OHS progress needs out of the box thinking

It is generally understood that the attempt to harmonise Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) laws failed to achieve the level of change and integration expected. The laws are more harmonised than they were but each jurisdiction claimed special needs and so multiple jurisdictions continue to exist with their own laws and one State, Victoria, is still giving the bird to the rest through poorly justified arguments and pigheadedness. This unwillingness to even consider change, outside of established parameters, is a major impediment to the development of safe workplaces and work practices.

For example, Australia still desires nationally consistent OHS laws as this exchange between Deborah Knight, of radio station 2GB and the CEO of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, shows:

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Can the sex industry be the same as any other industry?

The Australian State of Victoria has committed to the decriminalisation of sex work. It made this decision some time ago, conducted an inquiry into how this could be achieved and is now in a further consultative process on what laws and practices need to change. The aim is honourable – to reduce the stigma of a legitimate industry. However, there is one statement repeated in media releases and discussion papers that encapsulates the challenge:

“Decriminalisation recognises that sex work is legitimate work and should be regulated through standard business laws, like all other industries in the state.”

That challenge is can, and should, Victoria’s sex industry be treated like “all other industries”?

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Attendee list of IR Minister’s business roundtable

Last week, Australian business and union representatives failed to gain the additional support on COVID-19 issues they wanted from the Federal Government during their meeting with the Industrial Relations Minister, Michaelia Cash. The Minister’s media release of the event seems to indicate business as usual.

One piece of information that has not been released before is a list of the organisations that attended. That list, published below and in no particular order, shows the attendees but, perhaps more interesting is those who were not invited.

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Is a definition of a “safe system of work” still needed?

Recently Carlo Caponecchia and Anne Wyatt published a short article about the “safe system of work” (open access for a limited time) – an important concept of occupational health and safety (OHS) and element of OHS laws, but one that is poorly defined; possibly because a sociological definition is more useful, and the sociology of work has always played second fiddle to the legal. This concise article should spark a lively discussion on safety management systems, safety culture and the safe system of business.

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NZ research into transport industry OHS is relevant everywhere

In 2019, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews flagged that incidents involving commercial vehicles would be reflected in workplace health and safety statistics. There has been little visible change on this pledge. Still, recently WorkSafe Victoria reviewed its work-related fatality statistics to include truck fatalities and other causes of work-related deaths for the last couple of years. Guess what, the number of deaths almost doubled for that period from 26 to 49!! What would the rate of serious injuries be if it was also reassessed?

New Zealand undertook a similar exercise a few years ago, which has led to a significant research project into that country’s transport industry and supply chains, a research project with substantial relevance to Australia and elsewhere.

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Save lives or save money – the OHS tension

There are two core elements to the work of the occupational health and safety (OHS) professional – the management of Safety and the management of Safety Liability. In the simplest of terms, the former saves lives and the latter saves money. OHS (and politics) has always involved juggling these two extremes.

There are many examples of this tension but the most obvious, at the moment, is COVID-19 and the vaccination of workers.

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Business is getting some clarity on COVID-19 vaccines and a reminder to act

On August 12 2021, the Chair of Safe Work Australia, Diane Smith-Gander entered the fray over making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory in an article in The Age. Later that day, in the absence of any clear guidance on the issue from the Federal Government, The Age reported that the Fair Work Ombudsman will be providing guidance on 4 tiers of workplaces relevant to assessing COVID-19 exposure risks.

The combinations of advice from these sources, greatly clarify what businesses can do to improve the safety of their workers and customers. The reticence to take reasonable occupational health and safety (OHS) steps by business groups will remain but the clarity they have been requesting will soon be available.

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