Extreme heat

Global warming is affecting how we work just as much as how we live. Working in Heat policies are designed based on experience rather than meteorological and climate forecasts, meaning these documents are always chasing reality and not getting ahead of the occupational hazard.

On January 19, 2023, Steven Greenhouse (coincidental name) looked at the topic of working in extreme for Nieman Reports writing that:

“High heat can be a big problem for the nation’s workers, not just farmworkers and construction workers, but delivery workers, utility workers, landscaping workers, and warehouse workers.”

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Don’t mention profit

The primacy of profit to employers is an accepted truth. However, the size of the profit and the pathway to those profits are not absolutes, and it is in this latter context that occupational health and safety (OHS) lives.

Even though profit is a business truth, it is often a word that business representatives seem to fear. They speak of profit through synonyms like “productivity” and “competitiveness”. An example of this timidity or wariness was displayed recently by prominent businessman Michael Angwin in an opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review (paywalled) that contained many other cautious words of business jargon. Angwin misses the harm to workers and others generated by the world as he sees it.

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Will WorkSafe need to become a VicSafe to address climate change?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals are largely aware of the latest international standard for OHS management systems, ISO45001. This is the core standard for businesses to assess their safe systems of work. Others will be aware of the supplementary guidance to ISO45001, like ISO45003 -guidelines for managing psychosocial risks at work.

Recently Phillipe KL Lai Choo spoke about some of the other OHS guidances due for release or development. One of those relates to climate change which could create unexpected changes to how OHS is regulated and enforced.

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When exemplars are far from

Extensive multinational auditing and consulting firms have been hammered for the last few years over the potential conflict of both auditing and advising the same companies and a toxic workplace culture. Most companies will not be able to afford these consultants’ prices, but the conduct of the large companies, the “corporate leaders”, affects every business by setting the standards. The influence of these large companies over public (and work health and safety) policy should also be noted and is being reviewed by some governments.

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Pressure on local government over procurement and OHS

On a chilly night in Ballarat, over a hundred people gathered outside the Town Hall, within which the City Council was meeting, to let the Council know that the awarding of millions of dollars of ratepayers’ money to a local company that admitted to breaching occupational health and safety (OHS) laws and that led to the deaths of two local workers was not acceptable.

The event seem coordinated by the local Trades Hall Council, for the usual inflatable rat and fat cat were next to the ute, which was blasting out protest songs. Almost all the speakers were trade unionists, although one was Andy Meddick from the Animal Justice Party. The protest may not have achieved the changes that many speakers called for, but as is the case with these types of events, Council has given some ground with a likely review of the OHS procurement criteria.

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What’s not worked on workplace mental health

We need to seek alternative perspectives to better understand ourselves and our place in the world. In 2020,Takenori Mishiba wrote about comparative perspectives of workplace mental health laws. The book has been published in a more affordable paperback edition very recently. The attraction of this book is that Australia was not part of Mishiba’s research.

On the first page, Mishiba states that:

“…there is currently no precise legal definition of mental health.”

This alone should generate great concern in the occupational health and safety (OHS) discipline.

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Sunlight on “an atmosphere of fear’

The Queensland Government and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk have been under heavy criticism for their workplace cultures and leadership since the release of the Coaldrake report last week – a “review of culture and accountability in the Queensland public sector”.

The report is very critical of the Queensland government’s management of the public service, identifying problems with the overuse of external consultants, issues of unfairness, the lack of transparency and openness, bullying and more. These findings could apply to most of the contemporary public sectors in Australia nationally and locally (as well as most medium- to large-sized companies).

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