Labour History

The Long and Winding Road to OHS Harmonisation

Labour History (2013), 104, (1), 169–188.

Abstract

Australia’s harmonised occupational health and safety (OHS) regulatory regime was scheduled to commence 1 January 2012. Presently, however, only seven (out of nine) jurisdictions have enacted harmonised laws, most with differences. That the harmonisation initiative has not (yet) delivered on its promise should not have come as a surprise to those familiar with the history of OHS harmonisation in Australia - a history punctuated by moments of great hope followed by disappointing progress. This article examines this history through the lens of Australian federalism. In doing so, it illustrates the organic growth in the Commonwealth’s sphere of responsibility as matters originally defined as social issues become redefined as economic issues in that they negatively impact on business interests. It also demonstrates the tensions that arise when these economic values come into conflict with the values underpinning Australian federalism and OHS regulation itself.

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Footnotes

1.There are a number of excellent accounts of the development of early health and safety legislation in Britain and Australia, see for example:J. Hagan, “Employers, Trade Unions and the First Victorian Factory Acts,” Labour History, no.7 (November1964):3–10; B. L. Hutchins and A. Harrison, A History of Factory Legislation, 3rd ed. (London: Frank Cass & Co., 1966); Neil Gunningham, Safeguarding the Worker: Job Hazards and the Role of the Law(Sydney: Law Book Company Limited, 1984), 35-74. For case studies on the interplay of economic, social and political forces on the early development of OHS regulation in Australia, see: Bobbie Oliver, “‘Lives of misery and melancholy’: The Rhetoric and Reality of Industrial Reform in Post-World War I Western Australia,”Labour History, no. 73 (November 1997): 105-122; Beris Penrose, “The State and Gold Miners’ Health in Victoria, 1870-1910,”Labour History, no. 101 (November 2011): 35-52; Bradley Bowden and Beris Penrose, “Dust, Contractors, Politics and Silicosis: Conflicting Narratives and the Queensland Royal Commission into Miners’ Phthisis, 1911,”Australian Historical Studies27, no. 128 (2008): 89-107; Peter Sheldon, “Job Control for Workers’ Health: The 1908 Sydney Rockchoppers’ strike,”Labour History, no. 55 (November 1988): 39-54; Marcus James, “The Struggle Against Silicosis in the Australian Mining Industry: The Role of the Commonwealth Government, 1920-1950,”Labour History, no. 65 (November 1993): 75-95. Google Scholar

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Windholz, Eric