The new must build on the old – Uber, violence and safety

Anything Uber does gets global attention. This month Uber released its Safety Report which included sexual assaults and misconduct by its drivers in the United States. It seems that the importance of a planned workplace health and safety system has caught up with Uber.

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Do workers have a real choice about their safety?

I apologise for spending so much time recently writing about Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws, but the discussion of these laws is illustrating many of the interpretations of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws and management.  For instance, the recent IM debate in Victoria has repeatedly mentioned the need to apply IM laws to the acts and decisions of employees, as if employees have an unfettered choice to put their safety before the wishes of their employer – a nonsensical myth.

On November 26 2019 in Victoria’s Parliament Rod Barton MP of the Transport Matters Party acknowledged that the IM laws may focus the employer’s attention on ensuring truck drivers do not work while fatigued (an obligation already required by the OHS Act).  He then said:

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Paper provides historical context to OHS laws

Barry Naismith of OHSIntros has provided excellent independent analysis of Victoria’s occupational health and safety (OHS) data for many years. His latest “Deaths at Work” report (available publicly for a limited time) includes a detailed discussion on the social context of Victoria’s proposed Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws.

But of more immediate interest is Naismith’s longitudinal analysis. One of his graphs showing death statistics back to the commencement of Victoria’s modern-era OHS laws in 1985 supports the statement popular with politicians that the rate of work-related deaths is declining over that time but Naismith points out that the five-year trend to 2018 is reversed and that this is part of the justification for the IM Laws.

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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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