Over-emphasising the COVID pandemic

Everyone has struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have died. We have to continue to make many allowances for businesses and people due to the disruption, but some are using the pandemic as an excuse for not doing something. Occupational health and safety (OHS) inactivity is being blamed on COVID-19 in some instances, masking or skewing people’s approach to workplace health and safety more generally.

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Political point-scoring misses the point

Last week the Australian Financial Review (AFR) caused a bit of a political stink by reporting that:

“….Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show the share of casual employment was 22.8 per cent in February – 1.3 percentage points lower than in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit the economy.
The casualisation rate is 4.8 percentage points below the peak of 27.6 per cent in 2003.”

AFR, April 12 2022 – Albanese’s casual jobs claim is ‘wrong’, according to ABS data

The figures seem accurate but do not tell the whole story. How are employment statistics relevant to occupational health and safety (OHS)? Job insecurity is a significant factor in work-related mental health.

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Farm safety is unique, not

Australian farmers feel they work in a unique safety culture into which work health and safety laws have intruded. This intrusion by government and bureaucrats will persist regardless of the number of work-related incidents that happen to farmers, workers and relatives and the children of farmers.

All farmers and parents advise their workers and relatives to be safe, but this applies a broader range of safety to what is considered in cities and other industries. As far as is reasonably practicable (ASFAIRP) takes up a bigger, greyer range of safety on farms.

This uniqueness and occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective were on display in a recent farm safety article in The Weekly Times, a major Australian agricultural newspaper. The article “Farm Safety Focus Urged to Avoid Tragic Consequences”*, looked at two scenarios. One involved a childhood horse racing injury and a later adult motorcycle traffic collision (Dave Lovick); the other was an adult work-related quadbike incident (Kat Gration).

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Nobody hates ‘”reasonably practicable” – we tolerate it

Do unions want employers to hold an absolute duty of care for work health and safety? Do unions hate the concept “as far as is reasonably practicable”?

The last Australian jurisdiction to hold employers to an absolute duty of care was New South Wales. That position was eroded by the harmonisation process and NSW OHS laws moving to the Work Health and Safety regime. An absolute duty of care, in the SafetyAtWorkBlog dictionary, is that the employer is responsible for any injuries occurring at work.

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Why don’t we act on the evidence?

Several years ago, I worked for an organisation that handed out awards for exceptional efforts and achievements. One time the award was given to a worker who had worked in the office for most of the weekend to meet a semi-important deadline. I was horrified as that worker had sacrificed important “downtime” with family friends and his own welfare with no time in lieu. But he was lauded by the boss.

Rewarding those who sacrifice their own health and safety for the apparent good of the company must change as there is increasing evidence that working long hours increases serious health risks. An extensive research project for the World Health Organisation has found:

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A**hole Bosses – author perspective

Every couple of days, I receive media releases about new books, usually from Northern America, and interview opportunities with authors. If the subject ties into the themes of SafetyAtWorkBlog, I will email back for more information, including some questions. This usually results in a polite decline to cooperate as the “book does not suit your readership” or “the author feels that, although your perspective is valid, they feel it is outside his area of expertise”.

Those questions are usually about the influence of the working environment and organisational structures on management decisions and conduct. This week Tamica Sears, author of How to Tell if You’re an A**Hole Boss: A Humorous, Yet Honest Exposé on Misguided Management Behaviors, provided some perceptive responses. (Note: I have not read the book, so this is not a review)

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It’s all about the context

Occupational health and safety (OHS) should prevent any of its conference speakers from ever using the image of an iceberg or a triangle to illustrate managerial theories. The images are valid but have been done to death in conferences over the last decade.

I came to this position when recently reading a very short article on Systems Thinking by Veronica Hotton in Dumbo Feather magazine. Hotton used the iceberg as a visual metaphor for what can be seen and what is less visible but equally influential and much larger than the visible top.

Her article is a very good, succinct explanation of systems thinking for the general reader, but I was less interested in the iceberg and more in the ocean.

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