Sexual harassment may be an OHS issue but what priority should it receive?

One online news site in Australia has suggested that sexual harassment is an occupational health and safety (OHS) issue.  At first blush, it should be.  Sexual harassment can create mental ill-health and can certainly be harmful. But from the early days of discussions about workplace bullying and occupational violence in Australia, sexual harassment has been consciously excluded from OHS.

Is It or Isn’t It?

Some of the best discussion on bullying, harassment and violence was written by Dr Clare Mayhew for the Australian Institute of Criminology in 2000.  These included a practical handbook on prevention. (It’s peculiar that some of the most perceptive works on OHS occur outside the OHS profession.  Well perhaps not so surprising.)  In the handbook, Mayhew points out that harassment has always been an element of workplace bullying but excludes sexual harassment from her discussion:

“The Australian Institution of Criminology believes that prevention, rather than post-incident reaction, is the key to improved outcomes. However, the handbook needs to be adapted specifically to each organisation for best results. The discussions exclude activity that could be described as sexual harassment, which is extensively dealt with elsewhere.” (page 1)

This position is reflective of the OHS literature yet, on reflection, this position may have been wrong for it contributed to a fractured approach to managing workplace psychosocial hazards. 

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Action demanded on sexual harassment in the entertainment industry

On 12 December 2017, part of Australia’s screen and television industry held a forum in Sydney about sexual harassment in the sector and what could be done to reduce this workplace hazard. This initiative occurred a day before an open letter was published about sexual harassment in the music industry.  There is a momentum for change on sexual harassment in the workplace, but it is at risk of resulting in a fragmented approach which will generate turf wars, confusion and, ultimately, ineffectiveness.

The

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What do Weinstein, Spacey and others have to do with OHS?

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“Then I went, ‘Oh hang on, I’ve normalised so much of this as part of my industry…. This last three months has really made us all take a long hard look at what we have even let ourselves think is acceptable.” – Sacha Horler

Such a statement is familiar to those working in the field of occupational health and safety (OHS).  This normalisation, or habituation, has underpinned much of the discussion of what builds a safety culture – “the way things are done round here”.  As a result of revelations and accusations pertaining to Gary Glitter, Rolf Harris, Jimmy Saville, Robert Hughes, Harvey Weinstein, and Kevin Spacey, the entertainment industry around the world has been forced to assess the fundamental ethics on which sections of its industry are based.  Continue reading “What do Weinstein, Spacey and others have to do with OHS?”

OHS is PHS (public health and safety) but government needs to catch up

The Australian Human Rights Commission has released a report into the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault in Australia’s university campuses. It has revealed some shocking statistics and brings Australian universities into the global phenomenon of reassessing university obligations for the modern world.

Australia’s occupational health and safety laws and obligations could be used as a structure for preventing assaults and harassment if the government and universities would be brave enough to use them.

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What First Aid can say about a workplace culture

The Australian Financial Review for 31 July 2017 included an article (paywalled) reporting on unfair dismissal proceedings involving a first aid officer, Audrey Gatt, at Crown Resort‘s casino and entertainment complex in Melbourne, Australia. The article includes allegations by Gatt that First Aid was withheld from injured workers and patrons.

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