Jail or Ruin? Is deterrence still effective?

This week Dr Rebecca Michalak wrote that penalties for breaches of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws need to be personal for people to understand the potentially fatal consequences at the work site or decisions that are made in the comfort of the boardroom. In this sentiment she echoes the aims of many who have been advocating for Industrial Manslaughter laws and also touches on the role of deterrence. But when people talk about Jail, are they really meaning Ruin? And do these options really improve workplace health and safety?

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Some OHS webinars are much better than others

The Ballarat Regional Occupational Safety and Health (BROSH) group conducted an online seminar on March 31, 2002 at which Tracey Browne of the Australian Industry Group (AIGroup) spoke. The content was very good, and the format worked even though many people are still trying to acclimatise to online meetings and the muting of microphones.

Browne provided a general update on managing occupational health and safety (OHS) during the COVID19 pandemic disruption but there were a couple of notable contributions.

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Safety In Design to be included in new digital construction research

In March 2020, several Victorian universities and others were proud to announce their being provided government grants to

“…. transform how buildings are designed and manufactured in Australia”.

Given that safety in Design of buildings has been an ongoing initiative for many years, several questions on this topic were sent through to the Interim CEO of Building 4.0 CRC, Monash University Professor Mathew Aitchison. Below is the response.

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Pimp your administrative controls

Safety risks increased, or created, by distraction are a problem as relevant to occupational health and safety (OHS) as it is across society. There are analogue solutions – remove the distracting devices – and technological solutions that are often embedded in the distracting device. Sometimes there are other solutions and one is being trialled at a small intersection in Melbourne.

These illuminated tactile pavers have been embedded in the footpath applying the logic that as people are looking down at their phone screens, a bright contrasting floor level background should attract their attention. These footpath lights are synchronised with the pedestrian traffic lights, basically bringing the traffic signals within the peripheral vision of pedestrians.

Several variations on this concept have been trialled around the world for traffic and pedestrian control but they may be more usefully applied in some workplaces, especially where passive hazard signs have become normalised.

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Hopefully prevention of mental injuries at work will emerge in this Royal Commission

LtoR: Professor Bernadette McSherry, Prof. Allan Fels, Penny Arnytage, Dr Alex Cockram

The first week of media coverage of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Mental Health is very thin on the roles and impacts of workplaces and work activities on people’s mental health, but it is part of the conversation.

The Public Hearings on July 4-5 had Prevention and Early Intervention as their theme. Prevention as occupational health and safety (OHS) people would apply was mostly absent. Prevention, in OHS terms, is usually about the elimination of a risk or hazard whereas the impression from the discussion in the Royal Commission over the last few days is that mental health is something that appears, strikes an individual (with ripples to relatives), is treated and a new psychological normal, a functional/social normal is established. Analysis of the social, occupational and environmental precursors, elements that OHS investigations are obliged to consider, seems missing, at the moment.

According to the Commission’s transcript Chair Penny Armytage said on July 2, 2019:

“We start these hearings with a wide lens. Not in hospitals or clinics, but in our homes, our sporting fields and our workplaces.”

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To OPD or not to OPD? That is NOT the question

The current debate and lobbying campaigns over quad bikes in Australia have become less about safety than about product design integrity. The opposition to operator protection devices (OPDs) has been so loud that it has dominated the quad bike safety discussion. So, last week I decided to visit a local quad bike dealer to talk to the sellers not about OPDs but about Safety. I found that some vehicles have safety integrated into their design and operation.

I have learnt that the best conversations happen during the weekdays when shop assistants and managers have the time to devote to someone who may be a potential buyer but is, at least, someone genuinely interested in the product, in this case quad bikes and side-by-side (SXS) work vehicles.

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New President and new approaches to unionism

ACTU Executive with Michele O’Neil second from left

Day One of the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ Congress was memorable for a couple of reasons.  The appointment of Michele O’Neil, pictured right, as the President was a notable achievement, one made more memorable as she denied any desire to move onto a political appointment. The other memorable event was a string of shopfloor representatives outlining their innovative approaches to the recruitment of members and the creation of (sub)unions for hospitality workers, hairdressers and indigenous workers in the Northern Territory.

Workplace safety was mentioned a couple of times in passing but occupational health and safety (OHS) seems to becoming more a thing that is, rather than a thing that is named.  If we look for it, we find it.

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