The Guardian • Issue #1979

Health and safety is in our hands

  • by B A Ford
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1979

In May 2021, a Megaphone article titled “Knowledge is Power In Fight Against Gendered Violence” was published. This article details the history of union members campaigning to have gendered violence officially recognised as a workplace hazard.

Because of the hard campaign work starting in 2017, workers can now train in gendered violence hazard identification, risk management, and safe work cultures. The Victorian Trades Hall Council is currently providing Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) refresher courses that focus on these issues. Best part is it’s recognised by the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Authority, WorkSafe, so your boss has to pay you while you train!

This win by Victorian unionists shows why its so important for workers to lead their own destiny. We are all aware of how lacking our education system and the legislation around gendered violence is. Union members in Victoria took action and developed their own plan to stop gendered violence since the government seemed so unenthusiastic about stepping up.

But how can union members decide what the Victorian OHS Act does and does not cover? It came down to interpretation of a significant clause in the OHS Act most of us will be familiar with: “duties of employers to employees.”

Employers’ duties to employees are detailed in s21 of the Victorian OHS Act and is very similar to health and safety legislation in other states. This section states:

“An employer must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain for employees of the employer a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.”

Across the country, there is increasing concern around what are known as “psychosocial” hazards. For NSW comrades, they can look at the NSW SafeWork Code of Practice on psychosocial hazards, and they will see a variety of scenarios detailing occupational violence and trauma as a workplace hazard. Does gendered violence not fall under this category?

Taking inspiration from the work of Victorian unionists as well as the increased recognition of psychosocial hazards and mentally injuries at work, we now have new avenues opening before us.

My particular interest is to see similar campaigning for accessibility as an OHS issue. Not only can inaccessibility cause physical and ergonomic hazards, but it is also a significant cause of psychosocial hazards. Rather than individual disabled and neurodivergent workers having to rely on negotiating with bosses on individual access requirements, framing accessibility as an OHS issue opens it up as a collective problem to solve.

Framing accessibility as an OHS issue does not require any new legislation either – it’s all there in our OHS Act! We know from the experience of the Victorian union members, all we have to do is campaign hard and educate each other. We know we can’t wait for our governments to take action – we have to be willing to work to secure our futures.

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