Could sexual abuse by priests be a breach of OHS law?

Free Access

In early July 2008, serious accusations about the management of sexual abuse claims by the Australian Catholic Church came to the public attention.  Considerable debate on this current round is available in the Australian media but the ABC show Lateline started the running on the matter.  A useful starting point is an ABC news report on the initial claims.

This week I was conducting some OHS update sessions for a client in which I outlined that one of the objectives of Victoria’s OHS legislation is to

“protect the public from the health and safety risks of business activities”.

And there is a legislative obligation on employers to

“not recklessly endanger a person at a workplace”.

There is a further obligation on employees, in relation to workplace safety and the safety of the public to

“take reasonable care for self and others”.

I put the question to readers – could the sexual misconduct of priests be a potential breach of OHS law?

Coroner to investigate safety management of Beaconsfield mine

Free Access

A front page report in the The Australian on 9 July 2008 is reassuring safety professionals who had hoped for OHS management details from the Tasmanian Coroner’s inquest into the death of Larry Knight at the Beaconsfield mine.

According to the report

Coroner Rod Chandler yesterday ruled against the mine’s submission that he should simply adopt the findings of the official Melick report into the Anzac Day rock-fall in 2006 that killed Knight and trapped colleagues Brant Webb and Todd Russell underground for 14 days.

Mr Chandler also ruled against the mine’s fall-back position that any inquest should be limited to geo-technical issues.

Instead, he ruled he would also examine risk management at the mine, which was criticised by an expert’s report, the mine’s “financial situation” and the role of Tasmania’s work safety watchdog.

This puts the inquiry iinto the realms of the Sago mine investigation and many other mine fatality inquries.

The full inquest resumes on 22 July 2008.

Domestic violence and workplace stress

Free Access

Today, prominent New Zealand sports broadcaster Tony Veitch has admitted striking a previous girlfriend whose back broke in the incident.  The issue of domestic violence is outside the approach of SafetyAtWorkBlog but Tony Veitch has identified some contributory factors to his actions – workload, stress and medications.

Media coverage of Tony Veitch’s admissions will be dominated by the issues of domestic violence and the money that he paid his girlfriend to keep the matter out of the media.  In this blog’s context, questions should be asked about his employer’s, TVNZ’s, appoach to stress management and excessive working hours, and Tony Veitch’s own decision to accept working conditions that he says contributed to his violent acts.

As with the many politicians who resign due to workload and stress and who develop a sudden desire to “spend more time with the family”, and those CEO’s who take a year off to reestablish a work-life balance after amassing a personal fortune, and the television broadcasters who strike out at girlfriends, the contributions to domestc violence by work environments should be assessed so that other workers do not have to suffer and partners are not assaulted.

A balanced ABC news report on the Tony Veitch’s apology is available HERE.  A New Zealand talkback radio session on the issue is available HERE

Additional information on the issue can be found HERE

Successful appeal in finger injury case

Free Access

SafetyAtWorkBlog mainly keeps away from referring to specific court decisions on OHS Prosecutions because, to a large extent, these are decisions of law rather than safety management.  The judgements also require clear legal interpretation so that any management lessons of the judgement can be extracted.

Another reason is that SafetyAtWorkBlog intends to be a FREE conduit for OHS discussion and news. We don’t agree that blogs should refer to information that can only be accessed through subscriptions.  That approach renders a blog advertising which is contrary to what we believe a weblog should be.

In this context some readers may be interested in reading the judge’s decision in an appeal case that has appeareed on several Australian OHS sites in the last day.

According to a judgement in the South Australia Industrial Court:

Adelaide Industrial Labour Service Pty Ltd (AILS)… is a labour hire company which employed John McCutcheon on 19 May 2005. At the time Mr McCutcheon was eighteen years old and had no trade qualifications or experience.
On 19 May 2005 AILS sent Mr McCutcheon to work for Dagenham Pty Ltd (trading as Link Plus) as a labourer.
On 20 May 2005 Mr McCutcheon whilst operating a pipe bending machine which was unguarded, sustained serious finger injuries to both hands. Mr McCutcheon had not received adequate instruction or training to operate that machine.
Dagenham was charged with a breach of s 19(1) of the Occupational Health Safety and Welfare Act 1986 (the Act) and was sentenced on 18 December 2006 by Ardlie IM to a penalty of $12,000, discounted on account of its guilty plea to $9,000.

The court has reduced the fine by $3,000 and has found that the Industrial Magistrate in the initial case made a defective decision.

The full decision is available for download HERE