OHS progress needs out of the box thinking

It is generally understood that the attempt to harmonise Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) laws failed to achieve the level of change and integration expected. The laws are more harmonised than they were but each jurisdiction claimed special needs and so multiple jurisdictions continue to exist with their own laws and one State, Victoria, is still giving the bird to the rest through poorly justified arguments and pigheadedness. This unwillingness to even consider change, outside of established parameters, is a major impediment to the development of safe workplaces and work practices.

For example, Australia still desires nationally consistent OHS laws as this exchange between Deborah Knight, of radio station 2GB and the CEO of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, shows:

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OHS needs to get a seat at the ESG table

There has always been an overlap between environmental safety and occupational health and safety (OHS). This has happened not because of any particular similarity between the two disciplines but rather because of company executives’ duties, responsibilities, and accountabilities.

A recent report produced through the Centre for Policy Development (CPD) says this about climate change responses:

“Care needs to be taken to ensure that climate-related targets and analysis are rigorous, underpinned by appropriate governance, strategy and action, reflected in financial statements as required.”

Replace “climate” with “OHS”, and the overlap is clear. This is particularly important at this time when Australia is preparing its next national OHS strategy.

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Hospitality survey shows the size of the hurdle to reform

This photo was taken in the Victorian Night Market during winter

Hospo Voice, a trade union for Australian hospitality workers has released a report on a survey of more than 4000 workers between March and June 2020. #RebuildHospo: A Post-Covid Roadmap For Secure Jobs In Hospitality has all the limitations of other surveys done by members of an organisation rather than independent research but this report offers a framework for safe and decent work that reflects many of the occupational Health and safety (OHS) that SafetyAtWorkBlog has reported on.

The union claims that hospitality workers endorse four important work elements:

  • Secure jobs,
  • End to wage theft,
  • Safe and respectful workplaces, and
  • Justice for migrant workers

OHS has a thin presence in this report, mainly discussed in that third bulletpoint but an integrated analysis would show that OHS is involved with more of the elements.

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Work-related elements for social change

It is almost impossible for occupational health and safety (OHS) people to stop looking at the world through the risk assessment parameters and hierarchies with which they work every day. The Hierarchy of Control could be applied to the COVID19 pandemic with the important lesson that the elimination of a hazard does not only come from the right purchase but could require months and months of a combination of Administrative Controls, Personal Protective Equipment, and perseverance. This impossibility should not be something that makes OHS professionals shy. It should be embraced and expanded, where possible, beyond the bounds of workplace organisations to societal design and change.

Michael Quinlan has recently written about a different investigative process that could be directly applied to the management of disasters, including COVID19. His research on Ten Pathways to Death and Disaster has been popping up in conferences, books and public speaking, including the OHS advocacy of Dr Gerry Ayers of the CFMEU, and has rarely been more timely.

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COVID19 and OHS gets political

Workplace health and safety risks related to COVID19 emerge in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Trade Union Suggestions

On May 5 2020, the Australian Council of Trade Unions released a statement on occupational health and safety (OHS) calling for certain Industrial Relations and OHS changes, including:

  • Paid pandemic leave
  • New regulations on safety and health standards, and
  • Compulsory notifications to Health Departments and OHS Regulators.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has been led to believe that the paid pandemic leave is intended to apply from the time a worker is tested for COVID19 through their isolation while waiting for the test results and the operation of sick leave should the test results be positive.

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The gig tightrope over a receding tide

The Australia Institute conducted a webinar on Australia’s economic future during and after the COVID19 pandemic. Former Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan and economist Richard Denniss were the featured speakers. Two particular issues were of relevance to occupational health and safety (OHS) – the future of the gig economy and re-industrialisation.

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“So far as is reasonably practicable” is often used by scoundrels

On May 4, 2006, John Della Bosca advised the New South Wales Parliament

“The Government will clarify that the general duties and obligations under the Act apply so far as is reasonably practicable. Ensuring the health and safety of employees will mean eliminating risks to health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable. Where it is not reasonable to eliminate a risk, employers will be required to reduce the risks to the lowest level reasonably practicable. Practical risk management does not require employers to go to extraordinary, unrealistic lengths, and never has. Rather, it requires the management of risks that are likely to affect health and safety over which the duty holder has a level of control. This is what the Government has always said, and it has always been Government policy. This is what it intends to enshrine in legislation to give greater certainty to both employers and employees.”

Della Bosca paints “so far as is reasonably practicable” (ASFAIRP) as an integral part of eliminating risks to health and safety and it is an integral part of OHS laws, but it is also a limitation, a condition and a concession in achieving safe and healthy workplaces and one that is drastically in need of a thorough independent review.

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