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In 19 February 2018, Safe Work Australia (SWA) “launched” the independent review of Australia’s Work Health and Safety laws under former Executive Director of SafeWorkSA, Marie Boland.  SWA has released a 49-page discussion paper, a summary and a list of questions.  Below is an initial response to some of those questions.

What are your views on the effectiveness of the three-tiered approach – model WHS Act supported by model WHS Regulations and model WHS Codes – to achieve the object of the model WHS laws?

The structure works well, when business owners know of the relevant documents.

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The latest push for Industrial Manslaughter laws in Australia has appeared as part of the Tasmanian state election.

The Tasmanian branch of the Australian Labor Party released its policy platform for jobs in February 2018 which makes specific and vague commitments on workplace safety which require scrutiny.

Precarious Work

The Tasmanian Labor Leader, Rebecca White, states that

“Labor is committed to addressing casualisation and the outsourcing of work…”

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Infographics have become a popular format for distributing information about occupational health and safety (OHS) and other topics but they are often seen as a shortcut in consultation.  They can be visually engaging but are often too shallow as the writers and designers try to depict safety data in the simplest manner.  Terminology also needs to be consistent so that readability is most effective.

Recently Safe Work Australia produced an infographic about workplace mental health that illustrates some of these issues.

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Safety At Work Blog by Kevin Jones - 5d ago

Below is a quick video update of issues raised in the SafetyAtWorkBlog over the last week or so.

These updates and other media files will be transferred to the SafetyAtWorkBlog YouTube channel over the next few weeks so you may want to follow that channel. You can do this by clicking on the watermark in the video below.

SafetyAtWorkBlog Update #2 - YouTube

Kevin Jones

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In 2016, a survey of General Practitioners (GPs) conducted by Monash University identified that GPs frequently struggled with patients involved with workers compensation and that mental illnesses were particularly problematic.

In January 2018 Monash University, with the support of major institutions and safety regulators, released various discussion papers seeking public input into the “draft clinical guideline for the diagnosis and management of work-related mental health conditions in general practice”. Some of the information is of direct relevance to the management of mental health in Australian workplaces.

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Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, has been prominent in recent seminars about sexual harassment, particularly in the entertainment industry.  In February 2018, Jenkins spoke at a seminar in Melbourne hosted by Screen Producers  Australia and provided strong advice on how businesses can control sexual harassment.

Jenkins began her presentation with an uncomfortable reminder that business has been lax in addressing unlawful workplace behaviour.

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In 2008 the brothers Brafman wrote “Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior“.  They tell the story of Ori Brafman being told, on his first day in his MBA course in Tel Aviv in the 1980s, that

“People aren”t rational.”

In my 1990s tertiary course into OHS Risk Management, we were still being referred to the 1965 book, “The Rational Manager“.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) seems to still be based on an assumption of rationality in OHS management systems, decision-making and working yet it does not take too much exposure to the reality of work to understand that we must anticipate irrationality.

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The Weekly Times newspaper has included an 8-page wraparound to its 7 February 2018 edition about workplace safety. The supplement is timely, the contents are indicative of cultural and political changes and the supplement is a nice summary of the multiple hazards and management approaches needed in agriculture (the same as in most industries, really).

Data quoted liberally from AgHealth Australia clearly indicates the need to ban children from riding adult-sized quadbikes, a position supported by the Federated Chamber of Automotive Industries. 

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The latest statistics of farm injuries from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare provide a useful insight in to the workplace risks of Australian farms. Given the workplace focus of the SafetyAtWorkBlog, and the articles written about the risk of working with quad bikes, the following statistics are of great interest:

“For quad bikes, almost 90% of injuries were sustained by the driver in people aged 15 and over.” (page 9)

“For injuries involving quad bikes, males accounted for two-thirds (66%) of all hospitalisations for children aged 0–14 and almost 80% of all hospitalisations for people aged 15 and over.” (page 9)

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The Victorian trade union movement is preparing for the November 2018 State Election with one element of that campaign being the advocacy of Industrial Manslaughter laws.

At the end of January 2018, the unions “kicked off” their campaign with a meeting which reviewed the challenges and wins for injured workers in 2017 and outlined their intentions for 2018. The Industrial Manslaughter Action Kit included a petition which says:

We need Industrial Manslaughter laws in Victoria.

We call on Daniel Andrews to provide a safer Victoria and ensure no-one is above the law.  we call for legislation so negligent employers and senior managers can be charged with industrial manslaughter when a person is killed at work.”

The unions are taking inspiration from Queensland for the structure of the industrial manslaughter laws.  It can also be said that they are also following the strategy and timeline from the Queensland election where the issue is pushed when political parties are most keen on gaining an electoral edge.

Paul Sutton addressing the meeting

It is difficult to see the current (Labor) Premier, Daniel Andrews, not introducing these laws.  Even if the laws do not lead to any prosecutions, Premier Andrews will have satisfied the wishes of a sizeable proportion of his party’s ideological and financial supporters.

However Victorian Governments, of both political parties,  have supported an approach to occupational health and safety (OHS) laws independent of the other Australian States.  The Australian Labor Party will be assessing whether an ideological debate on these laws is worth while during the election campaign.  Action will be determined, not on OHS grounds, but on political expediency.

The Victorian Trades Hall group also proposed a serious assessment of the United Kingdom’s definition of “senior manager”.  It is understood that this is the definition being suggested.  The attraction in an OHS sense is obvious – delegation of action but not of responsibility.

The push for Industrial Manslaughter laws is no surprise as the union movement and some safety advocates have been after these laws for years.  The Queensland laws have increased confidence.  But the focus is narrow and the benefits of industrial manslaughter laws in preventing harm is undetermined. (A common question at seminars on these laws in the past from business owners has been “how do I insure against the penalties?” Preventing harm is rarely discussed)  Many advocating these types of laws speak from a basis of frustration, anger and injustice.  In relation to workplace fatalities, this perspective is understandable but OHS-related laws are designed to prevent harm as the first priority, and punish as the second.

Kevin Jones

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