Instead of throwing stones, build a stronger house

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Stock photo of hot worker who, yes, should also be wearing long sleeves and a hat.

On 19 December 2019, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) issued a confusing and, ostensibly, three-paragraph media release about working in heat, a hazard that has been regularly analysed by SafetyAtWorkBlog. It states:

“OHS laws which are designed to keep workers safe at work need to be updated to deal with the reality of climate change, which will mean hotter days and more bushfires, resulting in conditions which are hazardous to workers, especially those who work outside.”

Paragraph 1 – update the occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. Paragraph 3 – new regulations needed:

“… we call on the Morrison Government to act urgently to implement new regulations to protect workers from these hazards.”

So which is it – enforce the old or create new?

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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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OHS in politics this week

Foggy Winter Morning,Aerial view of the Parliament House Canberra,taken at Red Hill Lookout, Canberra,Australia.

Occupational health and safety (OHS) popped up in the Australian Parliament this week in odd, oblique ways. OHS was tied to

  • asbestos imports,
  • the Ensuring Integrity Bill,
  • a construction company owner in Western Australia, and
  • sexual harassment.

Question and Answers

On September 19 2019 several questions were put about the importation of asbestos containing products. The Government through the Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, advised that:

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In cases of wage theft, who investigates the OHS issues?

In August 2017, the ABC Four Corners program reported on the dysfunctional glass recycling industry. Following this various media looked at the issue and in September of that year, one recycler, Polytrade, allowed some media into their worksite. The focus was on the “recycling crisis” and occupational health and safety (OHS) did not get a look in but two years on and OHS is now mentioned, but perhaps not as prominently as it could be.

On October 5 2019, The Age newspaper reported on accusations by the Australian Workers Union that workers at Polytrade were underpaid around $40,000 each year. There are many elements to this story such as migrant workers, “wage theft”, which have tapped into topical issues of several years, but the health and safety of the workers has received much less attention.

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