It has been assumed that Australian businesses that have continued to operate during the COVID19 pandemic have been maintaining their occupational health and safety (OHS) audits and assessment; and that the safety regulators have been inspecting workplaces. On May 6 2020, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) released the findings of
“…a series of remote COVID-19 specific inspections, confirming operators of offshore facilities are equipped with adequate arrangements for protecting workers from infectious diseases such as COVID-19.”
The findings are interesting but perhaps of more interest is the questions that were asked and how the answers were verified.
Last week the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released some research into workers and COVID19. It is not peer-reviewed and there will certainly be much more research into the disruption and personal and occupational responses to the coronavirus disruption over the next few months. The survey results do not specifically analyse occupational health and safety (OHS) issues but there are clues to future considerations.
The media release, understandably, discusses the changed employment status or arrangements. The OHS hazards associated with precarious work are well-established and the survey illustrates the extent of precarity in Australian workplace, so mental health issues are going to come to the fore as government-imposed isolation continues and/or businesses reopen.
On April 14, 2020, the Australian Industry Group revealed, in a media release, some details of how its members were responding to the COVID19 pandemic. The survey was described as economic research and, as occupational health and safety (OHS) is mentioned, SafetyAtWorkBlog asked from more details on the OHS-related findings.
The survey found:
“There has been a steep rise in workload as a result of new OH&S policies and procedures around hygiene (34%) and working from home (25%).”
“Employees are also anxious, with 31% of businesses saying there is increased anxiety levels within their workforce.”
There are strong parallels between the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces and others addressing workplace issues, such as the Victorian Royal Commission into Mental and the Productivity Commission’s mental health inquiry, but there is also a connection to the Royal Commission into Banking and Financial Services which has focused the minds of some of Australia’s corporation s and leaders into examining their own workplace cultures and, for some, to reassess the role and application of capitalism.
This is going to become even more of a critical activity as the National Sexual Harassment Inquiry completes its report prior to its release in the first month or two of 2020.
Cultural analysis, and change, is often best undertaken first in a microcosm or specific social context. The experiences of sexual harassment of rural women in Australia is one such context, a context examined in detail by Dr Skye Saunders in her book “Whispers from the Bush“.
In September 2019 an Australian recruiting firm, Beaumont People, has commissioned a research project to identify what constitutes meaningful work. The company places meaningful work in the context of at least one of the United Nations’ Sustainability Goals (SDGs) – Decent Work and Economic Growth, but it is difficult to understand what is meant by “meaningful work”. Couldn’t the survey have used the UN Decent Work criteria?
The Beaumont People website says this of Meaningful Work:
“Meaningful Work is the importance an individual places on their work meeting their current personal beliefs, values, goals, expectations, and purpose in the context of their social and cultural environment.
Despite the vast amount of research undertaken on the concept and measurement of meaningful work, there remains no consistent definition of meaningful work nor consensus on the scales designed to measure it.”