Safety, Whistleblowers and Media Disinterest

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Workplace safety usually gets little attention from mainstream press.  Until recently, with the growth of online specialist content, trade publications covered OHS events, but the lead time made the news events of historical interest more than something that generated enthusiasm or outrage.

Last weekend the Australian Labor Party in Victoria held its annual conference in Melbourne.  The Premier, John Brumby, stated that workplace safety was of continuing high concern to his government.  This comment was reported nowhere other than the Sunday night (25 May 2008 ) news bulletin of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The ABC news website has mentioned other comments that the Premier made at the conference:

“It’s vital for workers and for occupational health and safety representatives that they can raise safety issues without suffering recrimination or discrimination,” he said. “Because if people can’t speak up, then people’s lives can be put at risk.”

The comment is very welcome but why make such a statement now? Has an OHS whistleblowing incident happened recently? No.  Has the issue been a sore political point? No.

Given that neither the ALP or the Premier’s office has released the Premier’s speech almost a week after the event, it can only be assumed that the comments were intended for the union audience at the conference and were said, mainly, to have something to say.

His comments are a reiteration of party policy and any support for OHS is welcome but if anyone makes a positive comment on workplace safety, let them be loud and proud about it.  The OHS profession and worker safety needs the profile.

Australia’s OHS Review issues paper imminent

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Over the last few months, the national OHS review panel of Robin Stewart-Crompton, Barry Sherriff and Stephanie Mayman have met with OHS authorities in all the state jurisdictions, various union representatives, and, interestingly, many of the Courts.  The panel also attended the recent ACTU conference.

The issues paper for the review will be released on 30 May 2008, the deadline agreed to in the initial review timetable.

The public comment phase will run to 11 July 2008.  No public hearings are scheduled.  This is disappointing as OHS experts have pointed out that OHS law is probably the only piece of law that workers and managers can readily understand and apply without firstly undertaking a law degree.  This means that there are a lot of “bush lawyers” in OHS in Australia but this also means that there is a greater pool of informed opinion to draw from.

Many OHS professionals and practitioners have a better understanding of the application of this law and should be given an opportunity to address the panel in a public forum,  if for no better reason than it is the best use of their valuable time.  Not everyone who should be heard can devote the necessary time to writing 5,000 word submissions, nor do they have the luxury of being able to charge top dollar on hourly rates for someone else to cover their time.

 

Political jostling on OHS reform

The national review into OHS law in Australia has started to generate political jostling as individual states start to realise exactly what they may be asked to relinquish. All government departments and jurisdictions try to maintain their authority, influence and turf and the concern with this OHS review is that it may introduce reforms, or at least tweaks, that could derail the more politically important and controversial changes to industrial relations.

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The national review into OHS law in Australia has started to generate political jostling as individual states start to realise exactly what they may be asked to relinquish. All government departments and jurisdictions try to maintain their authority, influence and turf and the concern with this OHS review is that it may introduce reforms, or at least tweaks, that could derail the more politically important and controversial changes to industrial relations.

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Coroner Critical of OHS Regulator in Mine Investigation

In an AAP report on 21 May 2008, the Tasmanian coroner has been highly critical of the OHS legislative regime applicable to Tasmanian mines.  His comments have particular relevance during Australia’s national review of OHS law and as the coronial inquest into the Beaconsfield mining disaster is due to start within the next six months….

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Nanotechnology hazards update

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There has been a bit of media attention lately on the risks of nanotechnology to the workers who use the technology and to the people who wear socks that contain the technology.  NPR’s Day-To-Day program for May 21 provides a useful summary of the latest findings on the OHS issues of nanotechnology.  The podcast and transcript is available at NPR