New structure needed for Australia’s OHS policies

A day out from Australia’s election and the discussion has been sidetracked by the death last night of prominent Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, but occupational health and safety (OHS) continues to be mentioned obliquely by some of the candidates. The other day, Bill Shorten’s OHS mentions were reported on. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and one of his Ministers, Michaelia Cash, also made mention of safety and OHS overnight.

Alice Springs, AUSTRALIA – Sep 29, 2017: 3 trailer Australian road train driving along Stuart Highway near Alice Springs in Northern Territory, Australia

Regardless of who wins tomorrow’s election, inspirational leadership is needed to apply a revised structure on how the government influences and regulates OHS, especially in the transport sector.

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Dust clouds on kitchen benchtops

The Victorian Premier, the Minister for Workplace Safety, Dr Ryan Hoy and others at the silicosis announcement

The Victorian Government has announced that various safety initiatives are being taken on the silicosis risks associated with products described as synthetic stone. This initiative is an important first step in reducing the exposure of workers to silicosis but there are some curiosities in the announcement and WorkSafe Victoria’s accompanying Information Sheet.

The core elements of the government’s action are:

  • “A state-wide ban on uncontrolled dry cutting of materials that contain crystalline silica dust
  • Free health screening for Victoria’s 1400 stonemasons
  • A tough new compliance code for businesses working with silica
  • An awareness campaign to highlight the risks of working with engineered stone”.
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OHS is largely overlooked even on its special day

The mainstream media did cover the Australian Labor Party’s statement about workplace safety and industrial manslaughter laws. These issues also featured, unsurprisingly, in some of the commemorations on International Workers Memorial Day. But the issue was largely left floating, irretrievable in the political swimming pool.

David Martin-Guzman, writing for the Australian Financial Review (AFR), painted the ALP announcement as advocating on behalf Australia’s most militant trade union, the Construction Forestry Mining Maritime and Energy Union (CFMEU). This approach sadly places any OHS activity purely in the context of industrial relations. That is likely placing OHS as only part of Human Resources. OHS is its own profession, has its own principles and is supported by its own legislation and government regulator.

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Where’s the harm in bullying?

The West Australian Government has released its the report on its Ministerial Review of the State Industrial Relations System. There are a few interesting bits that relate to occupational health and safety (OHS) and bullying.

The Fair Work Commission has been able to accept applications to stop workplace bullying for a few years now. Western Australia’s State system will soon also allow this, if the Government accepts the recommendations, but workplace bullying is a little different from the OHS approach. The report says:

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Safe Work Australia at Senate Estimates

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During April 2019 Executives from Safe Work Australia (SWA) attended the Senate Estimates hearings as usual. This current session was a little different as a General Election was imminent and Industrial Manslaughter laws have increased focus on occupational health and safety (OHS) organisations and regulators. Also the Committee included Senator Gavin Marshall who, late last year, was the Chair of the committee which conducted an inquiry into industrial deaths.

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