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    We hear a lot in the media these days over here about the excessive regulation of business by the Australian States and Territories. I also hear from my lawyer friends that statutory laws are eroding common law rights in the many areas (and not just in the OHS and workers’ compensation fields!) These days the media push is to push further and cut out so-called red-tape in State and local altogether (though admittedly in most cases it is either ineffectual or merely designed to raise revenue).

    We hear a lot in the media these days about the increasing strength of the Indian economy and the media pundits attribute this increasing success of their financial sector to the abolition of the “Licence Raj” that remained long after British India had ceased to exist as a political entity. In reality might that not that change have been due to the loosening of the old class system , the underpayment of public servants or kick-backs? If we followed extreme anarchist models to their absurd conclusions (and we seem close to doing that) there might be a de facto legalization of industrial manslaughter.

    In legal circles one often hears that our justice system is based on the four Roman Values;

    Justice (fairness) Forbearance (tolerance) Fortitude (courage) Temperance (moderation)

    Despite all the recent talk about the Australian value of mateship we do not really appear heading in the direction of increasing fairness; the Federal Court last week ruled that the Australian Building & Construction Commission (ABCC) has the power to prevent a worker from being represented by the lawyer of his/her choice; see the media release at http://www.cfmeu.asn.au/construction/press/nat/20061012_Bonan.html

    As it is our safety inspectors grumble that an employer would rather pay a thousand dollar fine than spend a million dollars to do the right thing; that smacks of Frankish Law (Charlemagne and the “wergild” and all that jazz) rather than modern rational economics. In any case our legal system is based on the values of the dark ages (or earlier); surely we should be progressing from them not regressing. We hear much talk about our “Western Values”; how many of the basic Judaic/Christian values (according to Micah the basic duties include acting justly and showing mercy) do we really follow? Are we really upholding our own values as well as we should? Perhaps if we did we could create a happier society (and just possibly we might also win the battle for hearts and minds).

    I strongly agree with W.H. Auden (1940) that we need to create a legal system that encourages people to the right thing in their own best interest (and a financial system that does not reward those who break the rules). As James Thurber once pointed (ibid, p 297) the success of human societies depends on cooperation (and our fondness for so-called rationality is more often a handicap rather than an asset); in this respect (he quotes Allee’s book “The Social Life of Animals”; apparently ants and beavers are better project organizers than financiers and politicians. Has any one any recommendations on the best model for achieving successful cooperation in the workplace?


    David McFarlane

    Ergonomist, WorkCover Authority of New South Wales,



    W. H. Auden and others, (1940), “I Believe; the personal philosophies of 23 eminent me na d women of our times”. (George, Allan and Unwin, London). Chapter 1.


    Any recommendation concerning the use or representation of a particular brand of product in this document or any mention of them whatsoever (whether this appears in the text, illustrations, photographs or in any other form) is not to be taken to imply that WorkCover NSW approves or endorses the product or the brand.




    We also hear a lot how workers compensation laws in the US (each state has it’s own) are a hinderance to competitiveness, are subject to abuse by employees, and are an unessesary burden on business.

    What we never hear are a few basic points:

    – Workers compensation laws in the US protect the employer from injury or negligence lawsuits by employees, which could drag out in the courts and cost a whole lot more, including punitive damages.

    – Work Comp rates are based upon injuries actually occurring in that industry. Employers can reduce their individual rates by having fewer injuries than their competitors, and can address the industry rate as a whole by working together to reduce injuries in that classification.

    – The best way to save money on workplace injuries is to prevent them in the first place.




    Well said Philip! But it is not always so clear cut. How do we determine causality when we have one system of healthcare during work hours(worker’s comp) and another for the rest of the day (private health insurance)? Employers resent footing the bill for a cumalitive trauma injury when the person has poor health habits or hobbies that may increase risks for cumulative trauma.

    For instance, a data-entry employee with pain in hands who relaxes by knitting or playing videogames. Who is responsible? I tell employers it is their responsibility to provide a safe workplace.

    We need to encourage personal AND employer responsibility.



    No problem with that. But we must address workplace issues that we can in the workplace, and if we care about other-than-work issues, institute a wellness program. But employers who blame it all on the employee and non-work exposures is a cop-out.

    We also have to recognize that a market-driven, or Libertarian approach has social costs as well. Employees who leave a ‘bad job’ may, in fact, carry some of their exposure over to a new employer who bears the cost. A level playing field helps address this. Employees who quit, or are unable to work due to WRMSD, may end up on welfare, or incur uninsured health care expenses for a work-related (or exacerbated) exposure.

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