OHS change

Recently I have been critical of political speeches concerning occupational health and safety (OHS) for being bland, safe, unadventurous and lacking vision. Recently a reader sent me these words:

“In recent years occupational health and safety has become the forgotten element of national workplace relations policy. It’s now time to focus on its importance – to protect lives and livelihoods and to ensure the future strength of Australia’s workers compensation schemes. There’s too much in the balance to let the system decline in effectiveness and increase in cost. Lives are at stake.

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Confrontation with PM involves workers’ compensation

Last week Australian media covered a confrontation between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and a pensioner, Ray, in Newcastle. Most of the coverage focused on Ray’s criticism of the commitments of the Morrison Government to support and reward those citizens willing to “have go”. The full 5-minute video provides a much better context to the man’s complaints than do the short edits on most media bulletins. That context seems to include concerns about workers’ compensation and the processes of the Dust and Diseases Board.

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Should heartlessness be the status quo?

On April 7, 2022, prominent trade unionist Luke Hilakari had an opinion piece published in The Age newspaper titled “Paul was told he has arthritis. His workplace injury was far more serious”. Hilakari told a story, familiar to many, of one man’s journey from workplace injury to impecunious hardship.

The story is tough to read and full of injustices, but the political point of the article is lost. The Victorian Government has been provided with a report that could reduce the bureaucratic and surveillance challenges faced by Paul, but the system itself will not change.

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No fanfare for Victoria’s workers’ compensation review

This week the Victorian Government released Peter Rozen‘s report called Improving the experience of injured workers: A review of WorkSafe Victoria’s management of complex workers’ compensation claims. The public release has been long anticipated as it has been sitting with the Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt, since April 2021.

The Review was forced on the Government after the second damning report on WorkSafe Victoria’s performance from Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass. In some ways, Rozen’s report can be seen as the third report into the Victorian workers’ compensation scheme.

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Jessie Singer and the “social autopsy”

I am halfway through an extraordinary book called “There Are No Accidents –
The Deadly Rise of Injury and Disaster—Who Profits and Who Pays the Price
” by Jessie Singer. It is extraordinary in many ways, but the most significant is that Singer chose to write a book for the general reader about how people are hurt at work, home and when driving and how describing these as “accidents” deflects responsibility, as if there was nothing that could be done to prevent them. This is of huge significance to the advocates of work health and safety, and the book’s release should spark interviews with Singer and book reviews which could lead to a broader social discussion of safety.

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Why bother with the Federal Government on OHS matters?

Australian political debate has a recurring thread of State and Federal responsibility. Currently, this debate focuses on the emergency response for floods in Queensland and New South Wales. Before this was the COVID response and the Black Summer bushfires. This argument over responsibility has trickled along for many years, for Constitutional and other reasons, including occupational health and safety (OHS).

Some years ago, all the Australian governments had a stab at resolving the split without reforming the Constitution through the OHS harmonisation strategy. It tweaked the system without Constitutional reform, but OHS will remain primarily a State and Territory matter (except for Comcare). This allows Prime Minister Scott Morrison to make bold statements (and some not-so-bold) about national problems like sexual harassment in Australian workplaces or worker exploitation in agriculture, understanding that the local jurisdictions are the ones who need to fix and police the problems.

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On mental health, everyone wants to win

In response to the first of this series of articles on Victoria’s proposed Psychological Health regulations, one reader provided an excellent outline of one of the roads leading to the proposal. It is certainly worth looking back to the Boland Review and recommendations, but it is also worth considering some of the politics around Minister Stitt’s announcement in May 2021.

Recently WorkSafe Victoria’s Principal Psychological Health and Safety Specialist, Dr Libby Brook, was interviewed on the Psych Health and Safety Podcast. In providing background to the proposed regulations, politics was touched upon, sort of, but it was good to hear directly from a WorkSafe representative on the issue and the proposed regulations. The interview illustrated some of the strengths and weaknesses in the regulations.

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