Is Ken Phillips shooting the messenger and missing the real reform target?

Ken Phillips of Self-Employed Australia is continuing his pursuit of Victorian politicians for breaches of the occupational health and safety (OHS) laws after the failure of the State’s Hotel Quarantine Program that led to the deaths of some Victorians from COVID-19. He has supporters in some of the mainstream media and was recently interviewed by Peta Credlin on Sky but perhaps the clearest explanation of his aims is in an interview with George Donikian on The Informer in May 2021. Just recently, Phillips obtained an update from WorkSafe Victoria and has been doing the media rounds again.

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Repeat OHS offender but you wouldn’t know it

Recently WorkSafe Victoria successfully prosecuted Midfield Meats International over an occupational health and safety (OHS) breach described as:

“a labour hire worker was hit by a reversing forklift as he was stacking cardboard sheets against a wall. The worker’s legs were crushed between the forklift and a steel barrier. He was taken to hospital and suffered nerve damage to his lower legs.”

The company pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay costs of $2000. In a media release, WorkSafe’s Executive Director of Health and Safety, Julie Nielsen, said

“This incident should serve as a wake-up call to this company and to others that it is simply unacceptable for pedestrians and mobile plant to mix…..”

But as OHSintros noted on a Facebook post about the prosecution, the Midfield Group is well known to WorkSafe, with OHS prosecutions going back to at least 2004 which attracted around $280,000 in fines, the largest penalty $95,000 in 2019. So it is worth a brief look at the OHS profile of the Midfield Group.

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Reuse of safety photos

I have been told that any image loaded to Twitter becomes the property of Twitter. As a social media user, this type of situation seems common, but I was surprised when an image of unsafe work activities that I took and posted to Twitter appeared as an “Absolute Shocker” in a construction safety newsletter produced by WorkSafe Victoria. I sought more details from WorkSafe on the image’s use.

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A “safe” workers memorial

At yesterday’s memorial for workers, Victoria’s Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt (pictured above), announced more financial support for the families of deceased workers. She also pledged that the prevention of illness and injury will remain a focus of WorkSafe Victoria and the government, but the centrepiece of her speech was additional post-incident funding.

According to a media statement in support of her appearance at the memorial outside the Victorian Trades Hall, she announced

“…an increase in support delivered by WorkSafe Victoria’s Family Liaison Officers and Family Support Specialists in the first weeks following a workplace death [including] … appointing external Bereavement Support Workers, who will work with WorkSafe and families to ensure ongoing support is available, particularly ahead of important milestones relating to workplace deaths.”

The Minister’s commitment is consistent with the position of the Andrews Government for some time, especially since the campaign for Industrial Manslaughter penalties. The challenge may come from lobbying for grants for these support services.

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Non-military safety lessons from the latest Royal Commission (open access)

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast an episode of The Signal on April 21, 2021, which discussed the complexity of the culture of Australia’s military, and I strongly recommend you listen to it. It does make some points about culture worth contemplating in the context of one’s own workplace and profession.

The most useful point was that an established institution cannot have a uniform culture that meets the expectations of all relevant stakeholders. Generations take their culture with them. So those who started in the military in the 1980s and 1990s (and later) will bring the values and lessons of that time into their maturity and when they move into senior and leadership positions – positions that are intended to both preserve and progress the organisation’s culture. This will result in conflict between the expectations of new recruits and the realities of the established military executives. Not open revolt, but a dissatisfaction that may or may not result in leaving the organisation.

The topic used by The Signal to illustrate the extremes of the defence force members and stakeholders was mental health.

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A closer look at the positive duty to prevent sexual harassment

The big occupational health and safety (OHS) news in Australia has been the release of the federal government’s response to the Respect@Work report on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. And the biggest issue in that response seems to be the government’s lack of enthusiasm for a major recommendation of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, the inclusion of a positive duty in the sexual discrimination legislation. Many lawyers have been asked for their opinions on the government’s response, but very few OHS professionals.

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A traditional farm safety campaign with tweaks

For the last few years, farm safety has been dominated by arguments over the safety of quad bikes. Squabbles continue in Australia, but that topic is largely over, and many are returning to a broader and more contemporary approach to health and safety in farming.

It looks like WorkSafe Victoria has begun to roll out its farm safety ambassadors with Catherine Velisha on the cover of a recent edition of Stock and Land newspaper and in a Youtube video. This is supported by a full article on page 3 with an additional article in a glossy supplement provided with WorkSafe’s support.

The article is a blend of promotion for Velisha’s farm management training company and media releases from WorkSafe Victoria. The occupational health and safety (OHS) statistics are new but not very different from previous statistics. Middle-aged men continue to be a feature of the fatality statistics, and 58 on-farm deaths happened in 2020, the same as the year before. Quad bikes have been a major factor in those deaths.

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