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.
Seven years ago, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) suffered a spike of workplace deaths in the construction sector. The then WorkSafe Commissioner produced a report, supported by at least one conference and extensive consultation, which proposed substantial changes. All of the recommendations from the 2012 Getting Home Safely report were accepted by the government and construction had no deaths for several years after but recent deaths have resurrected tensions between the ACT Government and the Master Builders Association (MBA).
Eric Windholz has released a perceptive paper on Industrial Manslaughter (IM) that neatly summarises the risks and rationales behind these legislative changes to Victoria’s occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.
Windholz explains two functions of the amendments – a motivator for employers to improve OHS in their workplaces and to provide a pathway for bereaved families to actively consult with the government.
The mechanism for the families’ input is the Workplace Incidents Consultative Committee. Windholz writes:
James Curtin and I have been trying to find time to sit down and talk about occupational health and safety (OHS) and Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws ever since I interviewed trade unionist Dr Gerry Ayres in 2018. The most recent IM laws have recently passed in Victoria and James and I finally found some time to talk.
Below are the personal and professional points that James made in the interview. The rest of the article contains the full interview.
- Workplace manslaughter has not been found to improve safety and pushing ahead with a model that excludes some duty holders from the offence was/ is wrong
- There was no gap in the law that this new offence sought to fill. It was an ideologically fuelled position.
- The model should have been one in all in (like reckless endangerment) or one out all out (and replicate the UK’s Corporate Manslaughter Laws)
- Working for an employer or employee organisation is a great privilege. You need to represent your constituents effectively but in doing so be mindful of any bias. Some Associations represented their members very well throughout this debate. Some did not. That was very disappointing.
- Employers have to take their OHS obligations seriously. WorkSafe play a vital role in regulating Victoria’s OHS laws.
- If you are in business you have to take your obligations seriously. Everyone should have the opportunity to start a business, if they wish, but they must have high regard to their obligations. An effective way of ensuring this is through regulator involvement – proactively and reactively.
- Compliance and enforcement needs to be looked at differently. Larger fines and custodial sentences is not the answer. Each case needs to be dealt with on its merits and enforceable undertakings can play an integral role
Ministerial accountability. Occupational health and safety (OHS). Leadership. Industrial Manslaughter. These issues have existed in various combinations in various jurisdictions and discussed by many people. At the moment in Australia, this combination has in relation to COVID19 but some of the discussion contains tenuous links and some is masking long held political agendas. Much of it harks back to arguments put to the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program.