Big potatoes, small potatoes, trust and transparency

The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) has released a research paper that discusses the reporting of workplace fatalities by major companies in their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reports. There are many informational benefits in this report but perhaps the most important is that the report reinforces occupational health and safety (OHS) in ESG reports. The risk is that OHS is seen only in relation to the ESG criteria in Annual Reports.

Australia has experienced a gentle push for inclusion of OHS performance measurements in company and government department Annual Reports. SafetyAtWorkBlog has reported on this and some peer-reviewed research and recommendations over many years. The ACSI report progresses this but also illustrates the sluggish rate of change.

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What’s the fuss? Stay focused on safety

The debate about quad bike safety has gone global with the United States telling the World Trade Organisation that the imposition of operator protection devices (OPDs) on general quad bikes (those not used for recreation or sport) may be a trade barrier. To some this would appear silly, and the argument has little to do with worker safety, but this action by the US impedes progress on safety.

Recently the Victorian Coroner made findings into the quad bike-related death of 69-year-old farmer Gustaav Walta in September 2017. The finding is not yet publicly available but the story of Walta’s death sounds very familiar.

One evening around 6pm Walta advised his friend that he was putting the sheep away. His friend did not receive the regular phone call the next morning and drove to the property finding a quad bike that had rolled over and Walta’s body in an adjacent paddock. It was determined that Walta had died from severe chest injuries caused by the quad bike incident, that he had been ejected from the bike, the bike rolled over him and he then had tried walking to a neighbour’s property before he collapsed and died.

The chronology in the Findings is not very clear on Walta received his chest injuries but what is clear is that, like so many before, the quad bike had not been fitted with an OPD and that Walta had not been wearing a helmet.

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Fence or Ambulance?

The other week Lucinda Brogden, one of Australia’s Mental Health Commissioners participated in a three day suicide prevention conference, concluding the week as a keynote speaker at an occupational health and safety (OHS) seminar. Her commitment to keep focusing on the prevention of harm made her a comfortable fit for the largely OHS audience. Hopefully her influence is big on the Australian mental health policy makers.

Brogden reminded the audience of an 1895 poem by Joseph Malins which discusses the prevention of harm through the analogy of putting a fence at the cliff edge to stop people falling rather than having an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff to collect the dead and injured. It is unlikely that Malins was thinking of workplace safety with this poem but, as a temperance activist, it is certain he was thinking about health. Regardless, the imagery is a useful and simple illustration of the advantages in the prevention of harm, and not just in relation to mental health.

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Suicide Prevention, Genders and Workplace Interventions

Allison Milner speaking at the 2019 National Suicide Prevention Conference

2019 was always going to be a Year of Mental Health for Australians as there are various official inquiries and investigations occurring. Last week alone, the Royal Commission into Mental Health Systems focused on suicide prevention. This overlapped with the National Suicide Prevention Conference (NSPC) and on Friday one of Australia’s National Mental Health Commissioners, Lucinda Brogden, spoke at a VIOSH 40th anniversary seminar.

The “evidence” of Lived Experience dominated the Conference and has been a regular feature of the Royal Commission, but the much more robust evidence of work-related mental health has also been on show. This evidence supports the harm prevention strategies advocated by occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals, researchers and Safe Work Australia and continues its peer-reviewed strength, even if the audience seems less than it should be.

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Long commute times need to be factored into OHS structures

The mainstream media reported on the release of new demographic statistics from the latest HILDA survey (Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia). Most of the attention is on the increasing commuting times to and from work in the urban centres. Traffic is not usually an occupational health and safety (OHS) issue but traffic congestion reduces the effectiveness of our social recuperation and recovery structures and work/life balance initiatives.

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