Does using the Big Stick work?

Governments use legislation and the threat of punishment as a deterrent for dangerous actions and poor decision-making.  Imposing harsh consequences is hoped to change the behaviour of companies and individuals.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) laws are no different with deterrence being used to justify the introduction and enforcement of Industrial Manslaughter laws, for instance.

The Australian Senate’s current inquiry

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New inquiry into sexual harassment – an OHS opportunity and challenge

On June 20 2018, the Australian government announced a National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, claiming it to be a world-first. Sexual harassment is not an occupational health and safety (OHS) hazard in many ways BUT the psychological harm it can create is. The job of an OHS person is to encourage employers to reduce work-related harm through prevention, so we need to prevent sexual harassment, just as we do for all the work activities that contribute to poor psychological health and safety.

The macroeconomic costs of sexual harassment in the workplace may be of interest to politicians and business lobbyists but this can be a significant distraction from identifying ways to prevent psychological harm, which should be the most important legacy of this type of inquiry.

Addressing the OHS impacts of

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Duty of Care to the safety and health of “others”.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) has released a very good report about Australia’s immigration detention centres which includes a long discussion on duty of care to detainees under Common Law. The report, “In Poor Health: Health care in Australian immigration detention” does not include any discussion on the duty of care under work health and safety (WHS) legislation however it can be argued that the Australian Government, through its supply chain, chain of responsibility and contract management, also has a duty of care to detainees under health and safety laws.

Several recent legal actions and workplace safety guidance indicates that clarification about the duty of care on physical and psychological risks to “others” is overdue.

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The data for workplace mental health exists, if we demand it

Data about occupational health and safety (OHS) and work-related psychosocial injuries has often been described as being hard to find.  In some ways it is not necessarily hard to find but difficult to access.  An untapped source of data is the records of illness and leave taken that is usually held by the Human Resources (HR) departments, often named “People and Culture”or some variant.  This type of data could be invaluable in determining a workplace psychological profile, if the HR departments would trust OHS professionals more, or release this data in a format that would allow OHS professionals to assess risks while maintaining employees’ privacy.

Beware, Generalisations Ahead

In Australia, employees are usually entitled to ten days’ sick leave, five of which require a medical certificate.  This means that one of the forty-eight expected working weeks may be taken off by workers with no reason provided to the employer other than a call or a text saying “I’m not coming into work today because I am not feeling well.”  Australian slang describes this as “chucking a sickie”.  

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Factbook, short on OHS facts

The Australia Institute has released a “factbook” about The Dimensions of Insecure Work.  It is little more than a snapshot of some of the labour situations in Australia centring on the fact that

“Less than half of employed Australians now hold a “standard” job: that is, a permanent full-time paid job with leave entitlements”

This changed demographic is significant whenever the Government or its departments and agencies take about job and employment figures.  The reliance on full time employment as the core metric should be reviewed and revised but this is likely to change our view of the world through official reports . 

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