You can lead an opera company to water, but you can’t guarantee it will drink

Recently accusations of bullying have been made by members of Opera Australia. The details are reported in Limelight, but the newspaper article by Nathaneal Cooper is more illustrative of the general workplace mental health challenges of those in the performing arts. Performers are one of the most visible and fragile sectors of insecure and precarious work. Solutions to hazards and clues to strategic improvements might be more evident and practical if the bullying was assessed through the prism (and legislative obligations) of occupational health and safety (OHS) and insecure work.

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Talking about safety without saying much

The Australian Federal Budget is to be released very soon. As in every year, corporate and industry lobbyists release wishlist budget submissions even though there is no formal submission process. Sometimes these submissions include information, statements and pitches concerning occupational health and safety (OHS). The Master Builders Australia’s prebudget submission has been around since early January 2022 and the OHS chapter is educative on how the Master Builders Australia (MBA), and perhaps similar organisations, sees and understands OHS.

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Industrial Manslaughter and Australian Standards

Earlier this month, SAI Global issued a media release headlined

“1 in 2 organisations don’t meet State industrial manslaughter laws, new executive survey finds – Plus, seven tips for executives to prepare their organisation to meet the laws”

This was based on internal research compiled in their “2021 Australian Business
Assurance Report” (not publicly available). SAI Global’s headline findings from the report are

  • “45% of executives not confident their organisations meet industrial manslaughter laws
  • Senior leaders do not have OHS responsibilities in 33% of organisations
  • Businesses will put 62% more budget, resources and people toward OHS”

There were several odd statements in the report about which SafetyAtWorkBlog sought clarification, particularly about Industrial Manslaughter. SAI Global’s workplace safety expert Saeid Nikdel responded.

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The PM misses an opportunity for OHS leadership

Last week in Devonport, Tasmania, an inflatable jumping castle flew into the air injuring and killing several primary school-aged children.  Shortly after Prime Minister Scott Morrison conducted a press conference in conjunction with the Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein and others in which he spoke about the incident and its impact on the local community.  It is worth looking at the PM’s comments from an occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective.

Many readers will be aware that fatalities related to inflatable amusement devices becoming airborne are uncommon but not unknown, as the ABC article linked above shows.  Most Australian jurisdictions have issued OHS guidelines for amusement devices, including inflatable jumping castles. Here are links to two examples that illustrate the state of knowledge of the risk. This article makes no comment on the OHS circumstances of the Devonport incident.

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The PM expects Australian workplaces to be “as safe as possible”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has set the occupational health and safety (OHS) bar unachievably high for Australian businesses.

Morrison is embroiled in a scandal about an alleged rape in a ministerial office, his knowledge of and response to it, and his government’s duty of care to political employees. Below is his response to this question from a journalist:

JOURNALIST: “What is your message to young women who might want to get into politics and see this and are just horrified by it. What’s your reassurance to them about getting involved in the Liberal party or other parties? “

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We complicate what we know works

There is one simple way of improving occupational health and safety (OHS) in any workplace – have the senior managers and executives be more in touch with the manufacturing process or provision of services. This will improve their understanding of the risks in their businesses and, hopefully, cause them to see the importance of improving health and safety, either for increased profitability or for the quality of life of their workers. Often the executives are too busy to take the time to visit, learn and listen and Industrial Manslaughter laws are intended to cut through this business attitude.

Recently SAI Global issued a media release about Industrial Manslaughter laws which has more to do with its certification services than the improvement of worker safety or prevention of harm. Stripping away the marketing, the media release quotes Kiran Bhagat saying:

“Industrial manslaughter laws legislated in Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and the ACT place legal liability squarely at the feet of the C-suite and company directors for industrial manslaughter. Organisations must ensure their compliance to OHS laws is over and above current standards and, besides, aim to meet and exceed international standards as a safeguard. The highest-ranking leaders in an organisation must be proactively involved in these processes.”

There are few OHS professionals who would disagree with this.

The content that lets this media release down and puts it into the marketing folder rather than the OHS folder is the prominent promotion of its certification services, that should be able to stand on their own content such as this in the final paragraph:

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Biden reverses Trump’s position on workplace safety

It is fair to say that the term of office for President Trump was not supportive of occupational health and safety (OHS). Former President Trump did not seem to see the need for OHS regulations and his attitude to the COVID-19 pandemic meant that it would never be considered as an occupational disease. Reports over the last week in the United States media, and the issuing of an Executive Order, indicate that new President Biden values workplace health and safety.

The New York Times (paywalled) is reporting that

“President Biden directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] on Thursday to release new guidance to employers on protecting workers from Covid-19.
In one of 10 executive orders that he signed Thursday, the president asked the agency to step up enforcement of existing rules to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace and to explore issuing a new rule requiring employers to take additional precautions.”

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