From a spark to a flame

The recent employment data for Australia shows record levels of unemployment due, largely, to COVID19. People are out of work and are seeking jobs in areas and occupations with which they are unfamiliar, and we know that new workers are at a high risk of injury. But “safe jobs” has rarely been a government priority.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg held a long press conference after the release of the employment statistics on June 18 2020. Nine times the pair stressed the government’s priority was to get Australians “back into work”. Safe and healthy jobs were never mentioned. One could argue that occupational health and safety (OHS) was not part of the economic discussion on that day (it never is) but there is an equal argument to say that the inclusion of either adjective “safe” and “healthy” could create a cultural change in Australian workplaces, a cost-reduction strategy for Australian businesses and an increased quality of life and improved social cohesion for all Australians.

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Exclusive Interview with Dr Tom Doig

SafetyAtWorkBlog had the chance to put some questions to Dr Tom Doig in early 2019 prior to the book’s release. Below is that exclusive interview.

SAWB: “Hazelwood” is predominantly a book that describes the social and environmental impacts of the Hazelwood. What, if any, overlap did workplace health and safety (WHS) and WorkSafe Victoria have in the fire’s aftermath?

TD: In the aftermath of the mine fire, a number of WHS issues have come to the fore. Firstly, in the 2014 Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry, a number of criticisms were made of Hazelwood’s regulatory framework, with a suggestion that there was a ‘regulatory gap’, as expressed by Mr Leonard Neist, Executive Director of the Health and Safety Unit at the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA), at that time:

‘If I identify that gap as, who is responsible for regulating for the protection of public safety, regardless of what the source of the hazard or the risk is, who’s responsible for public safety, that’s where the gap probably is and I can’t—if you were to ask me right now, I can’t tell you who is responsible for regulating public safety. I’m responsible for regulating workplace safety and responsible for public safety as a result of the conduct of that undertaking, but I couldn’t tell you who is directly responsible.’

In this case, while VWA focuses on the health and safety of mine employees, they aren’t explicitly concerned with the health and safety of the general public, if a hazard – like a 45-day plume of toxic smoke – is dispersed beyond a specific workplace.

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Important safety, environmental, political and personal stories in book on the Morwell Mine fire

Dr Tom Doig has continued to build on his earlier work about the Morwell mine fire, expanding his “The Coal Face” from 2015 into his new book “Hazelwood” (after court-related injunctions, now available on 18 June 2020).

SPECIAL OFFER: The first four (4) new Annual subscribers in the month of June 2020 will receive a copy of Hazelwood.

The Morwell mine fire created great distress to residents in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, ongoing health problems, and a parliamentary inquiry, but can also be seen as a major case study of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, enforcement, role and the obligation on employers to provide a safe and healthy working environment that does not provide risks to workers and “protect other people from risks arising from employer’s business”.  The management of worker and public safety is present in almost every decision made in relation to the Morwell Mine fire. The overlay of an OHS perspective to Doig’s book is enlightening.

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The time is right to push for the prevention of injury

Canberra, Australia – October 14, 2017: A view inside Senate chamber in Parliament House

One of the major criticisms of Industrial Manslaughter laws by this blog is that the laws are likely to be a distraction from actions and changes that could prevent deaths. In 2018, the Australian Parliament conducted an inquiry into industrial deaths within which the prevention of death and injury was core. The recommendations of the inquiry’s final report – “They never came home—the framework surrounding the prevention, investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths in Australia” – have never really been acted upon, a fact mentioned in Australia’s Senate on June 11, 2020.

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The good news and the bad news on Industrial Manslaughter

The end of the Court action* over the death of Barry Willis while he was working for Brisbane Auto Recycling (BAR) allows for various occupational health and safety (OHS) issues to be discussed, but a lot of the online discussion immediately after the sentencing on June 11 2020 was half-cocked and sometimes included a racist undertone. Both these elements deserve expansion.


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