Zombies, Ghosts and OHS

This holiday season, in between new Val McDermid and Michael Connelly detective novels, I have dipped into a small book called “Zombie Ideas – Why Failed Policy Ideas Persist” in my quest to understand why occupational health and safety (OHS) is not as influential on companies and public policies as I think it should be.

The book is less than 60 pages but dense with ideas that I need a discussion group to fully understand, but there are some useful concepts that may help clarify the policy role, settings and effects of OHS and workers’ compensation.

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The wicked problem of the safety of shearers and the viability of sheep farming

Shearing sheep is an exhausting laborious job and so can cause work-related injuries for which workers’ compensation can be sought. The Weekly Times on January 4 2023 (paywalled) devoted a whole page to the issue in an article headlined “The shear cost of it all”. (Only a companion piece is available online at the time of writing)

The aim of the article seems to be to illustrate the exorbitant and unfair workers’ compensation costs faced by the employers of shearers, but some relevant occupational health and safety (OHS) matters are overlooked.

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Serious questions about WorkSafe Victoria’s financial sustainability

Shortly after Christmas 2022, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) released an article about the financial status of the Victorian Workcover Authority. The article was about a 2020 review of the financial sustainability of the workers’ compensation scheme by insurance and actuarial firm, Finity. This was built upon in a couple of mainstream newspapers.

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Worker’s compensation explained in new social welfare book

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is an integral element of social welfare, even though the practitioners of the discipline self-silo. A new Australian book about Australia’s social services uses workers’ compensation and OHS as a case study for a change.

The Careless State – Reforming Australia’s Social Services” by Mark Considine illustrates the Venn Diagram overlap of public health services, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), aged care services, workplace safety and compensation and more. The book is very timely, as many of the social services essential for social harmony and justice have been neglected over the last decade under various State and Federal conservative governments.

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How could OHS have helped manage Chris Smith?

SkyNews and radio host, Chris Smith, has been dismissed due to inappropriate behaviour at a company Christmas party. This type of behaviour has been on the occupational health and safety (OHS) and Industrial Relations radar for a long, long time. Recently the psychological impacts of this type of behaviour have come to the fore, placing the issue clearly in the OHS realm.

It is useful to look at the Chris Smith saga through the “new” OHS perspective.

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A fair dinkum fair go?

A New Work Relations Architecture is a radical book for Australia. Radical because its authors are proposing industrial relations reform, and Australia has had very little of this since Prime Minister John Howard‘s attempt with Workchoices in 2005. Radical also because it has taken inspiration from the Robens approach to occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.

The new “architecture” (thankfully, the cliche of “ecosystem” was not used) is described as:

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New OHS data but few solutions

Safe Work Australia has released its latest statistical profile on work health and safety in Australian workplaces.  All of the information in the report is interesting and relevant; most of the information is positive or an update of what was already known.  But there are things missing.

The most obvious limitation of these statistics is that the primary source remains workers’ compensation claims data, which may take years to resolve. We know that this data source is not representative of the level of injuries and harm in Australian workplaces. SWA points out that additional sources are used, such as media reports and notifications from local jurisdictions, but these are of variable quality. 

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