Jim Ward is hardly known outside the Australian trade union movement but many people over the age of thirty, or in the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession, may remember the person Esso blamed for the Esso Longford explosion in 1998. Just after the nineteenth anniversary of the incident that killed two workers and injured eight other, SafetyAtWorkBlog interviewed Ward about the incident but, more significantly, also about how that incident changed his world view.
For some time now Jim Ward has been the National OHS Director for the Australian Workers’ Union. Here is a long interview with Ward that provides a useful perspective on OHS while Australia conducts its National Safe Work Month.
[Note: any links in the text have been applied by SafetyAtWorkBlog]
SAWB: Jim, what happened at Longford, and what did it mean for you.
JW: So, on 25 September 1998, I got up out of bed and went to work, just as I’d done for the previous 18 years of my working life, at the Esso gas plant facility at Longford in Victoria.
There was nothing unforeseen or untoward about that particular day. But due to, as one judge elegantly described it, “a confluence of events”, it turned out to be the most significant day of my life.
Victoria Australia has had a network of safety groups for well over 40 years with two or three enduring into this century. On 5 July 2017, the Ballarat Regional Occupational Safety and Health Group (BROSH) held an interactive seminar on Return-To-Work (RTW). The discussion was not revolutionary but allowed the audience – a mix of businesses, OHS professionals and students – to speak about their lived experiences with managing injured workers.
I brought the WorkSafe 2030 Strategy discussion paper to the audience’s attention and a WorkSafe representative from the seminar’s panel, pictured above, said that there are several weird technical suggestions for workplace inspections and advice emerging from the discussion within the OHS regulator. However the strategy is focussed always on the client and that it is “prevention-led”. OHS is all about the prevention of illness and injury but it appears that WorkSafe is extending this term to RTW.
The representative explained that the regulator is looking at interventions that prevent an injury or illness claim transforming into, or contributing to, another and new injury. They hope that by focussing on the injured worker and providing the right level of advice and support, the will achieve the best RTW outcome for all involved.
One of the questions from the audience was if there is a better RTW and workers’ compensation system that Victoria could move to or learn from. The panel agreed that the Victorian system seems to be leading Australia in terms of its financial health but, more importantly, the level of care and support options provided to injured workers.
The BROSH seminar was well attended and the audience was active, which largely resulted from the innovative and engaging seminar structure.
Professor Michael Quinlan has been writing about occupational health and safety (OHS) and industrial relations for several decades. His writing has matured over that time as indicated by his most recent book, Ten Pathways to Death and Disaster. In 1980, one of his articles looked at OHS through the prisms of Capitalism and Marxism. It is remarkable how much an article that was written early in Quinlan’s career and at a time when OHS was considered another country remains relevant today. This perspective contrasts strongly with the current dominant thinking on OHS and as a result sounds fresh and may offer some solutions.
In Quinlan’s 1980 article, “The Profits of Death: Workers’ Health and Capitalism”*, he writes that
“contrary to popular belief there is no objective irrefutable definition of illness”.
This could equally be applied to safety. But searching for THE definition of things can lead to everlasting colloquia of academic experts without helping those who need to work within and apply safety concepts.
It’s soon to be the tenth anniversary of the iPhone. Tech writers are preparing their articles based on comparisons of how the iPhone has changed and how it has changed the world. But there has always been a dark side to the production of the iPhone and modern technologies, as a whole.
It is useful to consider corporate wellness and mental wellbeing programs in the context of work-related suicides. By considering what many consider a worst-case scenario, the effectiveness of these programs can be tested. The increased attention on domestic violence and its relationship to work over the last few years in Australia can play a similar role. New research on “intimate partner violence” provides mental health scenarios for which safety professionals need to be prepared. Continue reading “Important research into domestic violence strengthens OHS context”