In 2018, Marie Boland will be conducting an independent review of Australia’s Work Health and Safety laws to see if the laws are
“… achieving their original objectives, and if they have resulted in any unintended consequences.”
We may already be seeing one of the unintended consequences. On December 22, 2017, SafeWork NSW granted an exemption on audiometric testing requirements.
One online news site in Australia has suggested that sexual harassment is an occupational health and safety (OHS) issue. At first blush, it should be. Sexual harassment can create mental ill-health and can certainly be harmful. But from the early days of discussions about workplace bullying and occupational violence in Australia, sexual harassment has been consciously excluded from OHS.
Is It or Isn’t It?
Some of the best discussion on bullying, harassment and violence was written by Dr Clare Mayhew for the Australian Institute of Criminology in 2000. These included a practical handbook on prevention. (It’s peculiar that some of the most perceptive works on OHS occur outside the OHS profession. Well perhaps not so surprising.) In the handbook, Mayhew points out that harassment has always been an element of workplace bullying but excludes sexual harassment from her discussion:
“The Australian Institution of Criminology believes that prevention, rather than post-incident reaction, is the key to improved outcomes. However, the handbook needs to be adapted specifically to each organisation for best results. The discussions exclude activity that could be described as sexual harassment, which is extensively dealt with elsewhere.” (page 1)
This position is reflective of the OHS literature yet, on reflection, this position may have been wrong for it contributed to a fractured approach to managing workplace psychosocial hazards.
On 12 December 2017, part of Australia’s screen and television industry held a forum in Sydney about sexual harassment in the sector and what could be done to reduce this workplace hazard. This initiative occurred a day before an open letter was published about sexual harassment in the music industry. There is a momentum for change on sexual harassment in the workplace, but it is at risk of resulting in a fragmented approach which will generate turf wars, confusion and, ultimately, ineffectiveness.
Workplace injury statistics are always less than reality as they are based on the number of workers’ compensation claims lodged with occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators or insurance agents. The nature of occupational illnesses is that there may be many years before their presence is physically identified making them more contestable by insurers and less likely to appear in compensation data. The frustration with this lack of data was voiced on November 13 2017 in an article in the Medical Journal of Australia (not publicly available).
A summary of the research article includes this alarming statistic:
“Occupational exposures are an important determinant of respiratory health. International estimates note that about 15% of adult-onset asthma, 15% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 10–30% of lung cancer may be attributable to hazardous occupational exposures.”
A media release from Australia’s Minister for Employment, Michaela Cash, starts the theme of management of workers compensation on the cusp of National Safe Work Month. The purpose of the media release is ostensibly to celebrate that Comcare has become a fully funded scheme for the first time since 2010 but this is undermined by party politics:
“These results are another clear example of the Turnbull Government cleaning up after Labor’s slack financial management, while still delivering the most efficient and effective service for injured and ill employees.
Under Labor, Comcare had become a budget black hole into which taxpayer’s money simply disappeared.”
Continue reading “The clash between money and lives”