Liability, COVID19, Manslaughter and Working from Home – Welcome to the new OHS

Last week WorkSafe Victoria followed some of the other Australian States by requiring employers to report positive COVID19 cases as “notifiable incidents”. (If they can do this fro COVID19, shouldn’t it be possible to do the same for mental health disorders?) Expanding the pool of notifiable incidents is of little practical consequence but it is indicative of how occupational health and safety (OHS) management is changing, and how Industrial Manslaughter is becoming a pervasive threat.

Managing Liability

In the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on August 4 2020, employer liability for COVID19 incidents was discussed. Liberty Sanger of union-associated law firm, Maurice Blackburn, spoke of the importance of genomic testing to better identify the origin of the infection, ie. was it caught at work or at home.

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Gender, OHS and Checklists

The topicality and importance of many issues highlighted in early 2020 have disappeared. One of them was the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace and Libby Lyons, Director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, has released the speech she intended to give at the, now cancelled, Commission on the Status of Women meeting at the United Nations. Lyons said this about sexual harassment and employers:

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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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The concept of “Coercive Control” should be applied to workplace violence

“Coercive control” is getting attention in New South Wales in relation to domestic violence but there are similarities to workplace behaviours such as sexual harassment and bullying.

The Chief Psychiatrist of Victoria’s “guideline and practice resource: family violence” says

“Family violence is understood as a pattern of repeated and
coercive control, aiming to control another person’s thoughts, feelings and actions.”

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Accountability in all that we do

“The way we do things around here” is a rough explanation to what many people mean by culture and, especially, a workplace safety culture. A culture is built or strengthened through personal interaction, conversations, relationship and a shared responsibility. Part of this is an expectation that workers will look out for each (which is also a legislative obligation), and crucial to this is the concept of the “ethical bystander“.

But recently this concept was applied in a new way in an American Court when a woman, Lisa Ricchio, who was kept and sexually assaulted repeatedly in a hotel room, sued the hotel alleging that the hotel owners financially benefited from the crime.

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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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