Just workplace hardship

Free Access

Yossi Berger writes:

We’re all familiar with the notions of focus and attention, and selective attention.  We’ve all experienced how difficult it can be to attend to target information when background noise is distracting.  The issue can be referred to as the signal-to-noise ratio.

I often find its effects in discussions with managers and workers during workplace inspections.  That is, I hear animated discussions of hazards, of risks, of risk assessments and risk management and various systems and theories.  The conversations over flow with these concepts whilst most of workers’ daily problems aren’t even raised, they don’t reach the level of a signal.

Thankfully in most workplaces, most managers and most workers have not experienced any fatalities.  By far most of them will not have experienced or witnessed a serious injury or serious disease.  Nor have most experienced their local hazards actually seriously hurting anyone.

But most workers will have experienced some dangerous working conditions, mostly not mortally dangerous, but dangerous.  Continue reading “Just workplace hardship”

OHS is Dead. Long Live WHS.

Free Access

Media reports on the 13 April 2012 Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting say that harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws in Australia has died.  Some say this is the fault of the Victorian Government with its economic justification for inaction but the process was struggling as soon as the West Australian Government flagged its major concerns, principally, with increased union powers, as reiterated in the Australian Financial Review on 14 April 2012 (not available on-line).

WA Premier Colin Barnett is quoted as saying that:

“There are three or four sections we don’t agree with and the principle one of those relates to right of entry [for trade unions]… We see that as an industrial issue.  Right of entry, it is was applied to OH&S, in all probability would be used by the unions to shut down the Pilbara iron ore operations…”

This is further evidence of the political dominance of the mining sector in Western Australia, if it was ever needed.

Victoria does not have the same excuse as the right of entry has existed for many years and almost totally without any industrial relations problems. Continue reading “OHS is Dead. Long Live WHS.”

Substantial change in OHS needs clever politics

Free Access

According to the UK Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), from 6 April 2012 businesses will no longer be obliged to notify the Health & Safety Executive of those injuries that result in a worker’s absence of up to seven days.  The DWP’s media statement about these changes estimates:

“The change to the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 1995 will see a fall of around 30 per cent in the number of incidents that must be reported by law – an average of around 30,000 fewer reports a year. The move is estimated to save businesses 10,000 hours a year.”

The business saving claim is very dubious (see below) as companies will still need to process any workers’ compensation claim or medical costs generated by the incident.  OHS professionals and safety managers will still need to investigate the incident and identify measures to prevent a recurrence.  These costs will continue. Continue reading “Substantial change in OHS needs clever politics”

Is OHS harmonisation a dead parrot or is it just pining?

Free Access

In The Australian newspaper on 3 April 2012, Judith Sloan presents a useful summary of the status of the OHS harmonisation process.  Many of her criticisms are valid but she has not realised that the new Work Health and Safety laws stopped being occupational health and safety laws some time ago.  It is easier to understand the proposed changes if one accepts that these laws have broadened beyond the workplace to operate more as public health and safety laws.

It is possible to accept Sloan’s assertion of the “demise”of OHS harmonisation but if seen in the light of an integrated public/workplace health and safety law, the harmonisation process may be a welcome beginning to a broader application of safety in public and occupational lives.

The acceptance of this interpretation provides very different comparisons and linkages.  For instance, the shopper tripping on a mat in the vegetable section of a supermarket was likely, in the past, to receive recompense through public liability insurance. Now it could equally be under OHS laws.  The regulation of potential legionella sources was through the Health Department, even though many of these are in workplaces and often affect workers first.  Should cooling towers have been assessed by hygienists or occupational hygienists?  Should these be managed under an employer’s OHS management system or through the facilities manager or landlord?
Continue reading “Is OHS harmonisation a dead parrot or is it just pining?”

One industry sector continues to struggle with new OHS obligations

Free Access

Some companies and industry sectors are struggling to cope with a major change to Australia’s occupational health and safety laws – the removal of the employer/employee relationship.  One example of an industry struggling with the change is the sex industry, more specifically, the licensed brothels.

In many industries, and in the safety profession itself, people confuse the OHS laws of injury prevention with the Compensation laws of rehabilitation.  In Australia these are two separate sets of laws, administered, often, by different government agencies and through different mechanisms, even though to effectively manage workers business needs to operate as if the demarcation does not exist. Many industries and professionals also make the common mistake of believing that a judgement in one area of law applies to other areas.

For many years the brothel industry* in Victoria, in particular, has believed that a ruling by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) – that sex workers (or sexual service providers, the preferred term by the brothel industry) are not employees of the brothels – also relates to the OHS laws.  The argument goes that, as the ATO has said that no employment relationship exists for taxation purposes, there are no, or limited, OHS obligations on the brothel owners for the sexworkers.  This is bollocks, has always been bollocks and I have personally advised representatives of the brothel industry over many years that it is bollocks but the misunderstanding persists.  Sadly, this persistence could impede the progress of the brothel industry to comply with the new Work Health and Safety laws.

Continue reading “One industry sector continues to struggle with new OHS obligations”