Look closely at the camel rather than the straw

There are strong parallels between the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces and others addressing workplace issues, such as the Victorian Royal Commission into Mental and the Productivity Commission’s mental health inquiry, but there is also a connection to the Royal Commission into Banking and Financial Services which has focused the minds of some of Australia’s corporation s and leaders into examining their own workplace cultures and, for some, to reassess the role and application of capitalism.

This is going to become even more of a critical activity as the National Sexual Harassment Inquiry completes its report prior to its release in the first month or two of 2020.

Cultural analysis, and change, is often best undertaken first in a microcosm or specific social context. The experiences of sexual harassment of rural women in Australia is one such context, a context examined in detail by Dr Skye Saunders in her book “Whispers from the Bush“.

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Grab bag of OHS issues – politics, dust, occupational violence and international HR

Workforce lifecycle framework

Over the last week or so, as the Australian Parliament resumes operating, the Liberal/National Government is trying to reduce the influence of “militant” unions through its “Ensuring Integrity” Bill but opponents say this may affect the management of occupational health and safety (OHS).


The Federal Department of Health has established a National Dust Disease
Taskforce
to develop a national approach to the prevention, early identification, control and management of dust diseases in Australia largely, it seems in response to silicosis but Black Lung had to have some influence.


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Family violence at work, looking at trees instead of forest

Victoria’s Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy, has released a media statement about the occupational health and safety (OHS) context of family violence, referencing a WorkSafe Victoria guidance note from January 2018.

Hennessy is quoted saying:

“Employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace for their employees – and that includes doing whatever they can to support workers experiencing family violence.”

But what level or type of support is expected from employers? Family violence is damaging and insidious but also a crime. It is also a subset, or maybe a special type, of workplace violence as is evident by WorkSafe’s reference to its broader violence publication at the end of the family violence guidance note. The publication, A guide for employers Preventing and responding to work-related violence, outlines the employers duty of care, which includes prevention.

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Submission to the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces

Australian research into occupational health and safety (OHS) is a lot less than research into other areas of business and management, especially in relation to the psychological wellbeing of workers at all levels of the corporate structure.  As such, it has become common for experts, advocates and researchers from the social, non-work, public health areas to overlay general and broad research findings on to workplaces – they are, in effect, filling a vacuum.  But just because the OHS research into psychological harm is thin or immature does not mean that work does not have its own characteristics.

Over many years OHS has produced research and guidelines that include the psychological effect of sexual harassment, but it has been ineffectual or ignored for may reasons.  This submission is an attempt to illustrate the potential already in existence in Australia that could be used to prevent sexual harassment-related psychological harm.

This submission has drawn almost exclusively on Australian-based documentation and research to better satisfy the title and aim of this Inquiry.  This is not saying that actions and data from overseas are not relevant: there is some excellent information on the matter from the European Union[1], for instance. But quite often people seem to look overseas for evidence and solutions when Australia already has good research and advice, if one looks.

Summary of key points

  • Sexual harassment often results in psychological harm to workers, and employers and PCBUs already have a legislative obligation under OHS/WHS law to eliminate (prevent) risks to health and safety, including psychological risks.
  • By accepting that sexual harassment is a form of workplace violence, new prevention options may be available.
  • Australia has a range of general and specific guidance on the systematic prevention of the psychological harm generated by sexual harassment, produced by Federal and State or Territorial health and safety regulators.
  • Prevention of sexual harassment may be extremely disruptive to workplaces even though it remains the most effective control measure.
  • Any strategy to prevent sexual harassment must have a multidisciplinary and cross-agency approach.
  • Independent assessment of sexual harassment risks can be determined to internationally-recognised Standards
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What will the ALP do for Victoria on OHS?

archive photo of Premier Daniel Andrews

The Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party has had its 2018 policy platform available online for sometime.  Given that the State election  is on November 24, 2018 it is timely to look at the ALP’s new, or restated, commitments.

In its section on Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) the ALP claims that its support of WorkSafe Victoria’s

“…behavioural change campaigns has seen a reduction over time in workplace injury and death, however there remain some businesses which continue to show little regard for the safety of their workforce.” (page 17)

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