“no choice” = BS

Occupational health and safety (OHS) laws are increasingly applying to non-occupational situations. This “responsibility creep” may be part of the reason that public members are complaining about unfair restrictions on what they can do, on their choices, on the way they have done things for years. Many claim that they have no choice to do what they do, that the choice has been taken away from them, but there is always a choice, even if the consequences are uncomfortable.

The misrepresentation of OHS rules and obligations in the United Kingdom media led to a myth-busting program run by that country’s Health and Safety Executive. In many ways, the UK media was being mischievous by exploiting and exacerbating misunderstandings of OHS duties, but it had a significant cultural impact that lives on today. Traditionally OHS duties were easier to understand when they were contained in a workplace (or were seen to only apply to workplaces); when they jumped the fence, the social rules changed.

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Quad bikes, compliance, mandates, misdirection and rules

Last week it became illegal for a new or second-hand quad bike to be sold in Australia without a crush protection device (CPD) fitted at the point of sale. This achievement has been decades in coming and has involved bitter fighting between advocates of safety and the sellers and manufacturers of this equipment.

This blog has followed this controversy for years. Quad bike safety is a significant illustration of the political and commercial pressures that have argued for a lowered level of safety than was possible. This conflict is perhaps the most public display of a moral conflict whose resolution is at the heart of occupational health and safety (OHS). (This controversy deserves a book similar to those about glyphosate and asbestos)

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It’s not the laws, it’s the implementation

A major criticism of the Australian government about its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has provided mixed messages about what to do and when. Those messages are sometimes amended by State Governments, and the messages from both these sources could change in a matter of days. This creates an enormous challenge for businesses and their occupational health and safety (OHS) personnel, if they have any.

This is a major factor in the campaign by business and industry groups and trade unions for the government to issue Public Health Orders (PHO). PHOs take the risk assessments out of the hands of the employers by establishing specific criteria that are legally binding. This is convenient in the short term, but PHOs are regularly updated to address the changing COVID-19 situation, so the stability of messaging that PHOs hopefully remove could end up with similar administrative results for employers and business operators. This veneer of security was discussed recently by lawyer Michael Tooma.

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Ageing and Decent Work report

A recent academic commentary on “Aging and the Future of Decent Work”* by many international researchers contains some interesting thoughts on employer obligations and health promotion.

The report makes some specific comments about the effectiveness of health promotion programs for older workers:

Workplace health promotion programs may encounter obstacles that impede desired results. For example, employers are generally not obliged to promote employee health in the same way they are required to address workplace safety. Lack of resources, management resistance, and employee reluctance to change behaviors are common barriers to program success. The literature on health promotion interventions targeting older workers is sparse but suggests the effectiveness of such programs may be limited and may vary depending on the focus of the intervention.

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NZ research into transport industry OHS is relevant everywhere

In 2019, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews flagged that incidents involving commercial vehicles would be reflected in workplace health and safety statistics. There has been little visible change on this pledge. Still, recently WorkSafe Victoria reviewed its work-related fatality statistics to include truck fatalities and other causes of work-related deaths for the last couple of years. Guess what, the number of deaths almost doubled for that period from 26 to 49!! What would the rate of serious injuries be if it was also reassessed?

New Zealand undertook a similar exercise a few years ago, which has led to a significant research project into that country’s transport industry and supply chains, a research project with substantial relevance to Australia and elsewhere.

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Twelve months of work-related deaths

In 2008, prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) advocate, Hilda Palmer wrote about the inadequate estimates of work-related deaths in the United Kingdom. Keeping work-related death confined to traditional categories provides a false understanding of the reality of OHS. Palmer wrote:

“Far from being complacent about the health and safety record in this country, we need to be honest and open, and examine what is really going on”.

Recently, at the 2021 Workers Memorial, a representative of the Victorian Trades Hall read out a list of those who have died at, or due to, work in the last 12 months. It was a list of 47 people. The categories have expanded to include truck incidents, asbestosis, silicosis as well as the more traditional traumatic injuries. Curiously no suicides. A transcripted list of those 47 is below.

Continue reading “Twelve months of work-related deaths”

A traditional farm safety campaign with tweaks

For the last few years, farm safety has been dominated by arguments over the safety of quad bikes. Squabbles continue in Australia, but that topic is largely over, and many are returning to a broader and more contemporary approach to health and safety in farming.

It looks like WorkSafe Victoria has begun to roll out its farm safety ambassadors with Catherine Velisha on the cover of a recent edition of Stock and Land newspaper and in a Youtube video. This is supported by a full article on page 3 with an additional article in a glossy supplement provided with WorkSafe’s support.

The article is a blend of promotion for Velisha’s farm management training company and media releases from WorkSafe Victoria. The occupational health and safety (OHS) statistics are new but not very different from previous statistics. Middle-aged men continue to be a feature of the fatality statistics, and 58 on-farm deaths happened in 2020, the same as the year before. Quad bikes have been a major factor in those deaths.

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