based their article is not surprising, but the recommendations are. The subheading for the article is:

““Structural and cultural shifts, not wellness initiatives, are needed to address the chronic workplace stress of burnout.”

But the article also pulls together other workplace mental health factors:

“The rise of digitisation has brought with it a need to  ‘always be on’ and, with that, employee work-life balance has become harder to maintain. It was this type of ‘24/7 access to employees’ thinking, the study found, that led to burnout.”

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Blaming others after a cock-up

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has a long relationship with Blame. Blame has a long association with Responsibility. In the Australian Financial Review on January 19, 2022, Andrew Hill of the Financial Times wrote about both in relation to Novak Djokovic’s actions that led to his deportation.

Djokovic said that one of his administrative team completed his travel declaration incorrectly.

“…. my agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box.”

Hill states that regardless of who completes paperwork on your behalf, you are responsible for the document as it is your document that you are submitting. You are responsible for the document and ensuring that the document is correct.

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Australia’s Prime Minister shows his ineffectiveness on OHS and COVID

Pragmatism was a theme of yesterday’s blog article. On January 19 2022, Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, showed political pragmatism in his press conference. His comments could create more discomfort between State and Federal jurisdiction and more occupational health and safety (OHS) confusion for business owners and employers.

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Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) laws continue to be relevant even when operating in a time of a highly infectious pandemic, but they are increasingly sidelined.

At the moment there are labour shortages in Australia because of the large number of workers infected, and affected, by the Omicron variant of COVID-19; a shortage exacerbated by the varying isolation and testing regimes applied by the Federal and State governments. It is a bit of a mess.

It is worth reminding ourselves that employers have a duty to proved a safe and healthy work environment with the support of employees. Employees are obliged to not allow hazards to be brought to work. At the moment, some employees are being encouraged or required to return to work if they are showing no COVID-19 symptoms; if they are asymptomatic. But everyone knows from experience and official advice over the last two years that asymptomatic people can continue to be infectious. Requiring workers to return to work, as seemed to be happening at one South Australian worksite, while still potentially infectious seems contrary to both the employer’s and employee’s OHS obligations.

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