COVID-19 lessons are more likely to come from an independent investigation than from OHS prosecutions

WorkSafe Victoria has a window of two years, within which it must start a prosecution for breaches of the occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation. As a result, a small number of notable prosecutions commenced recently from the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the last few weeks, Worksafe has started court action against St Basil’s Homes For The Aged, Heritage Care Pty Ltd and an individual nurse.

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Do what you know is the right thing to do

Currently, Australia has an increase in hospitalisations of people with the latest COVID-19 variants and influenza. The Victorian Government, in particular, is resisting implementing a mandatory requirement for masks even though this Winter had been flagged as a season of high risk for transmissible infections, and such control measures were shown to be effective in previous years.

Regardless of the politics in the Victorian Government’s decision, and there is a lot of politics there with an election in November, what should employers do to reduce the risks of workers catching or transmitting the virus, and so maintain continuous operation and production?

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Victorian sexual harassment recommendations protect workers – sort of

In light of many workplace sexual harassment scandals in Australia, the Victorian Government established a task force to look at the issues and make recommendations. That task force has released its findings, the government has responded, and the media has focused on mainly one issue – non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) – missing out on other important information. And questions like, why did Victoria have the task force at all?

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The well-being budget is OHS’ time to make its case for inclusion

The Australian Treasurer, Dr Jim Chalmers is receiving good media attention for his thoughts on a “well-being budget”. This newsworthiness has been helped by American economist Joseph Stiglitz being on an Australian speaking tour at the same time. Stiglitz strongly advocates using socioeconomic measures to complement traditional economic measures. Well-being budgets shift how governments view policies, programs and strategies in a similar ideological fashion to how we should consider safety differently. The occupational context of well-being is well-established, but this new approach to measurement may challenge those established well-being programs.

Australia is not ignorant of the well-being budgets. It is not something created by Chalmers or just imported from New Zealand.

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Update on the status of national psychologically healthy workplace regulations

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Jennifer Low appeared on a recent episode of the Psych Health and Safety Podcast and, as a member of the Safe Work Australia (SWA), was able to provide an update on the new psychosocial regulations section, which is to be inserted into the Model Work Health and Safety Laws this year.

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Another attack and death of a remote area nurse

In 2008 a remote area nurse was raped and assaulted in her work-related residence in Mabuiag Island in the Torres Strait. More recently, South Australia had a similar incident – the rape and murder of nurse Gayle Woodford while working on-call alone. Both have resulted in inquiries by Coroners, Departments of Health and others, with similar outcomes, primarily that these incidents could have been prevented.

The recent outrage around Woodford’s death was that SafeWorkSA investigated and decided not to proceed with a prosecution of her employer Nganampa Health Council (NHC). The Coroner had already investigated Woodford’s death and found significant deficiencies in the NHC’s management systems and practices. Understandably questions have been asked in the South Australian Parliament, questions that raise important occupational health and safety (OHS) issues.

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Cooperation, duty of care, jail, death and a simple message

The details of the death of disabled woman Ann Marie Smith are horrific. (Readers can look them up online but be warned that they are confronting) Last week the South Australian police (SAPol) charged two directors of Integrity Care SA, Amy June Collins and Alison Maree Virgo, and the company itself with criminal neglect causing death and failing to comply with a health and safety duty of care, according to one media report.

There are many occupational health and safety (OHS) lessons from Smith’s death, but one of particular note is that the South Australian Police and SafeWorkSA conducted a joint investigation. Deputy Commissioner of Police Linda Williams said, in a media release:

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