Sexual misconduct research – Interview with Professor Marie Bismark

A lot of recent attention has been given to incidents of sexual harassment in Australian legal and finance corporations, in particular, and how these are being (mis)managed. COVID19 has thrown a big focus on the working conditions of health care workers. Last month, Australian research on sexual misconduct was released that is, essentially, a Venn diagram of the issues of sexual harassment and misconduct with health practitioners.

The lead author of the study, Associate Professor Marie Bismark, professor of Public Law at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, spoke exclusively with SafetyAtWorkBlog about the research findings.

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The failure of Leadership on sexual harassment

A picture not of Josh Bornstein. This is Male Champions of Change CEO Annika Freyer in the AFR’s online article

If prominent Australian lawyer, Josh Bornstein does not like something, it’s worth looking more closely at it. Last week on Twitter, Bornstein scoffed at the suggestion that occupational health and safety (OHS) could be a new approach to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. He tweeted:

“To all those clamouring to support the idea that sexual harassment should be treated as an OHS issue, I have a simple message: Wrong Way, Go Back”

The OHS and sexual harassment nexus appeared primarily in response to a couple of articles (paywalled) in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) based on a leaked report from the Male Champions for Change (MCOC) organisation. Although the report is not publicly released for another couple of weeks, MCOC (hopefully not pronounced My Cock), proposes consideration of applying OHS laws and principles to sexual harassment.

The full report is likely to discuss the mechanics of this further but the advocacy of OHS is less interesting that the admission that MCOC and other leadership-based approaches to reduction and prevention of workplace sexual harassment have failed.

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Interview with James Curtin

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

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A return to the Forgotten Royal Commission

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.

The latest combination came to my attention from an August 19 article in The Australian newspaper (paywalled) written by business journalist Robert Gottliebsen.

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“This is how silly OH&S has become” Not really

Truck driving is one of the most contentious areas of occupational health and safety (OHS) in Australia. The transport industry has refined a reasonably practicable level of OHS to a high degree where levels of fatigue that would not be tolerated in other occupations are the norm. There also seems to be a negative attitude to OHS as an impediment to getting the job done rather than an investment in the health of drivers and the longevity of their careers.

These attitudes were on display recently in an inquiry into the “Importance of a viable, safe, sustainable and efficient road transport industry” undertaken by the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee of the Australian Senate.

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