Important safety, environmental, political and personal stories in book on the Morwell Mine fire

Dr Tom Doig has continued to build on his earlier work about the Morwell mine fire, expanding his “The Coal Face” from 2015 into his new book “Hazelwood” (after court-related injunctions, now available on 18 June 2020).

SPECIAL OFFER: The first four (4) new Annual subscribers in the month of June 2020 will receive a copy of Hazelwood.

The Morwell mine fire created great distress to residents in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, ongoing health problems, and a parliamentary inquiry, but can also be seen as a major case study of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, enforcement, role and the obligation on employers to provide a safe and healthy working environment that does not provide risks to workers and “protect other people from risks arising from employer’s business”.  The management of worker and public safety is present in almost every decision made in relation to the Morwell Mine fire. The overlay of an OHS perspective to Doig’s book is enlightening.

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Mental health change needs to break out

On May 15 2020 Australia’s National Cabinet supported the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan developed by the National Mental Health Commission. The focus was on the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic but in the text was a reference to a National Suicide and Self Harm Monitoring System developed and run by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Given the dearth of valid data on suicide and after an earlier article questioning datasets, SafetyAtWorkBlog posed some questions to the AIHW about the monitoring system.

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Running before you can walk on COVID19 and Mental Health

On May 15 2020, the Australian Government released a National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan. Mental Health has been on Prime Minister Morrison’s agenda since his election a year ago and the mental health sector is not going to be starved of government funds during his tenure.

Mental ill-health has been talked about throughout the current COVID19 Pandemic and has been forecast to increase due to the economic disruption and the requirements for social isolation. To some extent, the low numbers of COVID19 deaths in Australia has allowed it a “luxury” of addressing mental health, but some of the justifications seem not as strong as claimed and the National Mental Health Plan omits any consideration of occupational health and safety (OHS) other than for those in the health industry; the so-called “frontline workers”.

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Thinking beyond one’s role on OHS

“My approach tends to be revolutionary.”

A major criticism of the Australian Prime Minister’s handling of the current bushfire disaster in South-east Australia is that he was reluctant to engage in the fire fighting or relief effort. Scott Morrison’s reason was valid – firefighting responsibilities sit with the States and Territories. The Federal Government has no direct role in this.

Australian politics, and progress, continues to be hampered by the Constitutional demarcation of National and States rights and obligations, but Morrison missed the point. One does not have to be directly involved in an event to show support and leadership, and leadership can be effective in a secondary, support role. This is equally the case for occupational health and safety (OHS).

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Annual Reports are not as transparent on OHS performance as they could be

Around four or five years ago, occupational health and safety (OHS) reporting in Corporate Annual Reports was a hot topic as Australian research had indicated that Annual Reports were not revealing sufficient, or useful, OHS data. Also awards were being presented for the best OHS reporting in Annual Reports. SafetyAtWorkBlog has looked at a sample of the reports released by the Victorian Government over the last fortnight to see what OHS information is available.

Two major keywords were used to search the Annual Reports – “Safe” and “Well”. These words form the stemS of other search terms such as “safety” and “wellbeing” or “wellness”. Each of the word responses were looked at for a focus on workplace or work-related activity. Although public safety may have an increasing OHS context, public safety, and a range of other “safeties”, were not included.

Some Annual Reports were okay, others? Egh! But what is clear is that there is no excuse.

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Robbing Peter to pay Paul – the “WorkSafe Tax” is challenged

More details of the “WorkSafe Tax” and WorkSafe Victoria’s new infringement notices and specialist construction inspectors emerged with the appearance of the Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy, at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearing on June 14 2019.

Liberal Member of Parliament, Richard Riordan went to town on the Minister. He opened with this question:

“….I refer to budget paper 5, page 23, which shows you are ripping $700 million out of the WorkCover Authority over the forward estimates. How does taking such a massive dividend tax to the government help workplace safety?”

page 5, Verified Transcript

But this issue has been bubbling along since at least 2011 when the now Premier, Daniel Andrews, vehemently opposed it.

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New OHS infringement notices for WorkSafe Victoria, according to Budget Papers

The Victorian Government released its State Budget on May 27, 2019. The Budget Papers include some references to occupational health and safety (OHS).

Infringement Notices

The Budget Papers state that new infringement notices will be available for WorkSafe Victoria to use.

“Workplace safety will be improved through the introduction of infringement notices for a range of occupational health and safety offences, adding to the suite of compliance and enforcement tools available to WorkSafe Victoria.”

page 88 – Budget Paper 3 – Service Delivery
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