Norms and culture continue to impede change in Australia’s transport sector

Australia’s heavy vehicle transport industry has been involved in arguing about workplace health and safety for decades. It is also one of those issues that have been largely dominated by anecdotal evidence, as shown by the recent Australian Senate Committee hearings into the “Importance of a viable, safe, sustainable and efficient road transport industry“, much to the detriment of the occupational health and safety (OHS) of the drivers, the public safety of other road users and the families of those who die in road incidents.

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Ask not what WorkSafe can do for you, but what you can do to improve safety

One of the most difficult industries in which to achieve occupational health and safety (OHS) improvements is farming, especially in areas where farming continues to be done by small family units. The safety culture of farming is unique as the workplace is embedded in community and rural culture. Some people believe that OHS regulators have given the agricultural industry an easy run for too long, as stated by Mick Debenham in a recent opinion piece in The Weekly Times (paywalled), but farmers should perhaps ask themselves why people continue to die on their farms and what they can do to change this.

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Mandatory COVID19 vaccinations? Yep.

Each Monday in January 2021, workers are returning to workplaces, worksites, and offices, often with regret that the Christmas/New Year break was not long enough. This year their return is complicated by concerns about COVID19.

The major talking point, at least in Australia, is “can an employer force a worker to be vaccinated as a condition of returning to work?” and the answer seems to be “Yes”.

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“safety theft” in the gig economy

An opinion piece by Dr Elliot Fishman, of the Institute for Sensible Transport published in the HeraldSun newspaper on January 3, 2021 mentions Industrial Manslaughter in relation to food delivery drivers. (The article appears to be unavailable online) The link is tenuous and seems outside of Dr Fishman’s main area of expertise, but that seems to be the nature of Industrial Manslaughter penalties, they pop up in all sorts of discussions, many unrelated to the point being made.

The point Dr Fishman seems to be making is that the delivery of food on two-wheeled vehicles is dangerous, as shown by recent deaths of several riders in Victoria and New South Wales, and he poses several questions and suggestions to improve the situation:

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Australian Safety Magazine continues to improve

The member magazine of the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS), OHS Professional, continues to improve in the quality of its articles – less advertorial, more authoritative articles. The current edition, December 2020, includes two particularly good articles- one on the manufacturers’ withdrawal of quad bikes in protest and another on psychological health and safety at work. This article will discuss the quad bike article.

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The quad bike safety puzzle

According to The Weekly Times ($), the Victorian Farmers Federation has changed its stance on the fitting of operator protective devices (OPDs) to quad bikes at point of sale. Instead they want farmers to fit their own OPDs. The reason given for this change is reported as being

“… due to concerns many quad bike brands would no longer be available if manufacturers were forced to fit them.”

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Federal leadership misses State action

Australia’s Industrial Relations Minister and Attorney-General, Christian Porter, has popped up on occupational health and safety (OHS) issues several times in the last few weeks. It is fair to say that each time he has not really shone, partly due to political ideology and partly due to constitutional structures. Some of these barriers, the Minister can address.

As mentioned recently, several food delivery drivers have died. Minister Porter was asked specifically about one of these deaths, that of Chow Khai Shien, in Parliament by the Australian Labor Party’s Josh Burns. Porter said that he had talked to representatives of the Transport Workers Union about this type of work, but:

“One of the things that we discussed in that meeting was the fact—that is acknowledged, I think, inside the union—that occupational health and safety for those drivers is, not just predominantly, but essentially, a state based responsibility.”

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