Language, labels, thoughts and restraints

Carsten Busch is a committed voice for improvement in occupational health and safety (OHS) and our understanding of it. Recently he published a research paper entitled “Brave New World: Can Positive Developments in Safety Science and Practice also have Negative Sides?” (open access). The paper is of note for several reasons, not including the use Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel “Brave New World” a book about a dystopia that many Australian high school students in the 1970s were required to read.

Dystopian novels suit the study of OHS as the structure often reflects a character with new experiences of an unfamiliar culture or an awakening or realisation of their place in the world. Brave New World fits the former and George Orwell’s 1984, the latter. OHS professionals often step into a workplace culture that is foreign to what they have understood to be the norm. They evaluate the new culture, find it wanting and suggest repairs, if they can. Over time some OHS professionals, often through an epiphany, realise that they have not achieved what they expected and either leave or turn on the OHS discipline. Some OHS professionals are able to blend both these experiences and perspectives.

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Tough but short-term

A toxic fire in an industrial district creates plumes of dangerous smoke billowing up into the air as seen from behind a near by warehouse building, 2019. Credit:Christopher Freeman

Melbourne, Australia has recently suffered several notable factory fires that resulted from unsafe storage of chemical wastes. These fires have resulted in toxic fumes across residential suburbs, environmental damage to local waterways and some injuries to workers. Victoria’s Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy has responded by increasing penalties for breaching occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. This is a good short-term measure and indicates to the community that their government is doing something but is not a sustainable prevention strategy.

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Running with scissors in Parliament

The workplace death of Jorge Castillo-Riffo continues to raise important discussions about occupational health and safety (OHS), responsibility and accountability. The South Australian parliament discussed scissor lifts and OHS on June 6 2019. The criticism of the Coroner was concerning and the debate was a sadly typical political discussion but the issue of improving OHS in construction sites has not been forgotten by some South Australia politicians.

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Burnout of a different kind

[Updated 12 noon 12 June 2019]

Why do some companies accept or propose an Enforceable Undertaking in relation to breaches of occupational health and safety law? This media statement from WorkSafeNT dated June 7, 2019 illustrates one answer:

“Car Festivals Pty Ltd and the Northern Territory Major Events Company Pty Ltd committed to spend a combined $1.2 million in legally binding agreements, when it became clear NT WorkSafe was considering laying charges over the incident.” (emphasis added)

This reads like someone has calculated the potential cost (fines, etc) to the companies from an OHS prosecution and has opted for the cheaper option. And $1.2 million is a hefty financial commitment.

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To OPD or not to OPD? That is NOT the question

The current debate and lobbying campaigns over quad bikes in Australia have become less about safety than about product design integrity. The opposition to operator protection devices (OPDs) has been so loud that it has dominated the quad bike safety discussion. So, last week I decided to visit a local quad bike dealer to talk to the sellers not about OPDs but about Safety. I found that some vehicles have safety integrated into their design and operation.

I have learnt that the best conversations happen during the weekdays when shop assistants and managers have the time to devote to someone who may be a potential buyer but is, at least, someone genuinely interested in the product, in this case quad bikes and side-by-side (SXS) work vehicles.

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