Cocky on Industrial Manslaughter and confident on OHS of vehicles

Even before the Victorian Parliament (maybe) passes the Industrial Manslaughter amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Premier Daniel Andrews is promising new, targeted investigative resources. Even though Andrews acknowledged that the laws may not pass, he seems super-confident and we know that politics is littered with cases of over-confidence.

If the opposition Liberal/National Party coalition wanted to seriously embarrass the Premier and this Labor Government, it could nobble the changes in the Legislative Council in a move that would be popular with the major business organisations, agricultural industry groups and farmers.

Many of the issues Andrews’ raised at the Victorian Labor Party conference on 16 November 2019 make a lot of sense, but why jeopardise a crucial vote on the Industrial Manslaughter laws? And how will he bring commercial vehicles into the occupational health and safety statistics, as he has promised?

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OHS of work vehicles starts to get national attention

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One of the the most ignored areas of occupational health and safety (OHS) is the light commercial and fleet/company vehicles. This is changing in Australia, partly, because the former head of the Transport Workers Union, Tony Sheldon is now a Senator.

In Senate Estimates on October 23, 2019 (page 117 onwards), Senator Sheldon challenged the heads of Safe Work Australia on workplace vehicle safety. He posed a scenario in relation to the collection of injury/incident data:

“If you’re a truck driver and you’re operating for, say, a major retailer and you’re contracted to a transport company and your contract is as an owner-driver—you own your own rig—and you get injured whilst you’re out on the road and you get seriously injured, under what circumstances would that be included and under what circumstances would it not be included in your statistics for serious injury?”

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One safety quandary solved by Consumer Law. What others are possible?

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Last week the Australian Government accepted the recommendations of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) about improving the safety of quad bikes. But the improvement in safety came not through occupational health and safety (OHS) laws but the Australian Consumer Law so how could the ACL help improve workplace health and safety further? After a quick look at how the quad bike recommendations have been received, the potential of the ACL is considered in relation to silicosis.

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The reluctant acceptance of quad bike safety changes

One important stage in improving the safety of farm vehicles was completed on October 10 2019 with the acceptance by the Australian Government of recommendations to make Operator-Protection Devices (OPD) mandatory for all quad bikes in Australia. That decision is a substantial achievement that many have lobbied, and fought, over for many years, but it will not save every farmer’s life as quad bike use has always only ever been one part of the occupational health and safety (OHS) risks on farms.

The Australian Government’s recent announcements on this issue have also been a little odd.

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Tough but fair – Allan Fels

Allan Fels has served the Australian public for decades as the head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, a Mental Health Commissioners and recently a Royal Commissioner for the Victorian Government in its inquiry into mental health. His level of activity and the breadth of that influence is extraordinary and should be no surprise that his service has overlapped and influenced workplace health and safety.

That experience has generated a book – Tough Customer – in which Fels reflects on his public service roles but also about how his life and that of his family have influenced his view of the world and his policy priorities. SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to speak with him for a short while earlier this week on the topics of

  • mental health
  • workplace health and safety
  • executive and political perspectives
  • the gig economy
  • ethics and social justice
  • the ACCC.
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