So, the Australian Labor Party (ALP), the political arm of the trade union movement, the friend of all Australian workers, failed to win government from the Conservative parties. Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) improvements are likely to be left to the magnanimity of the employers, Persons in Control of a Business or Undertaking (PCBUs) and those ideologically opposed to regulatory impositions.
But does the OHS future under Conservative governments mean that workers will be worse off? Sadly, Yes, if the experience of the United States is anything to go by, as illustrated in the analysis of the “Laissez-Faire Revival” by Thomas O. McGarity.
As the world approaches World Day for Safety and Health at Work and International Workers Memorial Day this coming Sunday it is worth reminding ourselves of some of the immorality that unregulated Capitalism allows. A company in one of the last remaining exporters of asbestos, Russia, has used President Donald Trump’s words and image to support its production and export of asbestos*, a product known for over a century to cause fatal illnesses.
Why is asbestos still mind if the evidence of its fatality is incontrovertible? Greed, or as it has been called in the past – “good business sense”. Many authors have written about the history of asbestos globally and locally. Many have written about the injustice in denying victims compensation from exposure to a known harmful chemical. But few have written about the core support for asbestos production, export and sale – Greed.
As the dominance of neoliberalism weakens around the world, people are fearful of what comes next. In some sectors, that fear includes occupational health and safety (OHS). OHS is a business cost, in the same way as every other cost of running a business, but it is often seen as an interloper, a fun-sucker, a nuisance and/or an impediment to profitability. This misinterpretation needs to be contested.
I learnt more about the politics of the United States from Doonesbury than I did from television news and analysis. I learn more about the politics of occupational health and safety (OHS) in the United States from Jordan Barab‘s Confined Space newsletter/blog than I do any other media source. Although the US’s OHS legal structures are different from Australia and other Commonwealth countries, the political ideologies and maneuverings, and fads and statistics are noted by political parties outside the United States.
Recently Barab posted a Year in Review article which is obligatory reading. His key issues included:
- A New and Improved Congress (or at least the House)
- A Headless Agency
- Inspectors down, enforcement units down, penalties down
- Return of Black Lung
- Brett Kavanaugh
- Regulatory Rollback
- The Fate of the Labor Movement
Anything sound familiar in your own jurisdiction?
The United States media continues to scrutinise the Department of Labor (DoL). On March 13 2017, The New York Times (NYT) expressed concerns about the lack of official media releases from the department, comparing the actions under a Trump administration against the Obama occupational health and safety (OHS) strategy. Some are claiming this to be a deliberate strategy but, until the Labor Secretary is confirmed, it may simply be caution. Such an apparently simple action can have broader effects on OHS management, as Australia learnt. Continue reading “US says “nothing to see here, move along””