Dehumanising OHS

A recent online article started:

“We all deserve to leave for work each day, knowing that if we say goodbye to our loved ones, it’s not goodbye forever. And when we’re at work, our laws should protect us and keep us safe.”

It contains a heartfelt sentiment but also perpetuates a myth. Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) laws do not protect us or keep us safe. They establish a socio-legal framework that needs to be enforced by a combination of employers, workers, Regulators, Health and Safety Representatives, bystanders, the public, the government, relatives, and others, depending on the work situation at the time.

Just as “mindful” has a different subtext to “careful” so we need to avoid empowering laws beyond their design and dehumanising the OHS process. We need to remember that people are integral to the enforcement of OHS laws, duties and obligations for if we remove people from this activity, OHS becomes a responsibility of everyone and no one.

Kevin Jones

BTW, the article is a lovely profile of Lana Cormie

More OHS information on Midfield Meats

Recently The Monthly magazine took a close look at the labour practices of Midfield Meats (paywalled), a major Warrnambool company and meat exporter that had been, yet again, successfully prosecuted by WorkSafe Victoria. There are workplace safety elements to The Monthly’s story that were not as prominent as other issues and there were some questions for companies and governments that have supported Midfield in the past.

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OHS will ease the Work From Home transition

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to promise a return to normal but it is impossible to return to a previous point in time without denying the changes that have occurred since then. Morrison speaks of this normality in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic and may offer some understanding of his reticence to act on global warming as climate change will never allow a return to normal.

One of the workplace changes exacerbated by the pandemic is the working from home (WFH) option. Recently businesses are starting to accept this new normal, sometimes backed by research. Many businesses are in a state of (I would argue, permanent) transition. On July 2, 2021, Benjamin Clark offered a useful summary of the WFH state of play for Crikey (possibly paywalled) with some overlap to a November 2020 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on Working From Anywhere (WFA).

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“Careful” being replaced by “Mindful”

American television drama Hill Street Blues almost always included a pre-work briefing with the senior officer concluding with a “Let’s be careful out there”.  Whether the officers paid attention to this all the time is debatable, but it was an important statement that revolved around Care.

In occupational health and safety (OHS) briefings and political speech, Care is often replaced by alternative words, particularly “Mindful” – “Let’s be mindful out there”. Does this mean the same as Careful? Why replace the word Care? Are we embarrassed by Care? Does Care promise more than we can deliver?

OHS is based on a principle of the Duty of Care. One of the most useful discussions of this principle is the 2005 West Australian guidance on this. It says:

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COVID, Blame and Employers

Australia has not had a crisis in public health to the magnitude of COVID-19 for a very long time. It is understandable for people to look at a public health crisis through the reference point of their own experience and profession. There is an overlap between the management of the pandemic and occupational health and safety (OHS), but that overlap should not be inflated.

Jason Thompson wrote an excellent (and recommended) article on COVID-19 and blame for the University of Melbourne titled “Get Ready for a Shift in the COVID Blame Game”. I had the chance to put a few questions to him about the article.

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Political attack falls flat

There is an animosity between the Liberal Party in Victoria and some of its sympathetic media and WorkSafe Victoria, particularly aimed at the CEO, Colin Radford. Most of this has been played out in the mainstream media, but recently, in the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) of the Victorian Parliament, the Deputy Chair, Richard Riordan (Liberal), slagged off WorkSafe and Radford over Victoria’s Hotel Quarantine Program. His attack was ineffective and showed a lack of understanding of WorkSafe’s enforcement role and occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.

This performance overshadowed some of the points being made by the Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt (ALP), in the hearing. However, she omitted the upcoming imposition of on-the-spot fines.

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Office Noise and Mental Health

Too much weight is given to occupational health and safety (OHS) surveys and research that rely on self-reported data. Such data is subject to social and personal biases. It has its role in the state of knowledge, but its authority and worth is frequently overstated.

A recent research project into the OHS effects of working in open-plan offices removed this level of subjectivity by using a simulated office environment. The researchers’ findings provide a useful context to office design (not a new issue) and work-related mental health, especially when workers are being encouraged to return to the office.

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