The OHS agenda of the Australian Labor Party

Given that the protection of worker health and safety will gain more attention and support under progressive parties and governments, the release of the 2021 National Platform for the Australian Labor Party (ALP) is notable. The 2021 document, unsurprisingly, focuses on the role of Health and Safety Representatives, appealing to its financial and political trade union base as major influencers on occupational health and safety (OHS).

This article will focus on the chapters in both the 2021 and 2018 platform documents related to safe and healthy workplaces, although there are OHS-related issues dotted throughout both documents.

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What is behind the fluctuation of mental health claims?

If you are contemplating running a survey about workplace health and safety, make it longitudinal. That is, structure your survey so that data can be compared over a long period of time by clearly defining your questions to the general rather than the topical. Topical questions can be included occasionally (they can freshen up a survey), but the core of the survey needs to be robust.

Recently Safe Work Australia (SWA) released the 6th edition of workers compensation claim data for psychosocial health and safety and bullying in Australia. It is a short statement of data that offers some interesting trends and continues the survey’s limitations.

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OHS subtext in Industrial Manslaughter discussions

Senator Deborah O’Neill continued her attack on Australia’s Liberal/National party government in Senate Estimates hearing last week.

With the Work Health and Safety (WHS) ministers split on the introduction of an Industrial Manslaughter (IM) offence in the Model WHS laws, Senator Michaelia Cash, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and chair of that WHS meeting, could have voted in favour of these IM changes but declined. O’Neill saw this as a political weakness and challenged Senator Cash to justify her decision. The justifications, with a hint of arse-covering, were morally weak but legally sufficient. At one point, Senator Cash said:

“… a fundamental principle of work health and safety regulation in Australia, as you would be aware, is that liability should focus on risk, not outcome, because the evidence shows that when you focus on risk, as opposed to outcome—and the outcome that you are referring to here is a terrible outcome: a death in a workplace—it’s been proven to actually improve health and safety in workplaces.”

Hansard, June 2, 2021, page 8
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Latest Psych Health Code released

The big occupational health and safety (OHS) news in Australia has been the New South Wales release of its Code of Practice for Managing Psychological Hazards at Work. This Code is not mandatory but is a very good indication of what the OHS regulators (and perhaps eventually the Courts) believe are reasonably practicable measures for employers and business owners to take. These measures are discussed in detail below.

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Australia gets serious on psychological health at work

Below is an article written by Carlo Caponecchia and published originally on May 25 2021. Caponecchia is a leading figure in workplace psychological hazards and strategies. The article is reproduced with permission.


Employers are about to ramp up their efforts to protect mental health at work.

Last week, workplace health and safety (WHS) ministers from around Australia agreed to changes that will formalise what’s expected of employers in relation to mental health in Regulation. 

These changes respond to a review of the model WHS laws by Marie Boland, former Executive director at Safework South Australia. The model WHS laws are a “blueprint” used since 2011 to make safety laws more consistent across the States and Territories. 

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A closer look at the positive duty to prevent sexual harassment

The big occupational health and safety (OHS) news in Australia has been the release of the federal government’s response to the Respect@Work report on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. And the biggest issue in that response seems to be the government’s lack of enthusiasm for a major recommendation of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, the inclusion of a positive duty in the sexual discrimination legislation. Many lawyers have been asked for their opinions on the government’s response, but very few OHS professionals.

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OHS is “… more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”

Occupational health and safety (OHS) may not be a common subject in the mainstream media but there is plenty of political discussion on the topic in Australia’s Parliament.

The current (conservative) federal government seems very slow to accept and respond to recommendations from official inquiries that it sees as a secondary political priority, such as sexual harassment and workplace health and safety. The hearings of the Senate’s Education and Employment Legislation Committee on March 24 2021, were, as usual, enlightening.

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