Seven years ago, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) suffered a spike of workplace deaths in the construction sector. The then WorkSafe Commissioner produced a report, supported by at least one conference and extensive consultation, which proposed substantial changes. All of the recommendations from the 2012 Getting Home Safely report were accepted by the government and construction had no deaths for several years after but recent deaths have resurrected tensions between the ACT Government and the Master Builders Association (MBA).
Government policies that directly affect occupational health and safety (OHS) have been determined on a tripartite structure for many decades. This model comprises of representatives from business groups and trade unions in a consultation usually led by the government representatives. SafetyAtWorkBlog believes that this structure excludes important voices and is outdated, especially in a time when technology and the internet allows for a much broader consultation.
The limitations of the tripartite structure were on display recently when the Australian Government released the names of the organisations involved in the review of the industrial relations system. It is worth reading the list for you to understand who will be deciding your working future. It is also worth considering whether the negative OHS impacts of job and employment structures will be given the attention they deserve.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) is integral to how work and job should be designed in the post-COVID19 world, but you wouldn’t know it from the current discussions in the media. On May 13, 2020, the day after a major economic statement from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Jennifer Westacott, Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, told ABC Radio that:
“…. there’s some pretty sobering numbers that the Treasurer gave yesterday and fundamentally I think we’ve all got to come back to basics here. This is about people’s lives and so what we have to do, as the kind of leadership dynamic, is to focus on getting people back to work and getting them into secure and meaningful work.emphasis added
It is not unreasonable to add safety to that “secure and meaningful work”.
OHS fits into this phrase in many ways, but one of particular note is job security and its links to mental health, especially as mental health has been a policy priority repeatedly identified by Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and others.
Many Australian workplaces will be reopening in the next few weeks. Their productivity capacity will change, their workplaces, will change and their approach to, and understanding of, occupational health and safety (OHS) will need to change. But there are signs that some business owners and employers are embracing risk and safety in this new operating climate but there are others who are either denying the changes needed, are struggling to think creatively, are ill-informed or are stupid. Most of these realities were on display in a single edition of the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on May 8, 2020 (paywalled) – the primary source for this article.
The timing of the newspaper edition is important as it was published on the morning before the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, revealed the decisions of the National Cabinet. A further blog article will be produced on those decisions shortly.
Lifts and Whinging
The AFR front page carried a short story called “Elevated risks in office lifts” that shows the deficiencies of several thought processes mentioned above.
Last week the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released some research into workers and COVID19. It is not peer-reviewed and there will certainly be much more research into the disruption and personal and occupational responses to the coronavirus disruption over the next few months. The survey results do not specifically analyse occupational health and safety (OHS) issues but there are clues to future considerations.
The media release, understandably, discusses the changed employment status or arrangements. The OHS hazards associated with precarious work are well-established and the survey illustrates the extent of precarity in Australian workplace, so mental health issues are going to come to the fore as government-imposed isolation continues and/or businesses reopen.