OHS needs to face some moral questions

Regular readers may have noticed that I want to push the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession to think deeper and more broadly about their usually chosen career’s political and socio-economic context. The reasons for OHS’ overall lack of success in making work and workplaces safer and healthier are not only within those locations and activities but also in the limitations that many OHS people place on themselves.

More and more, I look outside the existing OHS research and trends for explanations of why OHS is treated shabbily by employers and corporations and, sometimes, the government. A new book on Growth by Daniel Susskind is helping in this quest. Below is an extract from the book that, I think, helps explain some of OHS’ predicament.

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Mental Health First Aid is not a harm prevention strategy

Courses in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) are increasingly popular in Australia as employers struggle to understand their (new) occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations to provide psychologically safe and healthy work environments. However, MHFA and OHS are fundamentally incompatible.

MHFA is an intervention program, while OHS requires prevention. So, employers who send staff to MHFA intending to comply with their OHS obligations are deluded.

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Toothless enforcement

Ross Gittins is a prominent Australian economics journalist. In The Age on September 20, 2023, he wrote an article about the recent spate of corporations being prosecuted and penalized for breaking the law. Many of his points can also relate to companies and executives breaking occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.

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Excessive heat is another reason to redesign work

There seems little doubt that global warming is now a reality. It has been forecast since the 1970s at least, but the fact of creeping change needs a turning point, and it seems that the current Northern Hemisphere Summer is that point. The Southern Hemisphere’s turn is only a few months away.

Few are talking about prevention. Instead, it is adaptation. Those adaptations need to be more than interventions at the individual level, such as increased hydration, wide-brimmed hats and facekinis. Global warming (climate change) has been a developing hazard for a while, contributed to by most countries and owned by none. Employees and customers need to reassess their work-related expectations. Here are some occupational issues and controls that deserve active reflection.

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Is the OHS role in ESG overstated?

The March 2023 edition of Professional Safety, the journal of the American Society of Safety Professionals, included a lead story about the safety professional’s role in ESG (Environment Safety and Corporate Governance) strategies.  Its perspective was a little unclear and was based on many assumptions.

One of the problems with the article is the assumption that the occupational health and safety (OHS) professional has a large influence over the decisions of the business.  That is rarely the case, and there are many instances of OHS being sidelined or compartmentalised by structural and reporting lines and the exclusion of OHS from key decision forums like Board Meetings. So does OHS have a role and to what extent?

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“Some of you may die, but it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make”

Recently at the Central Safety Group, I offered two business options to prevent and manage the risks of mental injury at work – Employ more people or Descope company expectations. This was glib, but I was trying to simplify the decisions that employers will face if they choose to meet their occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations. The reality of the decision-making process is challenging, but it seems to me that the core decisions are to increase the workforce to adequately and safely meet the needs of the company or project, or reduce the production volume or decrease the expectations of the client, and the related stress levels of the workers, to match the size of the workforce.

The actual decision is more complex, but this choice is fundamental to the prevention of harm and compliance with the OHS laws.

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OHS and the big picture

There is an increasing trend to look deeper into the causal factors of workplace incidents and poor worker health in the physical and psychological contexts. This is partly due to “systems thinking” and partly dissatisfaction with failed regulatory and psychological strategies that promised so much but have failed to realise the promise. The trend needs some boosting by the occupational health and safety (OHS) community, which itself needs upskilling.

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