WFH. What-Ifs. WTF?

On September 12 2020, The Australian’s workplace relations journalist Ewin Hannan wrote about working from home (WFH), a reasonable topic as many Australians have been asked to do this, often at the request of the State Government, in order to reduce and control the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The structure of the article centred on the additional costs and risks to employers from having workers work from home, especially in relation to potential injuries and workers’ compensation. This perspective on occupational health and safety (OHS) is seriously skewed, but it reflects the dominant perspective in the media and the community. A little bit more research would have provided a more accurate picture about Working From Home.

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Sexual misconduct research – Interview with Professor Marie Bismark

A lot of recent attention has been given to incidents of sexual harassment in Australian legal and finance corporations, in particular, and how these are being (mis)managed. COVID19 has thrown a big focus on the working conditions of health care workers. Last month, Australian research on sexual misconduct was released that is, essentially, a Venn diagram of the issues of sexual harassment and misconduct with health practitioners.

The lead author of the study, Associate Professor Marie Bismark, professor of Public Law at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, spoke exclusively with SafetyAtWorkBlog about the research findings.

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The failure of Leadership on sexual harassment

A picture not of Josh Bornstein. This is Male Champions of Change CEO Annika Freyer in the AFR’s online article

If prominent Australian lawyer, Josh Bornstein does not like something, it’s worth looking more closely at it. Last week on Twitter, Bornstein scoffed at the suggestion that occupational health and safety (OHS) could be a new approach to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. He tweeted:

“To all those clamouring to support the idea that sexual harassment should be treated as an OHS issue, I have a simple message: Wrong Way, Go Back”

The OHS and sexual harassment nexus appeared primarily in response to a couple of articles (paywalled) in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) based on a leaked report from the Male Champions for Change (MCOC) organisation. Although the report is not publicly released for another couple of weeks, MCOC (hopefully not pronounced My Cock), proposes consideration of applying OHS laws and principles to sexual harassment.

The full report is likely to discuss the mechanics of this further but the advocacy of OHS is less interesting that the admission that MCOC and other leadership-based approaches to reduction and prevention of workplace sexual harassment have failed.

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“This is how silly OH&S has become” Not really

Truck driving is one of the most contentious areas of occupational health and safety (OHS) in Australia. The transport industry has refined a reasonably practicable level of OHS to a high degree where levels of fatigue that would not be tolerated in other occupations are the norm. There also seems to be a negative attitude to OHS as an impediment to getting the job done rather than an investment in the health of drivers and the longevity of their careers.

These attitudes were on display recently in an inquiry into the “Importance of a viable, safe, sustainable and efficient road transport industry” undertaken by the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee of the Australian Senate.

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Responsibility and its denial

Occupational health and safety (OHS) laws are intended to clarify who is responsible for workplace health and safety and to assist those responsible to fulfil their OHS duties. But responsibility is hardly ever discussed in reality except after an incident. A core question at that time is “Who was responsible?”, with the social subtext being “It wasn’t me.” OHS laws have already established broad OHS responsibilities which we accept when we have to, but deny when we don’t.

Clear, defined roles and responsibility are core to our understanding of workplace health and safety and the establishment of a safe and healthy workplace, and also of corporate integrity and productivity.

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