Siri Safety – Bits and Pieces
The primary object of the model work health and safety act is to provide for a balanced and nationally consistent framework to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces. There is no explicit causal nexus between this primary object and productivity (production per unit of time) although Safe Work Australia’s vision promotes……healthy, safe and productive working lives.
This is supported by a rather tenuous statement and another sophism proclaiming….It has been shown that good work health and safety improves long term business productivity. It furtively endorses neoliberal policies that advocate free market fundamentalism with a laissez faire doctrine of deregulation, which is also reflected in the Australian Institute of Health and Safety vision for….safe and healthy people in productive workplaces and communities.
At the turn of the millennium the independent National Occupational Health and Safety Commission was transferred to Canberra and subsequently dissolved and replaced by an administrative advisory body with a former BHP executive appointed as its interim chairman. Many experienced employees refused relocation offers and reluctantly resigned. The departmental budget was subsequently slashed by almost $4 million and it remains parsimonious with workers’ compensation added to the portfolio.
In March 2004, the federal government under John Howard belatedly and somewhat reluctantly ratified ILO Convention C155, which provided for a nationally consistent and coherent policy to secure the health and safety of people at work. However, over subsequent years harmonisation and national uniformity was usurped by corporate Australia amidst a neoliberal maelstrom underpinned by free market fundamentalism.
In 2007, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) ratified the Inter-Governmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety This was accomplished via the Australian Labor Party under the leadership of an irascible narcissist following extensive lobbying from several industry associations. The entire charade was a trojan horse and merely absolved the reverse onus of proof and attenuated the absolute standard of duty of care on behalf of corporate Australia. This provided many global behemoths and transnational organizations with a malevolent freedom to harm, which is reflected via the following series of significant incidents across Australasia:
After almost two decades, harmonization and national uniformity of work health and safety legislation has become increasingly vexatious and extraordinarily complicated. Additional statutes have been implemented in several jurisdictions covering mining, petroleum and gas and other mineral resources, which are administered by alternative agencies using different standards of proof. The current configuration resembles a handful of pakahpu tickets in a Canal Street opium den.
It is further exacerbated by rampant contingent labour hire in a McJob gig economy with the superfluous implementation of industrial manslaughter provisions into a precautionary framework and Honore de Balzac’s dictum resonates……Laws are spider webs through which the big flies pass and the little ones get caught.
Despite the subsequent scourge of asbestosis and mesothelioma ILO Convention C162 was only endorsed by the federal government under Julia Gillard in August 2011 and many other significant conventions remain unratified, which include:
In November 2017, the former executive director of SafeWork South Australia, Marie Boland was appointed by Safe Work Australia to review the model work health and safety laws. The subsequent report was released in February 2019 and concluded the model laws were operating largely as intended and support for harmonisation remained strong. This was quite an extraordinary statement given the primary object of the model Work Health and Safety Act is to provide for a balanced and nationally consistent framework and secure the health and safety of people at work. Much like zero harm, it was unequivocally endorsed by our self-proclaimed peak safety body, which is a part of the problem and a shiver searching for a spine.
The egregious performance from its cohorts of obsequious vermin amidst a neoliberal maelstrom has been mediocre at best and reminiscent of a disparate rabble of morally bereft and philosophically rudderless nomads. It is a one trick dog and pony show without a skerrick of vision or professional ethics and knows only safety, which is typically reinforced via compliance and enforcement under a sophism of zero harm masquerading as leadership. If each of the values that underpin its work were replaced by antonyms it would reflect its diaphanous integrity over recent decades and be much closer to the truth.
Its formulaic conferences and mundane webinars regurgitate a relentless stream of turgid sludge using histrionic narcissists, bloviating sycophants, hollow hacks or micturating bloggers full of piss and vinegar. The repetitious bile is littered with an obedience to the orthodoxy and academic cowardice in an unrocked boat marooned in the treacherous straits between shareholder theory and the primary object of safety legislation and……If you remain in the middle of the road you will eventually end up as roadkill.
