New Perspectives in OHS

Yesterday the Central Safety Group (CSG) invited me to talk at its monthly lunchtime seminar. The topic was New Perspectives on OHS. These perspectives are likely to be familiar to subscribers of this blog but were intended to be provocative and foster reflection and discussion. Below is a substantially edited version.


Thanks for inviting me to be the first speaker in CSG’s 60th anniversary year. The Central Safety Group has been an important part of my OHS journey since the very start in the early 1990s. It is a remarkable achievement for the Group and, as a Life Member, I am very proud of my association with it.

OHS can become very insular. It can become too focussed on issues within a single industry, a single worksite or a discipline. This insularity can lead to OHS reaching seemingly operational dead ends, such as “this is the way it is” or what is “reasonably practicable are”. We may seek continuous improvement, but our employers and clients often see “reasonably practicable” as the endpoint of activity. It can become their comfort point of compliance.

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2000 Interview with Paul Kells

Recently Paul Kells passed away. Paul had a major influence on workplace health and safety awareness and promotion around the world. He was the founder of the Safe Communities Foundation in Canada. I was able to interview Paul prior to his attendance at a Symposium on the “Global Perspectives on Effective Workplace Safety Strategies” in Melbourne, Australia on the 15th and 16th of March 2000.

The full interview from the SafetyAtWork magazine is reproduced below and on open access. I think this interview and the Youtube video insert below gives a good indication of Paul’s passion and pain and our loss. (Paul’s memorial service will be on October 8)

SAW: How did the Safe Communities Foundation start and where is it at?

PAUL: My son was 19 years old and he was killed in an accident in a small warehouse in a suburb of Toronto. In this little shop, it was a small business with only 4 or 5 people there. He got the job through a friend whose father ran the business. It was the second or third day on the job and he was asked to go back and decant some fluid from a large drum to some small vessels.

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Suicide statistics could benefit from a different analysis

Regular readers of this blog would be aware that I feel that the prevention of suicide gains less attention than early intervention and that mental health has dominated suicide discussions to the point that suicides without a mental health context are largely ignored. This situation is starting to change with non-psychological pressures gaining some acknowledgement, if not examination. Mental health still dominates but the pool of contributory factors is expanding.

On 30 November 2020, the Medical Journal of Australia published the best recent example of this change, an article called “Suicide by young Australians, 2006-20415: a cross-sectional analysis of national coronial data.” The most useful statement in the research report, and the media release, is:

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Hospitality survey shows the size of the hurdle to reform

This photo was taken in the Victorian Night Market during winter

Hospo Voice, a trade union for Australian hospitality workers has released a report on a survey of more than 4000 workers between March and June 2020. #RebuildHospo: A Post-Covid Roadmap For Secure Jobs In Hospitality has all the limitations of other surveys done by members of an organisation rather than independent research but this report offers a framework for safe and decent work that reflects many of the occupational Health and safety (OHS) that SafetyAtWorkBlog has reported on.

The union claims that hospitality workers endorse four important work elements:

  • Secure jobs,
  • End to wage theft,
  • Safe and respectful workplaces, and
  • Justice for migrant workers

OHS has a thin presence in this report, mainly discussed in that third bulletpoint but an integrated analysis would show that OHS is involved with more of the elements.

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Truck driver death is relevant to all

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.

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OHS, organisational culture, sex abuse and the Catholic Church

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)

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