The 23rd World Congress for Safety and Health at Work was officially opened last evening after a day of occupational health and safety (OHS) workshops. The indigenous Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony were excellent, and from the number of delegates recording the dancing, entertaining and enlightening. The same cannot be said for the speeches.
This afternoon, the 23rd World Congress on Safety and Health at Work commences in Sydney. Already important information is being released, with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) being first out of the block, setting the broader occupational health and safety (OHS) context.
In a media release dated November 27 2023, the ILO says:
Caesarstone Asia Pacific managing director David Cullen told the Australian Financial Review (AFR – paywalled) on October 27, 2023, that:
“A full ban on the use of engineered stone would double the cost of benchtops..”
So? That seems to be enough of a reason to continue to allow the use of a product that is causing a large number of preventable deaths in Australia and elsewhere??!!
A stronger argument may be that the occupational health and safety (OHS) management of the cutting of engineered stone has failed.
“a prohibition on the use of all engineered stone, irrespective of crystalline silica content, to protect the health and safety of workers.”
So that should be it. No more engineered stone products for use in Australia. Apparently, that decision is difficult to make even though the top occupational health and safety (OHS) advisory body in Australia recommends prohibition. OHS has always had an uncomfortable mix of morality, law and politics. Engineered stone and its inherent silicosis risks are a good illustration of the tensions between these three elements.
One supplier of synthetic stone products to Australia, Cosentino, is in the mainstream media after an appearance on a popular television home renovations show on the Nine Network, The Block. Several occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals and organisations have raised concerns about how the product was discussed and presented on a recent episode. The best coverage of this matter has been by an ABC television program, MediaWatch.
MediaWatch revealed the importance of listening to how dangerous products are described and how the guidance of OHS Regulators can be interpteed or manipulated.
When Australia harmonised its occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, the management focus broadened to include work, and not just workplaces. Some “knowledge” or white-collar work can be done anywhere, and employers have often struggled to understand how to extend their OHS management systems and duties to apply to this revised or expanded system of work. Current OHS guidance on working from home is too “big picture” when employers are addressing localised decisions.
South Australia is the latest Australian jurisdiction to introduce Industrial Manslaughter penalties. The magnitude of the potential penalties is reasonable, given that they come from an employer’s reckless conduct that leads to a fatality. However, many of the deterrent and preventive impacts expected by politicians and advocates have not been proven.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has an excellent article on the South Australian action.