OHS and management courses

Research findings that a sample of business and management courses have little to no OHS content are not surprising and match what has now become fashionable to call “lived experience”. Part of the reason for the findings is that the number of undergraduate courses in OHS has declined, and those that did exist were not often recognised as “management” courses, although OHS can be little else.  They were certainly not “integrated” with other traditional management approaches.

Part of the reason, I like to think, is because OHS principles challenge the ethics underpinning business management courses and concepts.  OHS would say that workers are people and not “units of labour”.  If workers are people for whom we are supposed to apply dignity, respect and care, how can Business exploit the worker’s labour, loyalty and goodwill in order to maximise profits or shareholders’ returns, which are supposed to be the main purposes of modern business?

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Employers’ continuing “intolerable laxity”

Recently a discussion of occupational health and safety (OHS) in Australia’s construction industry during COVID-19 lockdowns was published. “What’s it going to take? Lessons Learned from COVID-19 and worker mental health in the Australian construction industry” is thankfully “open access” and well worth reading for its strong and controversial OHS recommendations, but it could have paid more attention to the role of the employers or Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) in applying legislative OHS obligations and how their resistance continues to harm workers.

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Work-related childrens book

In 2015, I described the classic children’s book The Story of Ferdinand as the most important book about modern OHS (occupational health and safety). My interpretation of it as a book about toxic masculinity and work/life balance will remain relevant as long as it exists. But another example of a children’s book related to work, but more obviously than Ferdinand, is the award-winning picture book Cicada by Shaun Tan.

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Can we move on from HSRs, please?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) needs new thinking. One of the most important elements of successful OHS comes from Consultation – a sensible process and one required by law. A major process for OHS consultation in those laws is through the Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs). This legislative (recommended) option was practical but is now almost an anachronism, yet the OHS regulators continue to support the process because it is in the OHS laws. And few will speak against the process because it is being maintained by the trade union movement as one of the last legacies of political influence over workplace health and safety.

This month Queensland government released its report into the review of its Work Health and Safety laws with these two of the three categories of recommendations:

  • “elevation of the role of health and safety representative (HSR) at the workplace
  • clarification of the rights of HSRs and worker representatives to permit them to effectively perform the role and functions conferred upon them and to remove unnecessary disputation,….”

The absurdity of HSRs’ persistence can be illustrated by the rumour that WorkSafe Victoria will encourage sex workers to follow the HSR consultative process through the OHS guidance expected to be released later this year.

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A management book that offers clarity and confidence

One of the most common complaints of newly graduated workers has been that although the university has provided a lot of knowledge, the courses are short on practical management skills. Occupational health and safety (OHS) is no different. One may learn about the social determinants of health but may have poor skills in managing or interacting with workers and colleagues.

Many try to fill this knowledge gap by reading various management and leadership books. Many choose books from leading business schools like Harvard, but these books are often incompatible with the legislative and cultural requirements of Australia or other local jurisdictions. Sometimes it is time to read a book on the basic concepts, like the Essential Managers Management Handbook, published by Dorling Kindersley in 2022.

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Ballarat ups the OHS best practice in procurement

Six months ago, trade unions and occupational health and safety (OHS) advocates protested outside the Ballarat Council offices over the awarding of a construction contract to Pipecon, a company that was prosecuted over the deaths of two workers in a trench collapse several years earlier. Last week, the council decided to upgrade its procurement practices to provide further weight to the OHS performance of tenderers. In effect, it established a new level of “best practice” by local councils in Victoria.

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The continuation of engineered stone can no longer be supported

The Housing Industry Association (HIA) is an effective government lobbyist for its members who can be relied on to make a submission to whatever opportunity the governments offer. The HIA does not provide details of membership numbers or names, but it does list its sponsors and partners. Recently HIA made a submission on “the prohibition on the use of engineered stone”. Its position held few surprises.

Perhaps also unsurprising is Kate Cole’s justification for a ban on engineered stone.

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