In the middle of a pandemic, it is easy to be locked into small issues, especially if they directly relate to you, such as lockdowns or sick relatives but it is important to be reminded of the broader social context. Professor Michael Quinlan recently wrote an editorial for the Annals of Work Exposures and Health, entitled “COVID-19, Health and Vulnerable Societies”.
Recently the BBC’s Business Daily had a short discussion about the introduction of the 4 Day Week. This workplace reform has knocked about for a few years now and seems to have some mental health and job satisfaction benefits. This is enough for it to interest occupational health and safety (OHS), especially as it is one of the few examples of a structural and organisational change rather than an intervention aimed at each individual worker.
The BBC discussion indicates the difference (it may be a schism) between a new way of thinking about work and the old traditional way. The opponent to the 4 Day Week emphasises the individual over the organisational and compares service industries to those that produce goods.
The episode, now a podcast, is a good introduction to the for and against of the 4 Day Week but careful listening shows the challenge ahead.
On December 11 2020, Senator Deborah O’Neill (ALP) (unsuccessfully) sponsored a motion that, amongst other things, called on the Government to act on the recommendations of the 2018 inquiry in to industrial deaths and the Boland Review, and to introduce Federal industrial manslaughter laws. That last request will probably never occur under a Conservative government, but does not need to for such laws to be introduced across Australia.
It is good that pressure on important occupational health and safety (OHS) matters is maintained, even if the motion was “negatived”. However, perhaps more interesting was a couple of statements that Senator O’Neill’s actions generated, one of which is deconstructed below.
The Australian Industry Group recently released the results of a survey of its members about how COVID19 has affected their businesses. Understandably, the financial future of the businesses is the major concern but occupational health and safety (OHS) has been part of the business responses.
OHS was part of the initial scrabble to cope with the localised effects of a global pandemic. The report says
“Increased workloads due to new OH&S and healthcare procedures were still being reported by 6% of businesses in August, down from a high of 25% in the first stages of the pandemic in March. In Victoria, 10% of businesses reported concerns about the increase in this type of workload in August, compared with 2% in New South Wales and no businesses in Queensland.”page 8
Last week’s article on the occupational health and safety (OHS) risks of Working From Home (WFH) reminded me of a report from late 2019 that I always meant to write about but forgot. In November 2019 the International Labour Organisation (ILO) released a report called Telework in the 21st century: An evolutionary perspective. It ‘s a collection of articles on teleworking from around the world and, although it is pre-COVID19, it remains fairly contemporary on telework and WFH practices and risks.
On September 12 2020, The Australian’s workplace relations journalist Ewin Hannan wrote about working from home (WFH), a reasonable topic as many Australians have been asked to do this, often at the request of the State Government, in order to reduce and control the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The structure of the article centred on the additional costs and risks to employers from having workers work from home, especially in relation to potential injuries and workers’ compensation. This perspective on occupational health and safety (OHS) is seriously skewed, but it reflects the dominant perspective in the media and the community. A little bit more research would have provided a more accurate picture about Working From Home.
Last week WorkSafe Victoria followed some of the other Australian States by requiring employers to report positive COVID19 cases as “notifiable incidents”. (If they can do this fro COVID19, shouldn’t it be possible to do the same for mental health disorders?) Expanding the pool of notifiable incidents is of little practical consequence but it is indicative of how occupational health and safety (OHS) management is changing, and how Industrial Manslaughter is becoming a pervasive threat.
In the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on August 4 2020, employer liability for COVID19 incidents was discussed. Liberty Sanger of union-associated law firm, Maurice Blackburn, spoke of the importance of genomic testing to better identify the origin of the infection, ie. was it caught at work or at home.