OHS needs to get a seat at the ESG table

There has always been an overlap between environmental safety and occupational health and safety (OHS). This has happened not because of any particular similarity between the two disciplines but rather because of company executives’ duties, responsibilities, and accountabilities.

A recent report produced through the Centre for Policy Development (CPD) says this about climate change responses:

“Care needs to be taken to ensure that climate-related targets and analysis are rigorous, underpinned by appropriate governance, strategy and action, reflected in financial statements as required.”

Replace “climate” with “OHS”, and the overlap is clear. This is particularly important at this time when Australia is preparing its next national OHS strategy.

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Twelve months of work-related deaths

In 2008, prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) advocate, Hilda Palmer wrote about the inadequate estimates of work-related deaths in the United Kingdom. Keeping work-related death confined to traditional categories provides a false understanding of the reality of OHS. Palmer wrote:

“Far from being complacent about the health and safety record in this country, we need to be honest and open, and examine what is really going on”.

Recently, at the 2021 Workers Memorial, a representative of the Victorian Trades Hall read out a list of those who have died at, or due to, work in the last 12 months. It was a list of 47 people. The categories have expanded to include truck incidents, asbestosis, silicosis as well as the more traditional traumatic injuries. Curiously no suicides. A transcripted list of those 47 is below.

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Resilience = the enemy of the Duty of Care

Last year Professor Michael Quinlan and Dr Elsa Underhill wrote about how precarious work arrangements had contributed to the spread and prevalence of COVI19 in Australia and its workplaces. Soon Australia’s Treasurer, Josh Frydenburg, will announce his 2021-22 Budget strategy. It is forecast to include big government spending and in many different areas of Australian industry, but the economy and Australians’ health may be better served by addressing the precarious employment structures on which more and more businesses rely and about which the Government seems disinterested.

In the latest edition of Griffith Review (no. 72), Angela Smith looked at how embedded precarious work is in Australia’s economic rebound. She also looked at how the wellbeing and wellness industries compound the health and safety risks of this type of work in this time of COVID19.

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A “safe” workers memorial

At yesterday’s memorial for workers, Victoria’s Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt (pictured above), announced more financial support for the families of deceased workers. She also pledged that the prevention of illness and injury will remain a focus of WorkSafe Victoria and the government, but the centrepiece of her speech was additional post-incident funding.

According to a media statement in support of her appearance at the memorial outside the Victorian Trades Hall, she announced

“…an increase in support delivered by WorkSafe Victoria’s Family Liaison Officers and Family Support Specialists in the first weeks following a workplace death [including] … appointing external Bereavement Support Workers, who will work with WorkSafe and families to ensure ongoing support is available, particularly ahead of important milestones relating to workplace deaths.”

The Minister’s commitment is consistent with the position of the Andrews Government for some time, especially since the campaign for Industrial Manslaughter penalties. The challenge may come from lobbying for grants for these support services.

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“Hmm, do tell me more” – safety leadership

Recently the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) conducted a lunchtime online seminar on leadership. The speakers were prominent Australian women – Naomi Kemp, Diane Smith-Gander, Kirstin Ferguson and Queensland Minister Grace Grace. Although the seminar was hosted as part of the Women in Safety and Health group, these events are open to everyone. As work-related sexual harassment has shown, men are as involved in the process of safety and harm prevention as are women.

One of the biggest weaknesses of any safety management system, safety culture or safety leadership, comes from hypocrisy. Leaders state the importance of occupational health and safety (OHS) to the business then make decisions where OHS and worker welfare is dismissed or minimised, or rationalised dubiously to “as far as is reasonably practicable”.

Smith-Gander spoke about how executives should embed OHS into all the Board and executive decisions beyond the obligatory and often poor quality “Safety Moments” at the start of a meeting.

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Prevention is better than cure

The Hazelwood Mine Fire was a public health tragedy with an occupational context beyond the prosecution by WorkSafe Victoria. A clear example of the workplace risks was the fire-fighting efforts and the subsequent health impacts of David Briggs. According to a media release from the Maurice Blackburn law firm, Briggs had his successful WorkCover claim upheld by the Victorian Supreme Court last week.

Briggs has been mentioned several times in this blog’s coverage of the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry and the writing of Tom Doig on the catastrophe. His case should cause some very uncomfortable questions.

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Non-military safety lessons from the latest Royal Commission (open access)

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast an episode of The Signal on April 21, 2021, which discussed the complexity of the culture of Australia’s military, and I strongly recommend you listen to it. It does make some points about culture worth contemplating in the context of one’s own workplace and profession.

The most useful point was that an established institution cannot have a uniform culture that meets the expectations of all relevant stakeholders. Generations take their culture with them. So those who started in the military in the 1980s and 1990s (and later) will bring the values and lessons of that time into their maturity and when they move into senior and leadership positions – positions that are intended to both preserve and progress the organisation’s culture. This will result in conflict between the expectations of new recruits and the realities of the established military executives. Not open revolt, but a dissatisfaction that may or may not result in leaving the organisation.

The topic used by The Signal to illustrate the extremes of the defence force members and stakeholders was mental health.

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