Well before the push for Industrial Manslaughter laws was the occupational health and safety (OHS) offence of “reckless conduct”. A media report from the LaTrobe Valley Express recently showed how one employer’s neglect of basic safety practices and processes resulted in the death on 21-year-old Damien Taifer.
The discussion of “organisational culture” has tried to remain apolitical or amoral, but it always relies of case studies to illustrate the academic and ephemeral. Largely these studies involve major disasters, but few people work in heavy industry, chemical plants, or offshore oil rigs. Better examples could be sought by looking at other industries, such as the Catholic Church. (I really hope someone is examining this relationship in a PhD)
Last week the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released some research into workers and COVID19. It is not peer-reviewed and there will certainly be much more research into the disruption and personal and occupational responses to the coronavirus disruption over the next few months. The survey results do not specifically analyse occupational health and safety (OHS) issues but there are clues to future considerations.
The media release, understandably, discusses the changed employment status or arrangements. The OHS hazards associated with precarious work are well-established and the survey illustrates the extent of precarity in Australian workplace, so mental health issues are going to come to the fore as government-imposed isolation continues and/or businesses reopen.
On March 10 2020, the Andrews Labor Government and the Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy, released a media statement about a “social experiment” involving the safety of young workers, in response to the fact that “about 50 young workers are injured every week”.
The statement said that the campaign is
“… warning employers to protect young workers and making sure young Victorians are aware of their rights through a powerful new campaign …..
“…is part of a social experiment which saw young workers aged 18-25 asked to participate in a mock job information session for a research company.”
The significant finding was that
The first week of media coverage of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Mental Health is very thin on the roles and impacts of workplaces and work activities on people’s mental health, but it is part of the conversation.
The Public Hearings on July 4-5 had Prevention and Early Intervention as their theme. Prevention as occupational health and safety (OHS) people would apply was mostly absent. Prevention, in OHS terms, is usually about the elimination of a risk or hazard whereas the impression from the discussion in the Royal Commission over the last few days is that mental health is something that appears, strikes an individual (with ripples to relatives), is treated and a new psychological normal, a functional/social normal is established. Analysis of the social, occupational and environmental precursors, elements that OHS investigations are obliged to consider, seems missing, at the moment.
“We start these hearings with a wide lens. Not in hospitals or clinics, but in our homes, our sporting fields and our workplaces.”
Recently Jan Carrick spoke with SafetyAtWorkBlog about how her life changed after the death of her son Anthony, who was on the first day of his new job sweeping floors. Jan was responding to a series of questions put to her and others. One of those others was Andrea Madeley.
Andrea Madeley has been an outspoken advocate for changes in occupational health and safety (OHS) laws since her son died in a workplace incident in 2004. In response Madeley established the influential advocacy group VOID – Voice of Industrial Death. Madeley has recently qualified as a Solicitor.
SafetyAtWorkBlog wanted to tap into the wisdom of those who have already experienced the death of a loved one at work and who has gone through all the related court processes, in the hope that this will provide an important perspective to those around Australia who are in the early stages of similar tragic experiences.
Below are Andrea’s responses to SafetyAtWorkBlog’s questions.
The trade union movement was instrumental in showing that workplace bullying was a pervasive problem in Australian workplaces. Many Codes of Practice and guidances for workplace bullying and occupational violence were written shortly after the action by the Australian Council of Trade Unions almost two decades ago. But, for some reason, although sexual harassment was mentioned in those early documents, it never received the attention in occupational health and safety (OHS) circles that, in hindsight, it should have.
Perhaps a more sustainable and effective strategy would be to focus on the “harassment” rather than the “sexual”, or in