Biden reverses Trump’s position on workplace safety

It is fair to say that the term of office for President Trump was not supportive of occupational health and safety (OHS). Former President Trump did not seem to see the need for OHS regulations and his attitude to the COVID-19 pandemic meant that it would never be considered as an occupational disease. Reports over the last week in the United States media, and the issuing of an Executive Order, indicate that new President Biden values workplace health and safety.

The New York Times (paywalled) is reporting that

“President Biden directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] on Thursday to release new guidance to employers on protecting workers from Covid-19.
In one of 10 executive orders that he signed Thursday, the president asked the agency to step up enforcement of existing rules to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace and to explore issuing a new rule requiring employers to take additional precautions.”

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Farmers want quad bikes…….

The debate over the safety of quad bikes on farms continues but it is increasingly one-sided. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and workplace safety advocates continue to hold the line on the need to install operator protection devices (OPDs) to all quad bikes being sold in Australia. Farmers, often supported by commercial interests, want to keep their quad bikes and as they are, because there are no alternative vehicles that are as versatile as the quad bike.

On July 4 2020, the Western Magazine quoted the CEO of the Federated Chamber of Automotive Industries‘ (FCAI) Tony Weber:

“Evidence suggests in some circumstances CPDs do prevent injuries, other times they create more injuries and that’s not a satisfactory outcome we should address the fundamental problem and that is the way in which humans behave around this machine…”

This quote neatly summarises the points of argument in the safety debate which have been reported on extensively in this blog previously – evidence, most benefit, design, use….

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What is needed to get us out of this crisis

As parts of the world begin to emerge from the disruption and lockdowns of COVID19 some academics and experts are advising that the future must be built on the past but should not seek to replicate it. Over a dozen prominent, global academics (listed below) have written a discussion paper to be published in the Economic & Labour Relations Review (ELRR) in June 2020 entitled “The COVID-19 pandemic: lessons on building more equal and sustainable societies” which includes discussion on workplace relations and factors affecting mental health at work. These big picture discussions are essential in the development of strategies and policies for the post-COVD19 world and occupational health and safety (OHS) has a legitimate, and some would say unique, voice.


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Quick OHS News – Danger Money, Red Tape and Toilets

Below is some interesting occupational health and safety (OHS) issues that have appeared over the last week that I don’t have the time to explore in the usual depth but are useful.

Danger Money appears

David Marin-Guzman reports that unions are asking for an extra

“$5 an hour to compensate [disability workers] for risks in assisting clients suspected of having coronavirus.”

The reporter’s Twitter account justifiably describes this as “danger money“, an issue forecast as likely by this blog recently. That such an offer is made by the Health Services and United Workers Unions is disappointing but unions can do little else as the employers have the primary OHS responsibilities. What such action also does though is let the employers off lightly from their OHS duties to continuously improve workplace health and safety. The $5 danger money may be cheaper than implementing other risk control options but OHS laws have a process for this type of decision making that has Cost as the last option to be considered. Allowances do not reduce worker safety risks and they can undermine future OHS initiatives.


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Lessons from the US

The current COVID19 pandemic has presented businesses with a confusing risk challenge. Is the risk of infection a public health issue or an occupational health and safety (OHS) issue? The easy answer only adds to the confusion – it is neither and both.

In relation to epidemics and pandemics these are public health risks within which the OHS risks must be managed. In Australia, many of the OHS regulations and agencies were slow to provide the level of detailed guidance that employers were requesting and this was partly due to the regulators and agencies having to scramble together working groups and experts to rapidly produce such guidance. The situation in the United States offers a useful and reassuring comparison to how the Australian governments have responded but also offers OHS lessons for Australian employers.

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What seems odd in China may/should become normal elsewhere

The occupational health and safety (OHS) risks associated with the COVID19 induced working situations are well established although still not easily or readily controlled. Some countries are starting to emerge from the enforced lockdowns and isolations and need to restart work. This emergence will be faced by almost all countries to differing extents and OHS and infection control will be integral to how this occurs.

Recently NPR’s Ailsa Chang spoke with Eva Dou of The Washington Post about the re-emergence of Foxconn in China, a company famous for manufacturing iPhones and for a spate of work-related suicides

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What of International Workers Memorial Day in 2020?

ILO’s World Day on Safety and Health at Work occurs each year on April 28. Events are centred around monuments and places in capital cities and towns, speeches about the importance of occupational health and safety (OHS) are made and symbolic gestures are given.

The World Day is intended to be an acknowledgement of the importance of OHS for all workers and people of all political stances. The aim is to focus on workplace deaths, and the practical actions to prevent those deaths, not the politics of those deaths, but far more prominence is given to the trade union movement’s International Workers Memorial Day held on the same day.

So how will these memorial days work in this year of COVID19?

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