Is Victoria still committed to its psychosocial regulations?

Victoria’s Minister for WorkSafe, Danny Pearson, has emerged from the occupational health and safety (OHS) wilderness to restate his commitment to introducing legislative amendments on psychosocial hazards at work. He has been stalling on these for a very long time, but he has recently provided an update to Parliament.

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Different OHS messages to different audiences

Last week, WorkSafe Victoria held its annual Business Leaders’ Breakfast. The keynote speaker was Karen Maher, who spoke about the need for an effective and respectful workplace culture that would foster a healthy psychosocial environment. Her presentation would have been familiar to many of the occupational health and safety (OHS) and WorkSafe personnel in the audience, but it may have been revolutionary for any business leaders. Maher outlined the need for change but not necessarily how to change or the barriers to change.

The event did provide a useful Q&A session and afforded the new WorkSafe Victoria CEO, Joe Calafiore, his second public speaking event in a week.

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A curious Worksafe awards night of omissions and shadows

If I was asked to describe last week’s awards night conducted by WorkSafe Victoria, it would be curious. This article does not question the legitimacy of the award winners and finalists: all deserve the accolades and the glory. In fact, there perhaps should have been more of them.

The atmosphere of the event was relatively muted. There were no tables of loud finalists from previous years, but the tables associated with the night’s final award, the Health and Safety Representative (HSR) of the Year, were rowdy at the end. The Master of Ceremonies was a last-minute replacement and made little attempt to entertain. Her job was to read the script and announce the winners, and she was good at that, but there was no lively personality as in previous years, no one to warm up the crowd.

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What makes Victoria think it is so special?

The Victorian government has released the final report of the Legislative Council Economy and Infrastructure Committee’s inquiry into the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (WorkCover Scheme Modernisation) Bill. Many readers will already be asleep after that sentence. Forgive me, it is accurate, but is the report of any use? It certainly progresses the debate on psychosocial regulations.

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Arguing over the WorkCover scheme’s viability again avoids harm prevention

The Victorian Parliament has been debating legislation the government claims is essential to fix a “broken” workers’ compensation system. There are a lot of elements to what is broken – premium increases, political access to WorkSafe finances, political topping up of WorkSafe finances, high numbers and costs for workplace mental health compensation claims and more. What is largely missing is a discussion on the prevention of mental health injuries at work.

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When an increase of 0.5 percentage points is described as an outrageous 43% increase

This week the Victorian Government flagged changes to the workers’ compensation premiums and eligibility. This has generated outrage from business lobby groups and the trade unions, and as he is being criticised by both political extremes, Premier Dan Andrews believes his decision, i.e. being hated by everyone, is a winner.

The Age newspaper was one of the first to report (paywalled) on the announcement of these changes on May 19, 2023. Significantly it included a quote from Dr Mary Wyatt on the economic and social importance of injury prevention. Hers has been one of the few mentions of the role of good occupational health and safety (OHS) management.

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Violence against teachers

Unless you are a teacher, it is difficult to comprehend the extent of stress and pressure teachers can face at school. A recent court case in Queensland involving an appeal against a decision by the Regulator not to accept a workers’ compensation claim provides some insight into the teacher’s lot.

The case, Roberts v Workers’ Compensation Regulator [2023] QIRC 76 (6 March 2023), was won by Ms Karen Roberts as the Commissioner decided that Roberts’ experiences at work, over time, were the major contributor to her post-traumatic stress disorder. There are statements in this decision that the school’s management practices did not worsen her experiences, and there are arguments over the degree of influence of other factors, but there is no occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective here. Even though it is not an OHS prosecution, there is an important OHS context.

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