During its latest virtual national conference, an organising committee member implored colleagues to provide submissions to public hearings and parliamentary or judicial tribunals. It was yet another example of rank hypocrisy, especially considering the organisation repeatedly failed to offer any official representation or submissions to the following recent inquiries:
· Home Insulation Program Royal Commission
Following a prolonged bout of disunity and internecine bickering it recently embarked on a professional certification scheme, which is reminiscent of Fred Karno’s circus. This shameless and somewhat mercenary promotion of its mediocre services will hardly improve safety outcomes. Much like the construction industry white card induction, it will eventually be subcontracted to third party providers and degenerate into a meaningless displacement activity.
Our peak safety body has significant input into the work health and safety curricula via its consanguineous relationship with the Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board. Any assessment required under the scheme uses criteria from the OHS Body of Knowledge, which is littered with SHEeple STEMspeak. The framework consists of a science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) paradigm with an inordinate emphasis on objectivism, structuralism, legislation, behaviourism, reactive metrics and rational decision making.
It is chalk and talk single loop training, rote learning or indoctrination that disregards the inherent subjective nature of risk and ignores the enigmatic power of the collective unconscious. This destroys critical thinking, communities of practice, incidental learning and tacit knowledge. Indeed, values are caught not taught and we know much more than way can say. The human brain does not make decisions, it hosts conversations. The certification scheme merely offers naïve safety crusaders freedom to drink the AIHS brand of Kool Aid and the entire charade will:
· Increase regulatory capture risks and generate a kentledge of additional bureaucracy
· Provide adolescent acolytes with worthless post nominal qualifications
· Undermine the Australian Qualifications Framework
· Generate a lucrative revenue stream for the AIHS fiefdom
The corporate impiety is best reflected via the cost of injury and disease and during 1992-3 it exceeded $20 billion across Australia and was uniformly distributed between employers (40%), employees (30%) and the community (30%). This allocation to specific agents is quite a complex exercise and extremely dependent on the outcome severity. It significantly increases for individuals, their dependents and the community if the consequences involve traumatic fatalities or serious injuries. More recent estimates put the amount at $62 billion per year with a staggering redistribution amongst employers (5%), employees (77%) and the community (18%). This indicates costs endured by employees have increased by an overwhelming 157% with a corresponding decrease of 88% for employers.
This variation, despite a steady decrease in fatalities and serious injuries, is partly attributed to significant increases in average weekly earnings. However, descriptive statistics often conceal more than they reveal and correlation does not imply causation. Additional exogenous factors, which include rampant neoliberalism with its laissez faire doctrine, the gig economy and an unabashed worship of profit may be significant weapons in Abaddon’s arsenal. It has created a culture of cruelty and complacency and social protection via welfare has degenerated into warfare and there are serious ethical concerns when society allows itself to be driven by the market.
The recent Covid-19 pandemic brutally exposed the reality of free market fundamentalism, especially throughout our health and aged care sectors with a patina of preventive and social welfare structures that resemble a house of cards built on estuarine mudflats amidst a gigantic festering Ponzi scheme. Good strategies for a radically uncertain world acknowledge that we do not know what the future holds. This requires identification of reference narratives, which envisage unorthodox future scenarios to ensure that plans are robust and resilient to a range of plausible alternatives.
The entire intellectual edifice of corporate tyranny with its deification of the Friedman doctrine has collapsed and a much more fundamental review of the role of government is required. This involves resetting market and state boundaries and establishing how a civilised and democratic society must treat its people. However, it is rather foreboding that the incumbent federal minister for disease and the current chairperson of Safe Work Australia held senior roles with McKinsey and Company. The fingerprints of this notorious predator can be found at the scene of scene of some of the most spectacular corporate and financial debacles of recent decades, which included the collapse of Enron and the Pardue Pharmaceuticals opioid epidemic.
Rest assured, the incumbent Australian crime-minister and federal treasurer will never waste a crisis and the somewhat predictable response was a recitation of Reaganomics with the proclamation of a rising tide lifts all boats, which is fine if you are member of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. Indeed, the way to make money is buy when blood is running through the streets and the current narrative indicates a much more intense and dystopian version of capitalism beckons via artificial intelligence, suprasurveiilance and big data……..Everybody knows the deal is rotten, Old Black Joe’s still pickin’ cotton.
This article features extracts from the latest edition of my ebook entitled How Grim Was My Valley – The Great Safety Charade, which is available as free download at: