On May 19, 2020, WorkSafe Victoria conducted an interactive webinar on Workplace Manslaughter laws due to be in place from July 1, 2020. The webinar was very good for those who are coming to the issue anew as the level of interaction was excellent. But the webinar also broadened beyond its topic, which was disappointing. At 90 minutes the event was too long, but revised versions of this consultation with the community should be scheduled regularly, even when physical distancing rules end.
Michael Tooma is probably the most prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) lawyer in Australia. His latest book is, a little pretentiously, called “Michael Tooma on Mental Health“, but it fits with the series of OHS-related publications he has written for Wolters Kluwer. Unusually for a lawyer, there are only two chapters that specifically discuss legislative obligations, and, in many ways, these are the least interesting.
Positive Mental Health
In the Introduction, Tooma goes out of his way to stress the positive benefits of work. He is critical of the current OHS approach to workplace stress writing that we seek a “Goldilocks” application of perfection when this is really subjectively determined by each worker. Tooma challenges this in a major way through the 2012 study by Keller and others:
Australia’s National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) has released what it calls a toolkit for assessing COVID19 risks for businesses that are reopening soon. It is a useful checklist/template that the NCCC anticipates will take around 30 minutes to complete. What legal standing it may have is unclear as OHS in most Australian workplaces is regulated at State and Territory levels, but the Prime Minister says we need COVID Safe Plans and here’s a checklist to support it.
Business owners should understand that any checklist is only ever a tool to aid them to make an informed decision. It is not a compliance tick. Sadly, the COVIDSafe Plan template fails to answer its first question:
“Why is it important to have a COVIDSafe Plan?”
The answer should have been something like
“….all Australian business owners are obliged by law to provide workplace that are free of health and safety risks, including viral infections, like COVID19. This plan will help you fulfill your obligation which will also reduce the transmission of COVID19 and could save lives.”
The legal and moral reason for this checklist should have been upfront to emphasise the primacy of occupational health and safety (OHS) in helping control a public health risk.
Conferences usually provide delegates with goodie bags of promotional material from sponsors and speakers. Most of it is dross but the bags often include quirky items such as drink bottles, stress balls, baseball hats, sunscreen, which can also be silly, but occasionally there are some that are useful and notable.
SafeWorkNSW produced a deck of playing cards where safety statements or aphorisms replaced the pictures of two-headed royalty and card symbols. This is the type of item that may be left in a glovebox of a car for times of imposed idleness, but I have only seen playing cards used once on a worksite (exempting the playing of Uno by tax office employees in the early 1980s at the morning break after the tea ladies brought chocolate and cream buns). A construction site I was working at was “rained off” one day and the cards came out.
The use of such safety playing cards is intended to be a useful subliminal way of reminding workers of the importance of safety. Given that the longevity and success fo safety posters is very limited, the card strategy may be worth considering by other organisations.
If you have an example of a useful OHS promotional item, please send through an image and/or a description via this email link.
“Coercive control” is getting attention in New South Wales in relation to domestic violence but there are similarities to workplace behaviours such as sexual harassment and bullying.
The Chief Psychiatrist of Victoria’s “guideline and practice resource: family violence” says
“Family violence is understood as a pattern of repeated andpage 5
coercive control, aiming to control another person’s thoughts, feelings and actions.”