OHS and gender equality

The outcomes of work and how they are shared are a topic of public discussion.  Mainly it is about the positive outcomes.  A difference in remuneration between men and women has been observed.  The gender pay gap it is sometimes called.  I expect there are many conversations that have been pursued and could be further pursued about that topic, reasons for it to be explored and responses considered.

The post though is not about taking up the discussion about the gap between the genders from the positive outcomes of work.

The post is about extending this conversation into a space that seems comparatively devoid of conversation.  The post is about extending the conversation to the imbalance in the negative outcome of work.  Or perhaps wondering why there is no conversation.

A negative outcome of work is the OHS outcome.  The most serious are fatalities.  That divide is very stark.  The safety gender gap is not 10%, 20%, 30% or even 100%.  

The safety gender gap is 2,000%.  Men are thereabouts 20 times more likely to die at work.* 

The Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 has the following among its objects: “(a)  to promote and improve gender equality (including equal remuneration between women and men) in employment and in the workplace”.  Remuneration is therefore but one example.  Without that example, the object is actually more generic being to promote and improve gender equality in employment and in the workplace”.  On the parameter of fatalities arising from work, work is very unequal.

The occupational health and safety statutes are key in this space.  Ostensibly they provide the same protections to everybody.

It is surprising that such a notable difference has received little or no attention.  A difference of 2,000% should also be at least interesting if not compellingly so.  Especially when it is an issue of life and death.  

* Rate per 100,000, 2018, Safe Work Australia

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Engineer registration. Puzzle 4. It’s not about the quality of work.

The work does not have to be bad for a person to breach these rules.  It does not have to be dangerous.  It does not have to be flawed.  It can be good work.

If you do the work that fits the triggers – even if it is good work – whether you are an engineer or not – then an offence has been committed (s67).

It is the conduct of the work of this kind without registration that is illegal.  The quality of it is irrelevant.

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Engineer registration. Puzzle 3. Performance v prescription or performance=prescription…sometimes?

Using a prescriptive standard is an exemption for the requirements for registration for some things. These are design, construction and production.  There is neither an exemption for maintenance nor operation by using a prescriptive standard.

Prescription and performance are very often two sides of the coin in standard setting.

Sometimes there are also process or procedure based standards.  Many in occupational health and safety are of this kind – in that they require the duty holder not to achieve a certain performance objective nor to put in place a prescribed solution – but to engage in an inquiry and problem solving process.

But the usual prominent choice of model is prescription or performance.

Usually a prescriptive standard tells you what do to; if you have given situation, then put in place the prescribed solution.  A performance standard gives an outcome to be achieved, but the methods are open; if you have certain situation, then do whatever you see fit to achieve a required outcome.

However that might not be the case in this setting.  Perhaps oddly a standard could be both.

The Act defines a prescriptive standard as being one that has two features:

Firstly it is a standard that contains “procedures or criteria” (for doing certain things). 

“Procedures” could liken it to the occupational health and safety style arrangements. 

“Criteria” could be key here to effectively made prescription in this setting a direct parallel with performance elsewhere.  A criteria signifies an end point.   Something to be achieved.  It sounds not too dissimilar from the more usual performance standard features.

The second is that it must not require advanced scientifically based calculations.  It does not just say calculations.  Nor just scientifically based calculations.  But advanced scientifically based calculations.  I wonder what that means.  Using the sin, cos and tan buttons?  The pi button?  Square root button?

There is certainly the prospect that the usual performance versus prescription dichotomy could be broken down.  I think a key  is whether “criteria” is a parallel for a performance outcome. 

For prescription and performance to mean the same thing would be a very large departure in the usual language in standard setting.  Nevertheless it seems that prescription and performance could be the same thing.


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Engineer registration. Puzzle 2. Will a “sign off” provide relief?

Say a person – any person – engineer or not – develops a basic design of a new kind of bus stop.

What if someone later refines this and someone else checks the work, “signs off” so to speak.  Is there an exemption for the original person if the work is later refined and checked?  Is it enough for the “sign off” person to be registered? 

No. The legislation has no such provision.  Every actor in the chain carries the responsibility of being registered*.  That is if they perform any of the trigger activities – for example to contribute to the design (or construction or production or operation or maintenance) of something structural, civil, mechanical, electrical, or in relation to fire safety (or other unknowns to be added).

It is not a matter of achieving a certain result at the end of the chain.   Having someone check the work won’t relieve responsibility.  If the design was conducted then it is the conduct of that work that counts.  The outcome – which might be delivered well thanks to the checking – is irrelevant.

Whether a registered person was the previous link or the next link does not matter.  The duties are located on the individual actions regardless of previous or future actions.  If the original visionary of the bus stop design applied engineering principles and data to a design then they need to be registered.   Everyone in the chain who’s conduct fits one of the trigger activities needs to be registered.

A “signing off” process won’t give relief.

*There is an exemption for those working under “direct supervision”.  This would be the only way.  If the checker is not in a direct supervisory position, or remote, the argument would seem weak to me.  But of course it will come down to analysis of the meaning of “direct”, the meaning of “supervision”, and the meaning of “direct supervision”!  A discussion for another post.

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Engineer registration. Puzzle 1. It’s not about registration of engineers.

There is a new registration scheme about to come into force in Victoria (Australia).  It is called the Professional Engineers Registration Act 2019.

The name might make you think that it is about the registration of engineers.  But actually it isn’t.

A large absence within the public  discussion in Australia about this new registration scheme design is an acknowledgement that it is not firstly actually about registration of engineers.

There is an assumption underlying the discussion that it is about registration of engineers – find an engineer, then register them.  That is true in a roundabout way.  But it is not the direct path.  It is actually a different mechanism directly.  A vast difference in the breadth of application follows.

All legislation contains triggers to bring it into operation.  The trigger in the registration legislation is not based on identity as the name of the Act suggests (being an “engineer”).  The trigger is based on conduct.

The need for registration rests on identification of the conduct of certain kinds of work.  It does not rest on finding a certain class of person and seeing what they are doing.

The need for registration rests of finding anyone (not just engineers) and seeing what they are doing.

If any person is performing certain kinds of work that action will trigger the requirement for registration.  Hence the legislation is about the registration of people doing engineering work.  It is a subtle difference in language but a significant difference in application.  The trigger for the need for registration is conduct of work.

The scope is therefore broadened to include anybody, engineer or not, who does something defined in the act as engineering work.  If you are doing the defined kind of work, and you are not registered, then your work is illegal.  You don’t have to be an engineer to be impacted by the Act. If you do the work – without registration – even if it is good work – then an offence has been committed (s67).

(Victorian legislation is here)


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Professional Engineers Registration Act 2019 (Victoria, Australia)

Professional Engineers Registration Act 2019 (Victoria) downloaded 10 December 2019 from legislation dot vic dot gov dot au

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Following the safety rules

Sometimes we just follow the rules.  Even if they don’t make much sense.

That’s musician Gavin DeGraw below in an ice hotel who observed: “Pretty amazing place. That fire extinguisher could really come in handy around here. — at ICEHOTEL”



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