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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New inquiry into sexual harassment – an OHS opportunity and challenge

On June 20 2018, the Australian government announced a National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, claiming it to be a world-first. Sexual harassment is not an occupational health and safety (OHS) hazard in many ways BUT the psychological harm it can create is. The job of an OHS person is to encourage employers to reduce work-related harm through prevention, so we need to prevent sexual harassment, just as we do for all the work activities that contribute to poor psychological health and safety.

The macroeconomic costs of sexual harassment in the workplace may be of interest to politicians and business lobbyists but this can be a significant distraction from identifying ways to prevent psychological harm, which should be the most important legacy of this type of inquiry.

Addressing the OHS impacts of

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Duty of Care to the safety and health of “others”.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) has released a very good report about Australia’s immigration detention centres which includes a long discussion on duty of care to detainees under Common Law. The report, “In Poor Health: Health care in Australian immigration detention” does not include any discussion on the duty of care under work health and safety (WHS) legislation however it can be argued that the Australian Government, through its supply chain, chain of responsibility and contract management, also has a duty of care to detainees under health and safety laws.

Several recent legal actions and workplace safety guidance indicates that clarification about the duty of care on physical and psychological risks to “others” is overdue.

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